Data as Author Pt. 2

Be careful about your data narratives, someone might actually believe them.

Billy Valentine, data whisperer

Numbers are nice but it is the narrative, the story, the matters. As an outside advisor for learning leaders for over two decades I know that the data may raise questions it is the narrative that raises eyebrows. Data can always be found to prop up one’s gut or one’s desired POV. Words must be carefully chosen and implications properly couched.

I have written a few times about the annual State of the Industry numbers and the narrative spun by ATD and LinkedIn Research. Spoiler alert: not a fan and not a believer. But if you want to put your learning organization’s numbers in a positive light there is no doubt you can find a stat that looks nice sitting next to the leading companies.

Data doesn’t lie. 

And we don’t have to either. But we do tell the truth in our own way.  For example:

A company has 1000 employees with the level of manager or above.  Last year L&D ran a pilot with 40 participant sin a new leadership program.  This year they ran the course multiple times putting 120 future leaders through the program.  The following data points are ALL accurate.

  • To date only 16% of the company’s leaders have received learning support.(makes the case for additional investment)
  •  We trained 3X as many leaders this year than last. (demonstrates commitment to future leaders)
  • Our leadership program has directly impacted (participant + direct reports) almost 2000 employees (assumes 10-12 direct reports per manager)

So when you write your narrative be careful.  The narrative can often say more about the author than it does about the data. Don’t overstate (tempting), know the limits of the data (it will have biases just like you), don’t over extend from data to assumption (without acknowledging it) and for heaven’s sake know the difference between causation and correlation.

Author: J.

J. Miguez has spent the last 25 years designing Learning & Development organizations and the service offerings that support them. Learning domain explorer.

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