It’s More Than Data:
If we take the time and make an effort, we can find the stories hiding in our data. I began thinking about this when a friend presented me with some demographic data for our state (California). The data showed that there was negative population growth for the first time in many years.
But a closer look at the data showed much more to the story than just the final numbers. It turns out that there was a negative impact due to the pandemic. Also, the people leaving California for other states tended to be the less wealthy and educated, while the people moving here tend to be educated
professionals (mostly moving to technology centers). So we can make up an intriguing story based on this trend. That story might be quite different from simply stating that people are leaving California.
The same is true of our company’s financial data. What stories are hiding in the data? Are order sizes increasing or decreasing? Are customers placing more orders or fewer orders? Which products are most profitable and which are losing money? Where are our customers located? Are they changing?
What questions arise from looking through the data? Do you wish you had some additional information stored that would help flesh out your narrative?
For most of us, the chapters of our story are spread between many different platforms. The data is also not consistent across platforms and departments. How many different versions of Cost of Goods Sold do you have?
Some of the largest companies around still use spreadsheets at individual desks for ongoing critical performance indicator analysis. There is nothing wrong with spreadsheets. They are great for analyzing data for ad hoc projects and finding the hidden story in the data. However, we should convert that spreadsheet to a standard report in our ERP or financial software for ongoing KPIs.
The small-business owner or the executive team in a large organization must define the critical data elements and how the team derives them from the raw data. Those data elements should be created automatically and stored in a central repository. That repository is the only place report writers—storytellers—can go to develop dashboards or reports.
Our employees should have the freedom to create any report they deem necessary to help them manage the business, but that data should be consistent and up to date.
The stories we write about our business should be non-fiction. We base them on accurate and timely data. Non-fiction stories are often as exciting as fiction stories. The companies who tell fictional company stories wind up in trouble with regulators or go out of business, or both. Those undesirable consequences happen even if the fiction is the result of the unintentional use of flawed data.
Writers understand that they must research the facts on which they will base the stories they tell. A leader’s task is to write that non-fiction story to enroll stakeholders in our vision—the why of our business.