Q: As an analyst, I’m in the position of creating reports for senior executives and board members.
On one hand, I have to “dumb down” information for them, yet they then complain that they aren’t getting the full story. How should I handle this?
Stefan, 33, senior data analyst
A: To be effective in your job, you need to master two roles: data exploration and communication. And of the two, the latter is the more difficult.
You are seeing this at play in your dilemma. I have little doubt that you are skilled with data analysis, pulling together different sources and understanding the details of your findings. These are your tools of the trade.
But this may be leading you to a critical blind spot. While reveling in the detail can lead to great insights, it’s not an end in itself.
And the wording of your question reflects some tone deafness about the needs of your audience.
To become more effective as a communicator with executives, start with understanding this audience and their unique needs.
First of all, recognize that they have intense demands on their attention.
So, while your topic may be the most important thing to you, it’s one of dozens (or more) for them.
Be realistic about the amount of time they have to grasp an issue and come to a decision.
Then realize that you are probably getting the request through a variety of filters as their needs are translated down through different levels of management.
Keeping these factors in mind, you will be most successful if you continually bring the focus of any request back to the business questions that need to be addressed.
What might this look like? When you are asked to provide an analysis, clarify with questions such as: What do you need to do with this information? How will the data be used? What business question are your trying to answer?
You are then moving into a more consultative role, rather than just a data output vehicle. People may be surprised at first, and may even push back. You can then make the point that, the better you understand the need, the better you can tailor the analysis you provide.
Next look at your deliverables.
If you are asked to just send, say, a spreadsheet, go the next step. Look at the data and provide your interpretation as a starting point.
Put it in the e-mail so your recipient is aware, but also in a separate tab on the spreadsheet. Think concise — just share the most important points.
What if you are asked to prepare a short (1-2 page) PowerPoint with key findings? The key is to have the summary page that can be shared with the executives, but then a brief appendix with supporting data.
Think one page per key finding. That way, the presenter is ready for questions, you have made their lives easier, and everyone is more satisfied.
Just be sure to stay focused on the business questions that need to be addressed, continually improve your responses based on feedback you receive, and be mindful of the needs of every audience you serve.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.