Building Foundational Structures: Data & Relationships

Building Foundational Structures: Data & Relationships

During one of my recent coaching calls with a VP of Analytics, we got into a conversation about how hard it is to have conversations.  People are difficult to understand!  Have you ever thought, “Why did they ask that question?”  “Why did they say it that way?” “Didn’t they hear what I just said?”

Especially in the world of analytics it is challenging to work with colleagues and executives who don’t totally understand what you do (or even remotely understand it).  And, they often don’t understand how much work is involved in their requests. Yet the pressure to deliver is real.  The desire for a strong data foundation and the expectation for quality output immediately is also very real for many analytics teams.  It is about the data, but it’s also about the communication and relationships between you and your stakeholders.

So, how do you build a foundation with the data and with your relationships?

One technique I offer to my coaching clients is to focus on one key stakeholder that having a stronger relationship with would change everything.  This could be your boss, the CIO, the CFO, or a key business leader.  Just focus on one.  That one relationship is the rock to the relationships that you build across your team and other teams.

Once you’ve identified this person, be ready for some work. You have to think and pay attention.

  • What is it like to be in their shoes?  What is expected of them?  What pressure are they under?
  • What do you want to get out of the next conversation?  Understanding them better?  Helping them to see your point of view?
  • In your conversations, do they usually like to understand everything or just want the bullets?  Do they have a sense of urgency or prefer to take time to make sure it is all done right?
  • How willing are you to shift your language to achieve your results?

As an analytics career coach I often reference Insights color energies because it provides such a foundational language to understand difference in communication preferences. For example, if you have a boss with a preference for Fiery Red energy, he or she will most likely not care about the details.  This can be a challenge as you want to explain what it takes to meet their request, even at a basic level.  It can also make it challenging to not sound like you’re making excuses for why something can’t be done in the time frame requested.  They want the result and want you to figure out how it will get done.

So, how do you build a Relationship Foundation?  Similar to building your data foundation, start with what you already have (common ground), identify the risks (nothing is perfect), and then figure out what will work best (perform experiments).

  1. Start with Common Ground – Identify the results you are both seeking.  It may be a report that answers directional questions or one that can be ran month after month.  It could be a data structure that will save hours of work down the line or quick answers that are needed right now, even if the answers have a larger margin of error.  Taking a step back to see the big picture and your starting point is key to building that foundation
  2. Present Your Risk Analysis – Think of your role in the conversation as presenting risk factors.  Your job is to present the facts and identify what is at stake.  Anything is possible, it just might come with a higher risk factor for error.  Once a decision is made, separate yourself from it.  Support it regardless if that was something you would have chose.  Don’t put a crack in your relationship foundation just because a decision is riskier than you feel comfortable with
  3. Approach Conversations as Experiments – Every conversation can be a data point when it comes to the relationship.  It tells you what works best for that person and what doesn’t work.  If I word it different, how does that change the reaction?  How did that key stakeholder react when I started explaining more details?  How did they react when I talked about the work involved? What questions did they ask of me?  Taking a minute to reflect on their style can inform you on how to adapt and connect with them in the next interaction.

Ultimately, adapting your language and communication style to build a solid relationship foundation with a key stakeholder is just as important as building a strong data foundation.  Without one the other one crumbles.

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