Love your data, but don’t overanalyze it

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It happened again today: I received another tearful call from a marketing director whose boss refuses to read her marketing analysis reports. Because he won’t read them, she is sure she’ll be fired. And her strategy for keeping her job is to prove her worth through creating even more spreadsheets and numerical analysis instead of working on her personal relationship with the boss. Uh oh.

The Beer Test

In my heart I love data analysis. I can spend a day teasing stories out of gigantic spreadsheets and very few things make me feel happier or more fulfilled. But please realize that I am a weirdo, and your boss is not likely to reap the same emotional benefits from metrics reports that I do.

In general, bosses are human beings, and were promoted throughout their careers because they had a friend in the company who was both their boss and a human being. Sure, the quality of work was important, but I can promise you that it always took a back seat to the friendship.

So ask yourself this: Do you think your boss likes you enough to go for beers after work with you? If not, it’s time to re-evaluate your career options.

Why metrics get you fired

Sure there are some standard reports everyone needs to do to keep superiors happy — there are the old familiar reports they themselves did when they were in your position. There are also other reports that their bosses requested, and some that are required by an auditor somewhere.

Here’s the key: Your boss knows how to read and interpret these reports. They’re intimately tied to the key performance indicators (KPIs) within your company, and everyone agrees they provide useful information.

When new reports show up, they confuse your boss. And he/she worries that they’re causing a ruckus about something that doesn’t even need to be addressed. I’ve seen lots of marketers get fired because they developed Twitter data reports that don’t tie into KPIs.

The more the marketers puff their feathers over the numbers in non-standard data reports, the more likely they are to be fired because nobody (including the marketer, really) understands the importance of this report related to corporate KPIs. And at the end of the day, everyone needs to contribute directly to the KPIs, no matter how much activity you can prove with the your own custom reports.

Digging your data grave

What I find even more fascinating is that once a marketer gets in trouble for confusing their boss with non-standard reports, instead of correcting this problem by taking their boss out for lunch or a beer, the marketer starts generating even more reports with increasingly granular detail. Why do they do that? I think they are under the impression that they can win their human being bosses over by showing a positive numeric trend. Clearly they think their boss is a weirdo like me.

Here’s a little secret: Even if the numbers prove you’ve done a good job, you’ll still get fired if your boss is lonely, or if he/she thinks you’re wasting their time and resources.

While companies pretend that they’re “all about the numbers” in real life they are incredibly human organizations that flourish on human behavior. I guess it takes someone who’s around computers and data all day to point that out. Compared to a computer and a real data set, corporations are all emotional mush. So take advantage of the ability to win by being friendly and buy your boss a sandwich. Your job depends on it.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at