Talk Analytics with Executives – Revisited

March 22, 2011
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Analysts often complain that their work has little impact on decision-making. Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? Businesses invest in analytics resources, they must value the information. But these analysts are right – executives often put little weight on analytics when making decisions. One reason for this, perhaps the biggest reason, is that most executives can’t understand most analysts.

The communication gap between analysts and decision makers stands in the way of fact-based decision making.

Analysts often complain that their work has little impact on decision-making. Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? Businesses invest in analytics resources, they must value the information. But these analysts are right – executives often put little weight on analytics when making decisions. One reason for this, perhaps the biggest reason, is that most executives can’t understand most analysts.

The communication gap between analysts and decision makers stands in the way of fact-based decision making.

Executives have the power, and they aren’t rushing to attend statistics classes, so it’s up to us to learn their language if we want to be heard and understood. With that in mind, last November I posted a brief “how-to” on explaining analytics in ways that decision makers can appreciate, “Talk Analytics with Executives: 4 Things You Must Understand.”

Four months later, I am still getting notes about this piece. Many of these are from analysts who are struggling to be heard, some from managers who want more information they can use. I’ve presented this topic live, and have more speaking dates coming up (dates at the end of this post). Clearly, there is desire to close the communication gap, and that is felt by both sides.

One experienced analyst wrote: “Your approach to dealing with executives is much different than mine (I tend to favor the ‘overwhelm ’em with developing conclusions,’ which we both know doesn’t work that well).  I shall have to study yours closely to see if I can adapt my head to it.”

“Overwhelm ‘em with developing conclusions.” These few words pretty much sum up the communication style many of us develop in our analytics training. As statisticians, engineers or researchers, we’re trained to assemble the weightiest arguments possible, pile up the evidence. We tell the story beginning with its roots, leading step by step to the irrefutable conclusion. We teach.

Executives don’t want to be taught – they want to be sold.

Every interaction with a decision maker is a business transaction. Each bit of communication is an act of persuasion – your first remark must convince the executive that your message is worth the time to listen further, your presentation as a whole must justify action.

If you’re trained to tell the whole story, it’s challenging to make the transition to executive presentation style, but make the effort and you will see results quickly. At a talk earlier this year, I challenged attendees to use the techniques I explained in “Talk Analytics with Executives: 4 Things You Must Understand” in their next presentations, and boldly guaranteed these would be their most successful presentations ever. A couple of days later, I heard from someone who took me up on that challenge. He described a manager with an exceptionally short attention span, one who was likely to lose interest and even start dialing his phone during a presentation. The analyst reported that by following my advice, he was successful in getting his point across quickly, and the manager made a large purchase that the analyst recommended. He had made a leap forward in his ability to explain analytics in a way that would result in action, and he only needed to use what he learned in one 45 minute talk. One happy analyst.

Making that leap isn’t so hard. The key elements are outlined for you in the original article.

I’d love to hear from you, so drop me a line, or if you’re in the neighborhood, come by for one of my upcoming talks:

Product managers and marketers:

April 2
“Learn to Speak Executive”
ProductCamp
Chicago
All-day
500 W Madison St
http://www.pcampchicago.org/

IT Leadership:

April 6
“Get Ready for the New Era in Analytics”
Society for Information Management
Brookfield, WI
7:30 AM
M&I University , 401 North Executive Drive
Reservations: http://www.simnet.org/default.asp?page=April2011_Meeting

Engineers and other analysts:

April 7
“Talk Analytics with Executives”
American Society for Quality
Racine, WI
6 PM
Charcoal Grill, 8300 Washington Ave. (Hy 20)
Reservations: Email Jay Warner at quality@a2q.com