A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Tomorrow the 2016 election season comes to an end. Regardless of who you vote for, regardless of who wins, at least it will be over. We hope. But one interesting thing that election season never fails to do is to get people talking about numbers. People are talking about polling data, and probability, and correlation between actions and outcomes. Admittedly some of this is fuzzy math, at best. But I have become a little bit obsessed with Nate Silver and his website www.fivethirtyeight.com this election cycle
If you’re not familiar with him, Nate Silver accurately predicted the outcome in 49 of the 50 states in the 2008 presidential election, and all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the 2012 election. He wrote a national bestseller called The Signal and The Noise. I became obsessed with the site not only because of the subject matter this presidential season, but because of his absolutely stunning data visualizations. Anybody who can make a bestseller out of a book about math and statistics has a few tricks up his sleeve when it comes to helping people understand data and why it’s relevant to them. I urge you to check out the interactive page on his site for some pretty amazing ways he illustrates his analysis. Oh, and he does some sports predictions too.
I think it’s time for HR to take a page out of Nate Silver’s book. It’s not enough to have data, or even to have a deep understanding of that data. If other people don’t know what you’re talking about, it will be meaningless. Data geeks – and HR leaders – need to be storytellers, and pictures tell powerful stories. And it doesn’t require fancy tools or visualizations as sophisticated as the ones I linked to above. Just the thought process of understanding who your audience is, what data is most meaningful to the decisions they need to make, and being clear about the point you want them to walk away with, will take you a long way in being able to tell actionable stories with your analytics.
As an example, let’s say you are looking at absenteeism in your organization. A straight average over 12 months is one way to answer that question. A line graph that shows the trend over time is another. A visualization that shows the trend over time as compared to productivity tells yet another. A finance leader may only need the number, an operations manager may use the data over time for future planning, and an executive may want to understand if the rate of absenteeism is even causing an impact. Context is everything, and understanding what decision or action may be taken off of data can help you present it in the most meaningful and relevant way. It’s also an incredible way to illustrate progress against a goal, helping people truly see the impact of their actions.
Data visualization was one of the trends I noted coming out of The HR Technology Conference, and for good reason. Studies say that 65% of us are visual learners, so adding pictures to our data stories is important. Helping people understand what the data is telling them so that they can take action is the last mile of analytics. Without it, you’ve done the work but never get to see the payoff. Let your data shine.
And don’t forget to vote!