Reporting Analytics, or Why You Must Help Interpret It For Your Audience

“Every month, I send an analytics report to senior management. What is disheartening is that not once have they asked me what the numbers mean. They never show any interest.

This past week I gave a presentation on workforce planning and analytics in Dubai at the Workforce Planning & Analytics Conference.

The quote was from one of the participants who was expressing her frustration on her deliverables. She was basically asking why is nobody was taking her work and role seriously.

I turned the question around and said, “Did you ask them that question?” The answer was basically NO.

A thing of beauty with no meaning

As she was talking, I was reminded of a friend of mine who would put all of his reports into Excel. He literally would spend hours crafting a spreadsheet –color coded, hidden columns, different fonts and background.

One of his colleagues told me that in meetings, he could not wait to pass out his creations. However, all everyone else wanted to know was the totals and solutions, That was it.

Basically, he spent hours working to beautify the spreadsheet, but there were only a couple of lines that had the solution or insight

I recently hired a gardener for my house in Saudi Arabia. The problem was that he spoke no English and I spoke no Arabic. We stood there trying to communicate but we were just not getting across to each other.

The next day I saw the gardener outside, and when I looked down the street, there was another  friend who I know speaks both English and Arabic. Well, problem solved.

I had my friend help translate, and I was able to work with the gardener and discuss a layout, what plants I wanted, color schemes, and other issues. Just like that, the garden was taking shape. I could not interpret but I got someone to build the narrative around what I wanted.

Once upon a time

I read a book a few years ago called Tell to Win by Peter Guber. I tell everyone that of all the books I have ever read, that one is my No. 1 favorite.

In this book, Guber talks about his passionate belief in the power of narrative. Facts and statistics are great, but humans are creatures of narrative. We love the story, as in “Once upon a time …”

I use this technique when I give speeches. I build a narrative around my topic and tell the story. That is my hook because the story draws them in and that narrative leads into my topic. Throughout the presentation, I refer back to that story as reference points.

What does it mean?

That was what I told the participant at the Workforce Planning & Analytics Conference who was upset that no one asked questions about the metrics. It was about  what was missing. She had not told the story; she did not develop the narrative.

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What her audience was looking for was the interpreter to bring those numbers, or that data, to life. Sometimes we become so enamored with the deliverable that we lose sight of the larger story. We focus too much on the spreadsheet, the PowerPoint slide, or the beautiful report.

I make it a point that if I use a slide, I will NEVER read it. I know what is coming up, I glance it and build a theme or concept around the content. That is why you should never have a slide that is busy with graphics, too many bullets points, or too much clutter. Are you building a report or you going to interpret every little bit of it for the audience?

Interpret, don’t just present

Someone came into my office this morning and asked if I could help a young person with public speaking. My answer was that I would be more than glad to help her out.

If you are young and just starting out in your career, you must master this skill and your goal is to become good at it. Never be afraid of the microphone. However, always remember that you are the interpreter, not the presenter. You will be interpreting all your slides for your audience, whether that be one-on-one, in a conference room, or on the big stage.

The magic happens when you take facts and figures, features and benefits, spreadsheets and PowerPoints —  “relatively soulless information,” as some call it — and embed them into the telling of a purposeful story. Your “tell” renders an experience to your audience, making the information inside the story memorable, resonant, and actionable.

Making it relevant

One of the key points in any finding is making it relevant. We can never assume that your audience will get it because the vast majority of time they will not. It is paramount that we make it come to life.

Slides on the screen, can make it pop! A report handed out makes it a story. So elaborate on the spreadsheet and help the audience connect the dots.

You simply must be more relevant. The days of sending it over and letting someone else have to work to interpret the information are over.

Remember, always: “If you can tell it, you can’t sell it.” 

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


2 Comments on “Reporting Analytics, or Why You Must Help Interpret It For Your Audience

  1. Thanks for the article Ron. With all the “cool” technology coming out to make even better graphics, it’s now easier than ever to get overwhelmed with process. However, finding the story in the data is the most important challenge, and then once you have the story learning how to tell it with confidence is the second skill set needed.

  2. Is the last line missing a word? In the context of your article, it seems like it would make more sense to encourage some skill in “telling it” in order to sell it. – Remember, always: “If you can tell it, you can’t sell it.”

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