Data Translation: How to Tell the Right Story with Data

One of my personal pet peeves are "FYI" emails. Those emails forwarded to you with those three dreaded letters at the top and an abundance of text that follows…so I scroll. And keep scrolling. I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to look at; there’s no further direction. And without a clue from the sender, the answer is harder to find than Jimmy Hoffa’s body.

The overabundance of data that companies have access to these days is astounding. I joked with a friend recently, asking her if there is a competition for how many reports one company can generate. I’ve even seen a report on the reports.

We work in pressure-filled environments, where companies typically hold speed on a higher pedestal than quality. And yet, if we slow down, the quality of our communication – and execution – will improve. We would actually do something with those reports and provide the right analysis to the right department, allowing them to proactively act.

Why data translation matters

Think about a scientist (I encourage you to imagine test tubes, beakers, and Bunsen burners) running experiments in the lab, someone that has visibility into the lab data. She knows what to look for and can easily spot if the hypothesis she put forward is correct. Because she works within the lab daily she, more than anyone else, knows what information is relevant or not. When she writes the results, she will only include what information is critical so others can continue her progress.  

Like scientists translate the results of experiments and testing, employees must be able to translate findings into strategic plans that others can execute on. A scientist can’t simply write “FYI” when she shares her results; rather, there needs to be clear direction so others can benefit from those results.

How to improve the delivery of information

We all have our own way of speaking and sometimes job-speak gets in the way of progress. In my marketing world, I certainly can feel siloed from everyone else. I operate in opens, clicks, shares, visits, and views. When trying to explain the marketing side of the business to other functional leaders who don’t live in my world, I’ve faced challenges. But I have found ways to articulate my department’s needs into language others can execute on. Here are some ways you can do the same:

1. Ensure the "technology fits" to your business. When Archetype works with a client, one of the first things we do is to ensure that we are aligning their business needs and processes. Our team reviews their systems and processes currently in place and looks at the technologies available to them to optimize performance. Can this be better? Faster? More accurate? More visually pleasing?

If a company’s systems aren’t running efficiently, it’s harder for employees to access information. The hassle to get the reports will affect employees’ attitude about the data. However, if you have a “technology-fit” with your business, employees stay curious about the information they receive and don’t become complacent about the results.

2. Put the information in the hands of the people closest to the work. Who knows the numbers the best? Who is in the weeds daily? Find those people and put the data in their hands. Let them find the smoking gun about what’s going on.

Why? That’s when conversations change. That’s when the quality of reporting gets better and forward-thinking decisions happen. Let those employees show you their understanding of the results.

3. Create a simple data format. Like the scientist testing their hypothesis, make the data easier to work with and understandable. No one wants to scroll. If you make the data easier to digest, employees can spot trends and visualize insights faster. An improved format and better organization of data allows employees to tell a clear and logical story to others.

4. Explain how functional roles contribute to the business' success. How can I help? What’s in it for me? Every employee wants to work at an organization where they feel they are making an impact and want companies to recognize them for their hard work. If functional leaders explain how new strategies can help the company achieve its goals, they will create additional buy-in. By aligning new business opportunities with both functional areas success and the customer’s needs, everyone can clearly see where they fit within the plan.


With the competitive environment all companies face these days, organizations can’t continue to create endless reports and send them along. Employees feel the burden to deliver an “ah ha!” moment and leaders feel the pressure to put forward a strong strategy supported by data. No one wants to be the employee who doesn’t perform. We all strive to be the employee to advance initiatives, spark ideas, and find that ROI holy grail.

Companies need to reassess and create opportunities for translation to occur, otherwise, everyone will just keep scrolling. 

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