This article is about getting businesses to take action based on your analytically driven recommendations. I wrote this because of a post Eric Weber wrote on LinkedIn last week about five things he learned in his first data consulting job. It’s a good post with accurate observations, and I wanted to add my take on how you can get around some of the shortfalls that he noted.
I don’t think I have all the answers, or even most of them, so if you have thoughts on how to get data driven changes implemented please comment below.
Before I start I want to mention one thing. I do not know Eric. While he has an outstanding first name, spelled correctly I might add, all I know of him is based on our limited interactions on LinkedIn. I have no idea if his data consulting work is good or not, but based on his posts he most certainly “gets it.”
As you read the post you’ll note the underlying tone is that in many cases on a data consulting project you can be “right” but at the same time have nothing come of it. That absolutely happens so I would like to share my thoughts and experiences on how to get around that.
Business is politics
The first thing to understand is that business is definitely politics. There are always considerations on “who’s idea something was” or “who gets credit” or “I need to look good to my boss / BoD / investors right now.” This is true even for people who abhor that idea and do their best to keep business politics free. It is unavoidable because it is human nature.
Action plan: Figure out who wants you to succeed, who is heavily invested in the current state and might not want to see bad results regardless of how they might help the company.
Attempt to understand the politics of the engagement before you start
Engagements with brand new clients are always the hardest. There are a lot of reasons behind this and I’d say the biggest one of them is you don’t understand the politics of the office yet. The executive authority and executive influence are important to understand and often not straightforward.
It’s easy to know who the CEO is, they have the biggest office and it says CEO on their doorplate. But always pay attention to who is the thought leader or executive influencer is in the office. You can have a senior executive tell you yes when you are face to face and then back track after talking to some subject matter experts who disagree. You need to know who the people that the decision maker listens to are.
I labeled this section as “attempt to understand” because you cant really get it down until you’ve been working there for a bit. But you need to be looking and observing the power dynamics the whole time.
Action plan: Watch who goes in and out of the decision makers’ office, who they call the most frequently, or who always seems to be on the cc list on the email chain.
Pre-socialize your findings
In consulting there will be formal times when you need to present your findings. It should be incredibly rare that it is the first time for the audience seeing that material. In most instances, you want to pre-socialize your findings with people who will be able to make or influence the decisions around the project.
When you pre-socialize you need to approach it like you are asking for their opinion or insight into what you’re finding. Here is the thing though, it doesn’t matter how confident you are in your findings and how badly you think they are going to take it, you really do need their insight. You are not placating them by asking these questions, you are genuinely seeking to improve your work. That is an important distinction to make lest you be seen as playing office politics.
The other element that is handy for pre-socializing is you can start the formal presentation with “most of you have probably seen this already” which pre-empts a lot of disagreement because the person thinks everyone else has already agreed.
Action plan: Discuss your findings with the people you need to have on board or who can influence others and ask them for their input prior to formally presenting.
Part of understanding the situation is understanding what they are looking for and what they think the result is going to be. It is really rare for their expectation to be 100% wrong, there are almost always elements of truth to them. The key here is to start with what they were right about and then build on it from there.
Action plan: Use this to walk them through conclusions they are not going to like by starting with points you know they’ll agree with.
Offer solutions before they do
What often happens when things are not going well is that management looks for a reason to use a different metric than they had been using to measure performance. This is not entirely wrong; often times dips in performance are due to changes in market conditions and those metrics were designed for a specific set of market conditions.
When you see that things are not going to look good, double check to see if they are really as bad as that one metric looks. If it isn’t, offer an alternative metric with some backdated results that more accurately describes the situation.
Now, keep in mind, this is a bit of an art. You cannot be dishonest and put forth a metric that makes things look good when sales are tanking. But you cant also call their baby ugly and wonder why they don’t want to work with you to fix it.
Action plan: Create alternative metrics which accurately portray the situation but are more palatable to invested stakeholders.
Speak for the data
The data most certainly does not speak for itself. Putting the data out there and letting people form their own conclusions is the worst thing you can do it you want action taken.
You need to form conclusions for them and logically walk your audience through them. This is something where you use the tried and true logical presentation techniques like the pyramid principle. I wrote a course of Udemy about how to do that. If you’re interested just message me on LinkedIn and I’ll give you a link to take it for free.
Action plan: Create logical presentations that portray clear conclusions and use the pyramid principle to walk through the logic in an irrefutable format.
After listening to all these points you probably think that is hard and a lot of work. Yes, it is. But if that is something you are scared of, stay away from consulting and professional services in general. If making an impact is the part of consulting you like the best, try these tips to navigate politics and get results.
I hope you enjoyed this and it spurred some thoughts on how you can do things better. As I mentioned before I’d love to hear your thoughts.