Storytelling is Killing People Analytics’ Credibility

By November 11, 2017 No Comments

Words matter.

The use of the word storytelling has creeped into our vocabulary and that’s not a good thing.

Words matter.

From Wikipedia: Storytelling is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, often with improvisation, theatrics, or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values.

Is that how the findings from an analytical study wants to be viewed? I don’t think so.

Words matter.

The human resources industry for decades has been trying to get validation in the C-suite, let alone at the board level. The vocabulary of the CCO, CFO and COO is in business terms. Unless you work for companies such as Disney or Electronic Arts – storytelling is not generally part of the business leaders’ vocabulary.

For decades, the HR industry has been bitching about a “seat at the table,” while also being comfortable collecting evidence primarily around surveys. Correlation or not? Do you remember the movement in the training industry to adopt ROE – return on expectations, because getting to ROI was too hard? No wonder the C-suite doesn’t believe the profession is strategic.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m been an advocate for better analytics communications since I started this work in 2004, and have written extensively about it. We learned early in our journey that communicating complicated information (say that three times) was more effective using visuals with few words vs. reams of words and calculations.

Last year I wrote a blog on this subject.

“I recently read Cole Nussbaumer Knaflice’s book Story Telling With Data, a data visualization guide for business professionals … It is the best book I have ever read on communicating data with clarity.”

I understand the need for the use of the word within our profession, and continue to applaud all efforts to better analytics. However, in recent years just about every analytics presentation I have seen includes some segment on storytelling.

I know some of these slides have been presented to the C-suite. Do we really want them to think we are telling stories with the data?

Words matter.