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In people analytics, telling stories should be the easy bit

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Oct 17, 2022

We are often told that people analytics professionals are not good at telling stories.

This is entirely understandable on one level, because – let’s face it – analytics professionals do sometimes need to learn to be clear and concise!

However, telling a compelling story shouldn’t be that hard.

What might be harder however, is the analytics approach you take in the first place.

For if leaders are not listening to your story, then it probably has less to do with a lack of a storytelling skill and more to do with how analytics professionals approach their analytics in the first place.

Let me explain why.

Leaders will have little interest in your story when:

  • You are just sharing “interesting” information
  • You are trying to sell them something

The case of sharing supposedly interesting information occurs when the analytics team has acquired and analyzed a lot of data and is now presenting its findings.

It’s not clear to anyone how those findings relate to the leaders’ priorities, but the analytics team feels compelled to share their work. It shouldn’t be a surprise if leaders react with yawns to this kind of story, no matter how good the storyteller is.

But the mistake was starting with big data and presuming there must be something interesting in it. Often there is not.

The case of trying to sell leaders something is far too common in HR.

HR wants this program or that program and presents some analysis to try to sell that idea. Predictably, leaders will often react with a certain amount of hostility.

On this occasion, the problem is not in how you are telling the story; the problem is that leaders are fed up with sales pitches.

Story telling is easy when…

Telling an analytics story is easy when leaders have presented an analytics professional with a question they need answered or a decision they need to make.

Let’s imagine they want to know how to get new programmers up to speed more quickly. When analysts come back saying there are two viable options and here’s the evidence about the effectiveness of each option, then leaders will be all ears.

Similarly, if leaders need to decide how to set pay policy this year, then they will be eager to hear analysis of market data.

So, the success of storytelling depends mainly on your starting point.

If you are starting with a pile of data hoping something interesting can be found within, then more likely than not you won’t have anything worthwhile to share.

If you are starting with what you want, then you can’t expect leaders to be particularly receptive.

However, if analytics is driven by a leader’s need to make an important decision, then you’ll have an attentive audience, even if your storytelling skills are not the best.

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