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What J.K. Rowling Can Do for Your Talent Management Analytics

By Evan Sinar, Ph.D.

Evan Sinar, Ph.D.New writers are taught to consider 6 elements before composing a story: Characters, Conflict, Setting, Plot, Point of View, and Theme. The best stories share these elements to keep you turning pages until the end, but this doesn’t happen by accident – the authors have taken the time in advance to make sure that all these elements are in place. If you want people to sit up and your message to soak in when you’re presenting on strategic workforce planning, employee engagement trends, the cross-organizational impact of your new hiring system, or other talent management analytics, you need to think and plan like a novelist would.

First, your Characters – these are your data. Everything revolves around them, but only if the audience cares. Where do they come from, what are their strengths and flaws, and how will you evolve them during the story? Not all are protagonists; the virtues of high-quality data (just like well-loved characters) only become truly evident in contrast to those of lesser quality. By illuminating these distinctions – perhaps by introducing inferior data and then justifying why you eliminated them from the remaining analyses – you make those who do survive to the happy ending all the more meaningful.

Second, your Conflict – in fiction, this can be a struggle between the forces of good and evil; for you, it’s the need or question being tackled with your analysis. What was the catalyst, and why now? Absorbing conflicts are challenges that all can relate to and have faced themselves (or are facing now). If you can’t make your conflict obvious to the audience, your business analytics are answering a question no one is asking.

Third, your Setting – instead of 19th Century Italy, this is the business context. Your analytics aren’t occurring in a vacuum – what preceding, surrounding, and upcoming events do the audience need to be made aware of (or reminded of)? Each audience member brings his or her own background; a well-constructed setting guarantees that all are viewing the issue through the right lens – and precisely as you are defining it – of time, place, and business environment.

Fourth, your Plot – through what sequence of events are you guiding the audience? What are the logical connections along this path, with each analysis phase leading naturally to the next? People hate being lost in the middle – with a well-crafted plot for your data-driven story, including waypoints and smooth transitions, the systematic progression from beginning to end becomes perfectly clear.

Fifth, your Point of View – for a story, this may be first- or third-person; for you, it’s the stakeholder perspective (or in most cases, multiple perspectives) you are emphasizing. With business analytics, these can include operational, financial, technical, or user-focused perspectives. Plan in advance to ensure that everyone in your audience can clearly see the meaning of your story, but from their point of view.

Finally, your Theme – what is your overall message? What should the audience know afterward that they didn’t before? For analytics, what are the key one or two insights that simply must occur or else your intended effect and any resulting implications will be ignored, lost, or squandered?

Story-tellers in all arenas share common obstacles, but the use of these time-tested techniques can dramatically increase the impact and memorability of the finished work, particularly when applied to data-heavy and business topics that can otherwise appear dry and lifeless. When planning your next presentation featuring talent management analytics, force yourself to answer these questions beforehand. Your audience will thank you for it, and the likelihood will soar that your message will resonate with the audience, influence others toward action, and drive business outcomes.

Evan Sinar, Ph.D., is a manager of the Assessment Technology Group with Development DDI.

Posted: 08 Aug, 2011,
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