Data Driven Business

8 years ago
The Persuasive Analyst and the Executive

Executives. Sometimes, we think Executives are brilliant (Steve Jobs). Sometimes, we call them “HiPPOs”. The term represents “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion”.

I detest this label, and for good reason. I was an analyst. I did the work. I struggled to communicate with Executives. I was also a Vice President at a multi-billion dollar corporation, where I led twenty-four analysts.

In other words, I got to see both sides of the coin.

We make assumptions about Executive behavior, largely because we don’t get to understand the real reasons why Executives make decisions. Executives are not going to freely communicate the reasons behind decisions, leaving analysts to perceive that the decisions are not data driven, and are largely arbitrary.

Allow me to provide an example.

I worked with an EVP (this person is currently the CEO of a very large business). I wrote some of my most elegant, data-driven papers for this individual. I described how his customers behaved, outlining specifically how this individual should respond to changes in customer behavior.

Meeting in his office, I asked him to retrieve my paper. He told me he didn’t have my paper. How the heck could he not have my paper? I worked for a month on this paper, it contained the secrets to his business! I mean, this moron clearly didn’t respect my work.

And then he said something that blew my mind.

He said, “Why would I clutter my office with all of the paperwork you and other people perform for me? Why wouldn’t I just call upon an expert when I need them, and have the expert explain what is going on?”

In other words, the Executive Vice President didn’t care much about the actual content of my work, he trusted me, and would call upon me when he needed me to explain something.

This subtle change in focus is really important. The goal of an analyst, in my opinion, is to become a trusted advisor. Later, when I became a Vice President, I had two or three analysts that I fully trusted, out of twenty-four. I would give these individuals all of the important project work, because I could trust them to be fair, to be honest, to work with integrity, to be smart, to communicate clearly, and to not make errors. Their output was, largely, irrelevant to me. Yes, their work was data driven, but that was ultimately unimportant to me, compared to the attributes the analysts possessed.

Sometimes, we perceive that Executives are making gut-feel decisions. I am not convinced that is the case. I think Executives stray from data driven decisions when they do not trust the analyst. I know I did this!

If I were an analyst in the early days of a long, fruitful career, I would focus disproportionate energy on gaining trust. This is hard work, and it takes time. But as an analyst, I want to be in a situation where an Executive trusts me so much that he doesn’t even need to keep a copy of my work on her desk.

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