Book review - Storytelling With Data

Storytelling with Data: A data visualization guide for business professionals Author: Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic Author cred If you’ve gone to HR conferences (pre-pandemic) or done any HR reading in the past few years, you’ll know about the effort that Google put into it’s people analytics function… largely to get data-based evidence for what makes their best leaders successful – called “Project Oxygen.”   Lots has been written about what they found, including  Work Rules  by Laszlo Bock, the head of HR at Google at the time. As Bock writes in the forward to Knaflic’s book, she was hired as an early and critical member of the people analytics team. Her success distilling “messy” data into clear and actionable information was exactly what was needed for their project; she was then tasked with developing a course to teach data visualization principles to the rest of the organization – and they put her on the road to deliver the content to Google business leads around the world.

Talk data to me

Cheeky post title aside, one way I believe I add value at work is by asking about the numbers underlying the various initiatives I support.  For example, in my role assisting with HR communications and messaging, my colleagues sometimes come to me because they are getting "flooded" with calls from employees on a particular topic, and they want a plan of action. Before I make a recommendation, I usually ask them to quantify what they are saying : how many calls exactly? Over what period? How does that differ from the usual or expected volume?   Of course I stand ready to help, but the numbers they cite often indicate that it's better for us to listen attentively  rather than  communicate aggressively . They can keep answering questions, and being as helpful as possible. In the meantime, we can always prepare messages to issue more broadly if calls spike unexpectedly or are sustained over a long period.  Ask first, act later   Numbers give us perspective and o

Radical Candor: Go read it!

I have a full plate at work these days, and not a lot of time to develop ideas for posts. So here is one I've been holding in reserve,  just for you ! After leading a high-growth team at Google under Sheryl Sandberg, Kim Scott was invited to Apple to create the leadership development program at “Apple University.”  Her model and the ideas she formed at Google and then at Apple are the basis of her book  Radical Candor . If you haven't read it, you should, especially if you manage a team.  A simple framework The book is mostly about the power of getting and giving feedback, and how to make it count. The framework is simple, exhorting leaders to “care personally” and “challenge directly” in redirecting and coaching their team members.  She uses a four-quadrant diagram to explain the importance of balancing one with the other. If you care personally (which she shows on the vertical axis of her model) while challenging directly (along the horizontal axis), that

Co-creating change: Future state design sessions

I wrote earlier about my experience co-creating change , with advice to start by listening . Today I want to talk about another technique we've used repeatedly: sessions where "customers" (employees and leaders in our HR world) are invited to come together to discuss what the redesigned future program/tool/service could look like. We have run these sessions using design-thinking approaches, in particular " empathy mapping ."  Our approach to empathy maps is a bit different. Rather than using them to imagine the thoughts and feelings of different "user personas" ourselves, we've designed them as tools gather employees' thoughts and feelings directly, in sessions where we elicit their views of what future needs to look like. Here's how it works. There are typically four or five empathy map posters set up around the room for an hour-long session, on large, dry-erasable surfaces.  The first question on each poster sets the focus for that

How I learned to be a better writer

When I first joined my current employer, it was in a communications role. I had been a consultant for over a decade, mainly working with tech companies to develop PR campaigns and hone their marketing messages. I was pretty good at it, especially the writing part. In high school, I used to ace my writing assignments, and I would help my romance-writing mom by proofreading her work when asked. In university, I successfully completed a master's in English literature while taking on freelance writing and editing gigs. Along the way, I contributed articles to the campus paper, even becoming arts editor one undergrad year.  After graduation, writing was an integral part of every job I took. Along the way, I got used to being considered "the one who could write." It's how I thought about myself too. Smaller fish in a bigger pond So, it was a change for me to join an organization with a sizable communications team, where communications is central to the organization&#

Slow down, back up, and listen: Some goals for 2020

Here are some of the ideas on my mind as I think about my development (in the work context) in the coming year: I've learned I need to intentionally slow down and let others help shape the work or the discussions I am leading. This is especially true when I am feeling stressed about the need to get sh!4 done! I will be looking for a technique or a way to remind me to do that when the crunch is on. (This is something I will talk to my leader about. I am also open to suggestions!)  Related to the above, I need to be mindful of the advice I sought last year around running better meetings. While I am good at providing background info most of the time (one of my colleagues calls me the Queen of Context), I have sometimes skimped on this in meetings. I need to remember to back up and let people know where the current discussion fits into the overall process, i.e., what is the ultimate deliverable, what has happened so far, and what happens next. My technique for this one is to add so

Co-creating change: Start by listening

As I previously blogged , my organization focuses on co-creation as a way of enabling change, and I am a huge proponent of the approach. One of the most powerful early examples for me was at the outset of a multi-year plan to modernize pretty much everything HR did and every tool we used to do it. Like other departments, HR was offered the opportunity of hosting a booth at the annual employee conference that year. It was too early in our planning and too broad an audience to engage on specific questions about tool functionality or new approaches. At the same time, we wanted to plant the seed that change was coming, and possibly gather a bit of information to feed into our thinking. Rather than go for the usual show-and-tell, we decided to use the booth to hear what mattered to employees. And so, the "Tell us your HR story" idea was born. How it worked On the backdrop of the booth, we created a linear map of the "employee journey" at the organization. We t