Like many data leaders in large enterprises, my team and I are called on to equip our executives with the data they need to make important decisions across the business. Here are five approaches to data analytics for executives I’ve found successful in making our senior internal customers stronger data advocates of the visualizations we create for them.

  1. Start with the core pain points rather than the end product. Executives sit where they do in companies because their judgment is valued. However, when I am in a requirements session an executive may begin by saying, “Okay, here’s what I want to see: this kind of dashboard and these metrics.” He or she clearly has a vision in their mind, but I always try to dig a bit deeper to get to the next level of information they need and how they’re going to act on it. What kind of actions are they going to take once they have the information in their hands, for example? Part of our job is to solve for a business pain in an enlightened way, so it’s critical to dig into the problem and get to the bottom of what people really need before agreeing on an answer. When you succeed, data advocacy from these same executives is a likely byproduct of your work.
  2. Take an anthropological approach to understand each customer’s journey. I like to ask our internal customers to walk me through their day. “How does your workday start? Do you struggle with where to start? What are you trying to achieve and what gets in the way of that? Where do you get your information?” These questions help to create a collaborative spirit of solving a real problem versus designing something that the user may think will work for them. By involving your internal customer in the process, that collaborative spirit helps foster the growth of another data advocate.
  3. Create visualizations that are as simple and transparent as possible. We need our end users to consume information effectively, so we try to make it very easy to do that, especially if their background is non-technical. Our team’s vision always has been to understand how we can solve problems and bring these insights to the end users, rather than making end users hunt for the insights. I would bet most visualizations that fail to deliver information well were designed by command and not through a collaborative process focused on solving problems.    
  4. Make visualizations springboards to action. Our internal customers don’t want to get caught up in beautiful designs that leave it up to them to figure out what’s being communicated. We put ourselves in the shoes of people like a colleague who recently told us that they have 300 customers and need to reach out to the ones they haven’t contacted in the past 30 days. They also need those customers’ engagement scores, how much they deal with our company, and whether they have any outstanding issues that need attention. They may need to open up specific customer records and update details. They may need prompts on what kinds of conversations to have with specific customers. Getting to this level of detail ensured that we produced something that helped this manager get their job done better and prioritized what they needed to do first. 
  5. Connect your efforts to broader data literacy programs. My company has been doing an excellent job with data literacy initiatives to improve everyone’s ability to read and use data better. We have training, competitions, and an internal community of data-minded people. But why not go further? If you have an executive customer that has benefitted from your data visualization work, make them a data literacy advocate. Maybe they can speak at an internal event or appear at a lunch and learn. Data programs are far more successful with executive endorsement, so don’t overlook the opportunity to leverage a satisfied customer who can help carry the torch of data advocacy and shine a light on what your team is doing. 

If you’re looking to make executives enthusiastic spokespeople for data analytics and the results these programs can enable, think of each one the way I do: as a future advocate.