Back in college I wrote a ton of papers for various classes. Without fail, my writing process would look like this.

  • Read some of the research available and form an opinion.
  • Write an essay based on that opinion.
  • Go back and find data to back up my essay’s key points.
  • Get about 95% finished and realize that the paper didn’t turn out like I wanted it to originally.
  • Rewrite the entire thing from scratch (usually with just a day or two left until the deadline)

analysisThis was a painful process, but it usually yielded fairly good results. I think that many of us try to do the same with this big data/analytics concept. We immediately go out and start gathering HR data, hoping to make some incredible discovery that will revolutionize the way we do business.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. However, I’ll teach you a trick I’ve learned in the analyst life that can help you as you attempt to wrap your head around this concept.

Start with the story

Recently I talked about how you should collect data with a purpose. Today I want to explain how to tell a story.

When I am working on a new paper, I usually start with multiple sources of data. To be honest, my writing process looks very similar to the original method I used for term papers, minus the last minute complete rewrite. One of the ways I am able to avoid that is by outlining a compelling story.

Some of my favorite pieces to publish are case studies from Brandon Hall Group’s awards program about how companies have solved actual business problems through applications of strategy, change management, learning, leadership, etc. These are excellent because they offer a story-like setup, and stories are powerful. From the introduction of the business challenge to the development of the solution, including an in-depth look at the actual, measurable results at the end, there is no substitute for this kind of research. That’s my theory of why clients and prospects love the case studies.

  1. They give them a story that is intriguing and easy to follow
  2. They tell about another company that already faced the challenge and overcame it

Analytics and storytelling

There are consulting/teaching companies now that are focused entirely on this niche of “business storytelling.” If you’re in the world of fiction, data doesn’t really add to the conversation. But in this fast-paced world of organizational growth and development, having the data to support your story is critical. It’s not just about having enough data or the right data–it’s about being able to weave a story to explain it that makes sense and is believable.

In one of my jobs I had to report on turnover metrics on a monthly basis. Every month before I had to share, I would go through and make notes on who had left and why so that I could explain in broad strokes what had occurred. I quickly realized that simply reporting the numbers meant people would tune out and easily forget what I had to say. I needed to share in story form whenever possible to maximize attention and recall for the the others.

Whatever HR technology you’re using, whether it is Advance Systems or something else, you need to be clear on how to use the data you are gathering in your organizational story.

Do you have a presentation coming up soon where you’ll be sharing data? Do you have a story to make it compelling? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

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