Five Ways to Practice the Art of Data Persuasion
Compassion may seem a strange word to use in the context of data leadership but moving from one way of thinking and doing things to a new one can be tough. The best approach is to stay highly observant and guide users in their data journey. And that means putting yourself in their place.
Here are some approaches you can consider as you build your organization.
Give early users some extra attention. In our organization, we set up what we call DIY data stores so users can find, interrogate, and model data themselves, on their own time. We monitor those who are significant DIY users and work to convert them to using Tableau rather than Excel for data visualization and analytics tasks. Even if we can partner with and convert one or two users in each group, this success spreads throughout their organization. Anyone who is spending 30 minutes to do what used to take them eight hours is going to talk about it.
Take many small steps versus pursuing overnight change. If you see a user who is clearly spending too much time doing something, look for a way to bring them into your new methodology gradually. To use my previous example, if someone is sinking hours and hours into updating an inefficient dashboard and then adding even more time tweaking a PowerPoint presentation for it, try introducing the idea of storyboarding in Tableau. It’s a much more efficient way of putting together a sequence of visualizations to tell a compelling data story or demonstrate how decisions relate to outcomes. As they become more comfortable using something like storyboards, their reliance on both Excel and PowerPoint should decrease.
Present tools as solutions to problems, not applications in search of problems. Like many organizations, Citi sees the benefit of getting our metrics more frequently. When it’s possible to see data reports every day, a monthly cadence of data reports looks old pretty quickly. This is a great opportunity to partner with your data analysts to say, “Let’s build something quite specific for you the first time, but let's train you up and give you the tools to do it yourself next time.” Once they realize that they are getting back a lot of time using the new tools, users can focus on things like interrogating the daily more to ensure that it’s accurate, searching for a more viable product mix for a specific segment, or doing more of what’s written on their job description versus what they’re actually doing on a day-to-day basis.
Guide users who feel tentative and vulnerable. Depending on their age and background, not everyone will have experienced Tableau in university, have it on their CV, or ask for training opportunities out of the box. Others will be a bit scared about it, even if they don’t admit it outright. That’s why it’s so important to find and elevate the early users so they can propagate the story around them. If they can say, “I used to do this, and it used to take me five hours a week. Now it takes me half an hour a week, and I can do even more,” other people will become interested as well. Remember that some colleagues were brought into their roles because they know a lot about insurance or travel, not data visualization technology. Your expertise and theirs can really build on each other.
Highlight that a more productive use of data is within reach. If you think back a few decades, or even ten years, many senior leaders still led with their gut when it came to business and organizational decisions. Gut and experience are still important, but there is no longer any need to lead with them when you can interrogate and present data in ways that illuminate a more responsible use of it. For example, it would be foolhardy in early 2023 for any financial company to blanket its entire mailing list with email or SMS offers for a personal loan. We all should have enough information about our clients to know that most wouldn’t want the product, and with the right tools data leaders can push back on the mentality of taking actions simply because the company can. With great data comes great responsibility, and that’s an idea anyone can rise to.