Presentation matters

6 03 2011

Usually I write this on the bus, but this time I am in a departure gate where the only thing missing is our aircraft. Perhaps I have all night to write this!

Think I have had an insight about the impact of how data is presented. This is not a Tableau type thought, deeply attached as I am to Tableau and dataviz generally. This arose from the Birkman reports we use both with corporate clients and with students and young people (under our hoozyu programme).

We have a set of data relating to organisational perspectives, management styles and career roles which can be presented in one of two ways. Typically for individuals, we present it sequentially, spread over about 7 pages, the order based upon strength of your match for  each of those perspectives, styles and roles. So the individual sees a stack of information that says, “start here: this is who you are most (like)… and way down here, this is who you are least (like)”

When we are working with senior managers and looking at the same data for a team, division or even an entire oganisation, we use a different format – a spreadsheet format. The view is synoptic – you see it all in one glance – and the data is ordered according to a logical structure that reflects basic organisational constructs (such as strategy, comms, operations and so on). In other words, the structure isn’t about this individual or that individual; it is about organisations.

Now what is fascinating, but not totally surprising, is that people often struggle to get their heads around the data when it is structured around them; what does it mean that I am “most this and least that?”. But it suddenly dawned on me that whenever I show the data in the spreadsheet format, people’s eyes light up instantly, they exclaim, they engage – even when what they are looking at is their own data. Somehow, the data about ME makes more sense when I see it in a context that is bigger than (or other than) myself.

(I might add that as Frank Larkey pointed out at the last Birkman Conference, the Birkman Method is very unusual in that it does present the individual in social and organisational context; most tools do not)

So – obvious once you see it, but guess who is heading off to Chiang Mai to run a workshop with a pile of spreadsheet style reports for the individuals there. I will tweet how it goes…

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