Empower Your Team Members To Become Skilled Data Storytellers

The basic ability to interpret and share insights from analytics and business intelligence (BI) is an essential skill for all modern professionals. The good news is that anyone can develop these skills thanks to democratized analytics and the availability of purpose-built, easy-to-understand digital tools.

Unfortunately, most of us still struggle with the part that really counts — conveying insights from analytics to our colleagues in ways that boost business results. Only a few years ago, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that U.S. adults ranked 21st of 23 countries in two key areas: data interpretation and problem-solving.

It is data storytelling — a business-critical skill that serves as a bridge between analytics and decision-making — that today’s workforce is lacking. Here we’ll share some key points of advice for turning regular business users into skilled data storytellers.

Why Is Data Storytelling So Important To Modern Business?

According to a Harvard Business Review article published early last year, “The data itself is clear on this: Data-driven decision-making markedly improves business performance.” There isn’t a simple path forward for teaching team members to interpret business-critical charts, dashboards and visualizations. Even so, they need the deep understanding those resources provide to make successful decisions.

Data storytelling bridges that gap, even among team members who have no closeness to analytics themselves. Storytellers use data-driven narratives to enlighten those team members for whom data analysis is unavailable, inaccessible or simply not the best use of their time. As Forbes contributor Brent Dykes described, “Data stories provide just the right amount of detail and help the audience to understand the meaning behind the numbers.”

As businesses begin to bridge the gap between advanced analytics and their workers, they need both citizen and professional data scientists who can find value in that data and share it. The burden is on data storytellers to breathe life into the data and give it meaning in the form of narratives that key decision-makers can understand and leverage to drive real results for their companies.

Cultivating Data Storytelling Capacities Within Your Organization

With this in mind, leaders can no longer rely on data scientists alone to access and interpret analytics. Team members in all parts of the organization — sales, marketing, operations and others — require some data storytelling capacities to ensure internal decision-makers remain on the right track.

These storytellers help decision-makers to understand both the business and “human” significance of findings from analytics and to weave those insights into compelling narratives. These stories improve decision-making and also instill the confidence, understanding and agency their team members need to convey meaning as they apply those insights to their own responsibilities.

Today, any “citizen data scientist” can master data storytelling in the context of their or their team’s decision-making roles. Here are four ways you can transform your own team members into capable citizen data scientists and storytellers, relieving them of their dependency on technical users.

  1. Create a road map for data literacy.

    Business and team leaders should proactively support data literacy with educational programs that help teams realize the value available through insights and storytelling. In time, all team members should be able to use analytics tools, tell data stories, “speak the language” of analytics or some combination of the three.

  2. Democratize access to insights from analytics.

    Expanding access to analytics beyond technical specialists is critical for the data-storytelling capability to grow within your workforce. All team members should either interface with analytics tools or coordinate with immediate team members who have access so that they can share insights readily.

  3. Create “a single version of the truth” for everyone.

    Even with individualized data access, all teams should leverage insights from the same analytics resources. In this way, data stories can extend beyond individual teams and align with data stories from other parts of the company.

  4. Start your data-storytelling culture with a targeted approach.

    Identifying and applying your knowledge resources to a single, high-impact business area is a great way to begin your data-storytelling initiative. Find the department or team where you can realize the greatest value in the shortest amount of time and then communicate the benefits and results of that initiative to parts of the organization where you will focus next.

In time, data storytelling and the team members who wield it will become catalysts for a more robust data culture within the organization. Even as employees come and go, that foundational understanding will continue as they share with their newest colleagues.

Building A More Resilient Organization

Organizations simply cannot continue without a companywide approach to business intelligence. Preparing regular employees to become data storytellers builds resiliency without costly technical training, which is often reserved for only a small number of data scientists. As goals change and analytics technologies evolve, a culture of data storytelling can prevail, empowering teams to take on a wide range of future challenges.

Originally published on Forbes.com

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