• Charles Sutton

Eliminating Data Frustrations for the C-Suite


Think about the amount of pressure an executive is under to perform. We need to figure out how to use our skills to make their life easier. Executives have to accelerate growth, provide constant updates, and work with budget constraints. Sounds exhausting. Guess what happens if the executive gets any of this wrong. What if they fail to achieve growth goals? Fired. Fail to produce the right information at the right time? Fired. Go over budget? Fired. Makes a bad decision based on bad data? Fired. What if it is data related? The analyst providing the figures is fired. Let's talk about what you can you do to keep the c-suite happy and save your job.


According Hubspot.com, 90% of business leaders believe data literacy is crucial for company success (Fuggle, 2021). If you ask CIO.com, executives are not overly-complicated people. Easy access to data about existing customers, new customers, or products/services (Olavsrud, 2016). They want the data to be accurate, quickly accessed, available on demand, and relevant to their discussion. Most executives know exactly what metrics they have in mind and how they want them. The Health Care IT News states executives have been asking for the same metrics for over 20 years (Siwicki, 2018). How many per day? How many will we lose? Why aren’t they happy? Why are costs so high? The questions haven’t changed, but the way we deliver the information has.


Today’s executive is expected to be data literate. Stakeholders, managers, are employees are have a long list of questions. Not only do they expect the answers to be data-driven, but they also expect an immediate response. In an age where data is accessible by every electronic device, people expect answers yesterday. Executives demand data tools be accurate and relevant on the devices they use when they use them. Relevance is important because the information has to align with the user frame of reference. According to Larry Dunivan, the Chief Executive Officer at Namely, “People analytics products sit on the shelf because the metrics aren’t well aligned with the needs of the target audience” (Dunivan, 2021)


Hubspot.com found that while 90% of business leaders believe data literacy is crucial for company success, only 25% of them trust the data (Fuggle, 2021). Fastcompany.com found that only 38% of respondents have a high level of confidence in their customer insights and only one-third trust the analytics they generate from their business operations (Lindzon, 2016). What is driving this mistrust? The numbers don’t exist when requested. They contradict one another depending on who’s presenting them. The systems for transferring data from source to report is complex. There are many stages within the process where issues can arise and distort numbers further down the pipeline. You may have heard before “no one cares how the sausage is made”. It means the executives don’t care why the numbers are wrong. They only care they can’t use them and that’s frustrating. Wrong numbers for the c-suite can cause negative outcomes for the business.

  • Strategies built off inaccurate data

  • Executives lack vision to critical processes

  • Customers leaving due to bad experiences

  • Lacking the resources to retain the best talent

An experienced analyst will have the skills to navigate the c-suite effectively through the “data jungle”. The best advice I can give you is get ready to defend your analysis. You can't just present your findings, but you also have to support your research. Someone will ask you why the numbers you presented are factual. Explain how data is entered, stored, modeled, and calculated. Yes! You have to know all of that if you want to gain the trust of the c-suite. Want to become the trusted data advisor? Approach data and analytics with three types of attitudes.


Be an expert – Become an expert within your domai. Show success by being able to explain data changes from source to reporting. Explain why a data product exists and the problem it solves. Explain why the data products you've created are reliable, accurate, and maintained. Understand the business activities captured by the data. Create simple tools that are easy to explain to a non-technical audience. Don't be afraid to share best practices for creating reliable BI tools. According to CIO.com, convince an auditor that you have high quality data guiding management decisions (Harpham, 2017).


Be a guide - Offer suggestions to help navigate shortcomings of the data environment. By becoming an expert in your data domain, you can offer solutions to pain points. Explain where data is inaccurate. Start projects to resolve data issues. Create systems that capture feedback about mistrusted data. List out the actions planned or taken to resolve them. Communicate how long projects will take. Share the short-term solutions in place. Offer simple solutions, so data environment doesn't become overly complex. Communicate as you make progress to prove data is better than it was.


Be an analyst - Lead data improvement initiatives by setting goals, managing projects, and proving progress. Establish baselines for the current state of data. Set measurable goals the business can influence. The c-suite is expecting data pros to provide sources of clean data. Lead projects by explaining the problem, the benefit, and priority. Measuring progress against targets is a key skill of a data analyst. Build a dashboard for the c-suite, so they can see the progress for themselves. Provide quarterly progress reports offering a summary on progress. Let others know about your contribution to making reliable data accessible.


Congrats! The c-suite is leaning on you to help them navigate the data jungle. What can you expect since you’ve nurtured this new data relationship? More work!!! Seriously, but that’s a good thing. What you don’t want is the c-suite to stop asking information because it's not worth the effort. Embrace your new relationship with the c-suite. It's what you were hoping for, wasn't it? First, you should notice less friction with the executive team because you've become a trusted member of the team. Since you’re the expert of your domain, the executives will turn to you to get them reliable information. Executives have been in their position for 20+ years. They have encountered both good and bad data experts along the way. Once an executive finds a data person they can trust, they lean on them often. It’s critical that executives can trust their numbers. You will become the advisor they will validate numbers for validity. As the trusted advisor, you have a stronger voice about how the data architecture should support analytics. Expect any requests to improve the data environment will gain more support from the executive team.


Reference List


Fuggle, Lucy (2021). Hubspot.com. What to Do When You Can’t Trust Your Business Reporting Data. Accessed on 5/25 at https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/what-to-do-when-you-cant-trust-your-business-reporting-data


Olavsrud, Thor (2016). CIO.com. Executives Still Mistrust Insights From Data and Analytics. Accessed on 5/25 at https://www.cio.com/article/236500/executives-still-mistrust-insights-from-data-and-analytics.html


Siwicki, Bill (2018). Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). How Big Data is Redefining the CEO, CFO, and COO Roles. Accessed on 7/26 at https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/how-big-data-redefining-ceo-cfo-and-coo-roles


Dunivan, Larry (2021). Namely. The 5 People Analytics That Matter to a CEO. Accessed 7/24 on https://blog.namely.com/5-people-analytics-that-matter-to-a-ceo


Lindzon, Jared (2016). Fast Company. Why Executives Don’t Trust Their Own Data and Analytics Insights. Accessed on 7/26 at https://www.fastcompany.com/3065294/why-executives-dont-trust-their-own-data-and-analytics-insights


Harpham, Bruce (2017). CIO. 9 Way You’re Failing at Business Intelligence. Accessed on 7/24 at https://www.cio.com/article/227988/9-ways-youre-failing-at-business-intelligence.html

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