Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

People Lie, Data Doesn’t

Dr. House - Everyone Lies

Dr. Gregory House is my all-time favorite TV show character. My dad and I would often talk about his taste in turntables, Mcintosh Amps, sneakers, and canes. Fun fact, I actually once owned a replica of his flame-styled cane. I received it as a Christmas present.

Beyond his great taste in “things”, we both admired his mantra of, “everybody lies”. At its widest aperture, he’s 100% right. People will eventually lie about something. Granted, we all know all lies aren’t created equal. There are white lies, grey lies, black lies, red lies, and probably every other color in the rainbow.

I want to focus on the lies that are used when we don’t like what the data says. This happens more often than you’d think and you’re probably guilty of having “lied” when it comes to data. Let me give you some familiar scenarios.

Steady and Strong: Let’s say you’ve been trying to lose 10 pounds. If after hitting the gym 3 days a week for a month, eating healthier, cutting out soda, and walking more your weight was exactly the same as it was when you started. Would you characterize your weight, relative to your goals, as steady or strong? Sure, there’s a glass is half-full view that would say, but I didn’t gain any weight, therefore, my weight is holding steady. That’s true. But, the goal was to lose weight. Characterizing your progress as steady, while not a lie, isn’t exactly telling an honest story. A more truthful interpretation of the data would be something like – I have been unable to make meaningful progress towards my goal. If you take that approach, you might revisit your strategy and approach and ultimately achieve your goal.

Full of Opportunity: When the data shows you continue to spend more on advertising than you’re generating in net-profit you could characterize the situation as being full of opportunity. When you say that it comes across as some things are working, some things aren’t, but with just a few tweaks we’ll be right as rain. A more honest characterization of the situation might be, our current implementation strategy is not working, we’re losing money with every dollar spent, and we must change course.

We’re Seeing Lots of Activity: This comes across in a wide variety of flavors. For example, we’re getting a lot of traffic. Ok – but what about the conversions? Then, we have, there’s a lot of engagement. Ok – but was engagement the goal? And, there’s the infamous we’ve got a lot of initiatives going right now. Ok – but are we those initiatives generating results? The core truth of this situation is that activity does not equal accomplishment. Some call this the “busy trap”, where looking busy gives a false sense of value being created.

It’s tough to look in the mirror and face the data. Sometimes the data offers you good news. Other times it’s a stark reminder that you’re failing. But, lying to yourself and others, by putting lipstick on the pig that is the data is not the path forward.

So, how do you avoid doing this and help your organization not fall into this trap? Here’s 3 recommendations:

  1. Make your Insights Team, Switzerland: One of the reasons many organizations outsource their analytics and insights functions is to eliminate bias. But, you don’t need to outsource to achieve that goal. However, having a centralized analytics and insights function, not attached to any single goal, project, or asset is crucial. This operating model ensures your analytics team can look across goals, projects, assets, initiatives, channels, audiences, etc. to tell an honest assessment, without fear of retribution.
  2. Democratize Data: Why do we hide the data? Often, because we’re ashamed of what people will think when they see it or we’re fearful of how others will react or what people might do with the data. Think about it, how many times have you heard someone say, “let’s keep this report to a limited audience”? The best organizations and the most modern organizations understand the key to avoid all of that is to simply make the data accessible to everyone. There’s a retailer that has digital screens in each hallway that show the out of stock rate, the current consumer satisfaction score, the stock price, and the wait time to speak with customer service. Everyone is accountable to those metrics. Everyone. You can’t hide from them. In fact, when you democratize data and give everyone access, you don’t want to hide from it – you want to talk about it.
  3. Reward Outcomes: Strong, measurable, detailed, roadmaps and plans are hard to create. It requires discipline. It requires tough and honest conversations. It requires constant pruning, optimization, and reviews of performance. But, when you do adopt this approach to planning you’ve shifted from emphasizing activities to focusing on outcomes. The activities, no matter how sacred they might be, become interchangeable so long as you’re achieving the right declared outcomes. All voices in the room become equal because it doesn’t really matter whose idea it was. The person 6 months out of school has as much of a voice as the Executive Leader. In fact, you could argue, instead of people protecting their favorite ideas (often known as their own ideas) the start embracing and supporting the ideas that drive the outcomes.

Culture drives changes. Changing culture can be hard. But, if you want a culture of accountability and a focus of accomplishments over activity, consider adopting the data-driven model I shared above.

Also – this isn’t limited to the office. One of these days I’m going to be honest with myself about why I haven’t lost those last 10 pounds.