Snowing the Boss with Data
I’m not sure if this cartoon is funny. Maybe I’m just not cynical enough (ha! my friends are laughing already!) But I can’t think of any managers or clients for whom I’ve worked that are like the pointy-haired boss in this episode. I have never been asked to provide tons of data that look so boring it will be ignored. On the contrary, most for whom I have worked worry about getting mountains of meaningless data because too often that is what research suppliers deliver.
What do managers and clients want—even those who are less-than-enthusiastic about market research because it has too often failed them in the past? Here’s my experience of what they want:
1. Clear, unambiguous answers to questions motivating the research. Even the most jaded managers have sincere business questions for which they need and want answers, or at the very least, they report to others who need and want answers. When research offers clear answers to questions that need to be answered, it is not ignored.
2. A judicious selection of data that provides compelling evidence. Clients and managers want to see numbers, but rarely do they want to see all the numbers. They want to see the ones that matter—the ones that build a persuasive argument for one course of action over another. They key is to show only the numbers that answer the questions, and nothing else.
3. A reliable and trusted resource to consult for additional queries. Although few managers want to see all the numbers, most want to know the numbers are there, and they want to know that those numbers are solid, trustworthy, and ready to be probed as needed. That’s the reason for offering tabulations and data cuts. There should always be a way to find the next level of numbers as new questions come up or as additional evidence is needed.
The problem, I guess, is that all good research will generate mountains of data, because even the most tightly designed survey or data collection effort needs to capture complexity and detail. But that mountain of data is not what our clients and managers really want us to give them. So when you start getting that bad feeling that Dilbert gets when your manager ask for something absurd, take a few steps back and see if you can uncover the authentic need underneath that request. Chances are you can deliver a more powerful example of research that is intensely interesting and valuable.
–Joe Hopper, Ph.D.