Given the explosive growth of Big Data over the past decade, it’s not surprising that data-driven decision-making is one of the most promising applications in the emerging discipline of data science. Relevant data allows executives to make smarter, better informed decisions. It adds objectivity to the decision making process and allows companies to automate certain highly structured and routine operational decisions. Data driven decision-making also allows enterprises to be proactive and not reactive to changes in the market.
In 2004, as Hurricane Frances was barreling across the Caribbean, threatening the Florida’s Atlantic coast, Wal-Mart executive Linda Dillman used the Wal-Mart’s massive shopper history data to forecast which products Floridians would most want to purchase. Thanks to data mining Wal-Mart realized, to their surprise, that Strawberry Pop-Tarts sold seven times during a hurricane. Florida Wal-Mart’s quickly stocked their stores and just as quickly sold almost all inventory in a few days time, generating a handsome profit.
As powerful as this data can be, if delivered in an ineffective manner, it can be easily dismissed. In a world oversaturated with information, communicating data in an easily digestible and highly functional way is more crucial than ever. Here are five steps you can take to ensure your data doesn’t fall on deaf ears.
Choose Your Data Wisely
Avoid vanity numbers that look good but lead your executives to ask, why do I care? When it comes to showing data, always be able to either show the key metrics and/or tie your metrics to those bottom line numbers. Not only do you want to cut out the extra details of how you got your results, you also want to strip away anything that clutters your message. Do you need five charts of data to prove a point, or do you need one key metric to support your argument? Keep everything simple and concise.
Provide Context for Your Data
Why is this relevant? Decision makers get frustrated when they receive reports labeled “important”, but fail to provide an immediate explanation as to why. This is one of the main reasons why valuable documents sit on the back burner and often get dismissed. Data gets lost in translation if we can’t answer “So what?” without cluttering the mind of the decision maker.
Make Your Data Visual and Engaging
It’s probably not the best idea to verbally communicate data to a decision maker. Expecting them to remember the information is not very practical, as people only remember about 25 to 50 percent of what they hear. Put it in writing in the most concise and clear manner possible, and with as many visuals as possible to drive the main point home. You must be direct with your takeaways or recommendations.
At the top of your report explain what you are sending, why it’s important, and how the organization will benefit from it. Also, be sure to highlight sections that outline clear cut evidence for action. If there is evidence, make it easily visible from the beginning. This is the only way a decision maker can feel empowered by your data.
Anticipate Questions (and Objections)
How would you react? What holes exist in your argument? What other priorities are in the back of the CEO’s mind that may stir up potential questions? Think it through and prepare, and you’ll feel confident, look brilliant, and gain the trust of your CEO.
Remember, data is here to stay. Make sure that your C-level executives have the most relevant information at their fingertips to ensure intelligent, data-driven decisions, and take responsibility for conveying the right data in a meaningful way.