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Posts Tagged ‘Communication’

Data Visualization as Sculpting: Exploratory and Explanatory Approaches


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“If communication is more art than science, then it’s more sculpture than painting. While you’re adding to build your picture in painting, you’re chipping away at sculpting. And when you’re deciding on the insights to use, you’re chipping away everything you have to reveal the core key insights that will best achieve your purpose,” according to Craig Smith, McKinsey & Company’s client communication expert.

The same principle applies in the context of data visualization. Chipping away is important to not overdress data with complicated graphs, special effects, and excess colors. Data presentations with too many elements can confuse and overwhelm the audience. 

Keep in mind that data must convey information. Allow data visualization elements to communicate and not to serve as a decoration. The simpler it is, the more accessible and understandable it is. “Less is more” as long as the visuals still convey the intended message.

Finding the parallel processes of exploratory and explanatory data visualization and the practice of sculpting could help improve how data visualization is done. How can chipping away truly add more clarity to data visualization?

Exploratory Visualization: Adding Lumps of Clay

Exploratory visualization is the phase where you are trying to understand the data yourself before deciding what interesting insights it might hold in its depths. You can hunt and polish these insights in the later stage before presenting them to your audience.

In this stage, you might end up creating maybe a hundred charts. You may create some of them to get a better sense of the statistical description of the data: means, medians, maximum and minimum values, and many more. 

You can also recognize in exploratory if there are any interesting outliers and experience a few things to test relationships between different values. Out of the 100 hypotheses that you visually analyze to figure your way through the data in your hands, you may end up settling on two of them to work on and present to your audience.

In the parallel world of sculpting, artists do a similar thing. They start with an armature-like raw data in designing. Then, they continue to add up lumps of clay on it in exploratory visualizations. 

Artists know for sure that a lot of this clay will end up out of the final sculpture. But they are aware that this accumulation of material is essential because it starts giving them a sense of ideal materialization. Also, adding enough material will ensure that they have plenty to work with when they begin shaping up their work.

In the exploratory stage, approaching data visualization as a form of sculpting may remind us to resist two common and fatal urges:

  • The urge to rush into the explanatory stage – Heading to the chipping away stage too early will lead to flawed results.
  • The urge to show all of what has been done in the exploratory stage to the audience, begrudging all the effort that we have put into it – When you feel that urge, remember that you don’t want to show your audience that big lump of clay; you want to show a beautified result.

Read More: How Data-Ink ratio Imposed Minimalism on Data Visualization

Explanatory Visualization: Chipping Away the Unnecessary

Explanatory visualization is where you settle on the worth-reporting insights. You start polishing the visualizations to do what they are supposed to do, which is explaining or conveying the meaning at a glance. 

The main goal of this stage is to ensure that there are no distractions in your visualization. Also, this stage makes sure that there are no unnecessary lumps of clay that hide the intended meaning or the envisioned shape.

In the explanatory stage, sculptors use various tools. But what they aim for is the same. They first begin furtherly shaping the basic form by taking away large amounts of material. It is to ensure they are on track. Then, they move to finer forming using more precise tools to carve in the shape features and others to add texture. The main question driving this stage for sculptors is, what uncovers the envisioned shape underneath?

In data visualization, you can try taking out each element in your visualization like titles, legends, labels, colors, and so on. Then, ask yourself the same question each time, does the visualization still convey its meaning? 

If yes, keep that element out. If not, try to figure out what is missing and think of less distracting alternatives, if any. For example, do you have multiple categories that you need to name? Try using labels attached to data points instead of separate legends.

There are a lot of things that you can always take away to make your visualization less distracting and more oriented towards your goal. But to make the chipping away stage simpler, C there are five main things to consider according to Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic as cited in her well-known book, Storytelling with Data

  • De-emphasize the chart title; to not drive more attention than it deserves
  • Remove chart border and gridlines
  • Send the x- and y-axis lines and labels to the background (Plus tip from me: Also consider completely taking them out)
  • Remove the variance in colors between the various data points
  • Label the data points directly

In the explanatory stage, approaching data visualization as a form of sculpting may remind us of how vital it is to keep chipping away the unnecessary parts to uncover what’s beneath, that what you intend to convey is not perfectly visible until you shape it up.

Overall, approaching data visualization as a form of sculpting may remind us of the true sole purpose of the practice and crystalize design in the best possible form.

Deepen your understanding of processing and designing data with our insightful articles on data visualization.

Leading Change and Value Creation | Part 2


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Editor’s Note: This article is the second part of the series titled “How To Succeed at Leading People Through Change.”

It’s a matter of differentiation. Leaders focusing on differentiation should not only link it with brands. But with the customer experience driven by salespeople who will need to add value to it; thus building the right trust with customers. This includes the customers of the customers along the value chain of the sales. So, adding value will always be important to enrich the experience of customers throughout the chain. Leaders making changes in business models are not only about aligning them with the brand and what is being delivered to customers. But aligning them with employees and what they believe in; this is what matters and what supports efficient alignment across the company. It will drive the change forward and deliver the right value to customers (Paul Hemp and Thomas A. Stewart 2004).

IBM realized that to continue to create value and manage their company in 170 countries, they have to do this through their people by empowering them to make the right decisions aligned with their direction and mission. This could be done by ensuring they identify the gaps between; what values they call for and what is being practiced on the ground. This is where leaders are continuously striving to live the values and ensure everyone does this to lead the changes forced by the external environment. Also, to meet the needs of their internal environment that are based on their human resources (Paul Hemp and Thomas A. Stewart 2004). 

Building the right value along the new change in any organization needs to be aligned with the right culture for change. It includes eliminating the blame culture and admitting mistakes by all, especially leaders. Leaders need to set the example that everyone is a human being and humans always make mistakes. But what’s more important is to admit these mistakes. Allow other people to tell you if you did something wrong and do your best to learn from it and transform it into a success afterward (Harvard Management Update 2008). 

Value is always created through a journey of developments and improvements. Then, get reflected into whatever services or products are offered to customers. Managing value creation in any change or transformation requires managing efforts in a modeled way. All aspects are interrelated like a red thread and intersect in a way that they push each other forward and affect each other positively towards the result of the change needed. A model can include multiple criteria like an organizational chart which needs to be analyzed and reshaped to support the change and drive it forward. Plus, the workplace, in a way where leaders need to identify how people involved in the change can interact with each other, do their work, and add the needed inputs. This can involve physical workplaces, virtual or even hybrid where leaders embed flexibility in accordance with the organizational structure and ensure more agility are in place.

Other important criteria of the model are people skills and competencies which are considered an important asset in any organization and enablers for change. If needed skills and competencies are missing or not at the required levels, they need to be built internally or acquired from external sources.

Rewards and penalties are other criteria in a model which play a vital part. Rewards are the sparks needed along the way to celebrate successes, even small ones, to motivate employees, and to bring in a sense of recognition. On the other hand, penalties are also important, not to punish employees or to demotivate them. But they can be used as the red lines that leaders don’t need to cross. It is not because leaders want to limit creativity and innovation. However, crossing these lines has proven negatively in past experiences and based on setting expectations for the future and this takes to the fifth criterion which is tasks.

Tasks refer to the existing processes that manage work and ensure inputs, operations, outputs, and outcomes are well defined, understood by everyone, and linked properly to the objectives of the change. The alignment between change objectives, processes, and tasks is very important to support that more efficient work is being conducted with the most possible utilization of resources, thus more efficient operations driving the change.

The sixth criterion of the model is information distribution. It refers to the flow of information among the change team and inside the whole organization. When any information is shared with the receiver, the receiver becomes responsible for sharing the information.

The seventh criterion is decision allocation. It refers to the governance structure in the change team and how it is aligned with the organization’s governance structure. Decision allocation is mainly related to identifying who makes decisions, how, when, and based on what. 

Measurements are one of the criteria; if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it (Peter Drucker). Measurements are collected after setting the right key performance indicators (KPIs) that will measure the performance associated with the change from all aspects (Gregory Shea and Cassie Solomon 2013). KPIs can measure; risk, outputs, outcomes, impact, efficiency, effectiveness, quantities, quality, and other aspects depending on the change being led. Such measurements will be associated with targets to help identify where we stand compared to our planned results and what we achieve from them (The KPI Institute 2020).

Leading change in a demanding industry will always be affected with communication directed to customers from the different channels like TV, Radio, word of mouth, etc. since this will trigger the need to have more accurate and on-the-spot information about the products. But this is where trust is built between customers and salespeople. Those customers will rely more on the right and well-equipped salespeople to enrich their knowledge whenever and wherever needed (Thomas A. Stewart and David Champion 2006). 

In addition, leading change wants intensive communication internally conducted among all levels and a continuous basis to ensure everyone realizes the need to change and to understand clearly where they are going, how, when, and through what means. Buy-in from everyone is important, and it’s the spark for any change. This is where leaders should play their role by embedding but not forcing the change; by convincing people with the need for change but not under-communicating the related details; by opening channels with people to express their opinions and support them to digest the need to change (John P. Kotter 1995).

Leading a change and managing communication internally with change teams and employees move hand in hand. It includes using all means of communication like emails, newsletters, executive meetings with employees, inviting experts from outside the company to explain the change, one-to-one meetings with employees, and many more; all of this requires efforts from leaders. But it is highly needed to ensure change is understood and enough buy-in is granted from people inside the organization (Harvard Management Update 2008).

To learn more about creating a better value in an organization and building the right trust with your customers, sign up for The KPI Institute’s Certified Strategy and Business Planning Professional Live Online Course.

Internal Communication Strategy: Guiding Principles and Methods


Image Source: scyther from Getty Images | Canva

Strategy execution is jeopardized when the progress of employees curbs. When teams lose their edge, their contribution to fueling the execution of strategy fades. Progress may slow down and affect the process of achieving corporate objectives. 

Among the many existing solutions, the focus will be on overhauling the internal communication strategies to convince employees of the relevance of their company’s strategic approach. Internal communication empowers companies to engage their people’s creativity, energy, and commitment to produce value. Through communication strategies, management starts a process of conversion in which employees’ tasks are put into context and become the brush that helps paint the bigger picture.

What is a communication strategy? A communication strategy is a clearly formulated plan that is brought to light through various techniques so that everyone can row in the same direction with the same effort. Hearing and listening are two different things. One can hear the manager talking about the departmental objectives so that all team members can contribute to the organizational strategy. But it is harder to listen and keep the focus on the direction that should be followed. So, the question is, how does the leadership manage to do that?

Before the communication strategy is finally on the cusp of being released, leadership assures that the corporate vision, values, and objectives are absorbed. Then, through personalized internal communication techniques, they deliver the outcome that points the employees in the right direction to cross the desired finish line. In fact, the bond between organizational and communication objectives is vital. Suppose one of the main organizational objectives is to train the customer service team to work effectively with the clients. In that case, the communication objective linked is to ensure that all team members are aware and enforce the standards of care expected. 

Guiding principles for developing an internal communication strategy

Depending on the company, the internal communication techniques will address distinct needs. For example, in big consultancy and audit corporations, the challenge brought is to make the employees aware of the client’s problems and, at the same time, to appropriate the domain’s knowledge and capabilities that could help solve them.                                               

The ability to shield strategies from disasters cannot be translated through a single communication technique. Rarely is the journey paved. The variable that changes the game is how companies want to navigate the set aims. Some of them like to begin with the end, to make the outcome clear from the beginning, and if possible, to paint a picture of it and display it everywhere in the company, as Thomas Butta from Splunk reveals. They find it vital for everyone to be clear about the commitment that should be taken in order to achieve the outcome planned.

In a conversation with Costel Alexe, the former member of the Chamber of Deputies of Romania who now occupies the position of president of the Iași County Council, he revealed the emphasis placed on the bilateral communication set to create a close relationship between the management and the employees and make sure that they understand how important their role is. They prefer to rely on face-to-face meetings between the management and the coordinators of each department of the institution.

“Every week, the management has meetings with the coordinators, where they discuss the status of each project, the opportunities of implementing new projects and each department’s needs and challenges. Through the coordinator’s voices, the administration keeps in touch with all the employees, ensuring the communication flow. Also, as a public institution, the County Council has to comply with the national legislation, besides its internal procedures, when informing the employees about a particular situation. There are certain types of documents and means of communication used in the process of internal communication such as circulars and official forms,” Alexe told The KPI Institute.

The focus of the institution is on implementing a new internal communication strategy based on digitalization. “This is necessary in order to make the activity more efficient and reduce bureaucracy, but also considering the pandemic context  and the need to comply with the social distancing measures. We have already explored the financing opportunities for such a project,” Alexe added.

It is often good to find a response as it will position you on the right track. In these fast-paced times, the clearer and visual the message is, the faster the essence is absorbed.

Here are just a few communication approaches advanced by researchers and intended to encourage behaviors that advance the strategy and promote improved result

Methods for improving internal communication

  1. The Virtuous Circle of Communication                                       

By not sticking the puzzle pieces together, the picture will result as distorted. This applies to organizations as well. Even if good things are effectuated individually, they lose value if not linked together. In order to have a fruitful result from internal communication, organizations need to link seven components: strategy, leadership, planning and prioritization, channel management and content development, role of the internal communication function, face-to-face communication, and impact measurement.

The first element is achieved by having organizations clearly define the strategy, values and behaviors, and their means of communication towards reaching attitudes. By communication, the management makes sure that every factor that blocks the value is being eliminated.

Leadership implies adding commitment to the actions. When conveying a message, it should have a clear purpose, consistency, and focus.

Planning and prioritization mean having a representative team of internal communication involved in strategy planning. Being in touch with those directing the organizational changes, the representative team can reveal through their message the “why” behind the “what.” Each initiative should have a communication plan, and while conveying the message, monitoring the employees reactions is vital. By having the communicators focus on corporate objectives and not only on communication objectives, they will be explicit about what people need to do differently.                        

Channel management and content development are critical for employees to spot the connection among the changes and prioritize what they need to get done. Therefore, communicators need to add meaning to the message and highlight the important points. Therefore, choosing the right channel for communicating a piece of information is gold.        

The role of internal communication function is impactful if the communicators have access to decision makers and the overall objectives set. In some companies, the narrow focus of messengers blocks the value that could be added, and that is because the department is not as close as it should be to the heart of the organization. They should not only master the art of communication but should also present skills for business strategy understanding. To conclude, in order to translate a sentence into action, one needs to understand what that action is about, and they do not serve as an ideas production department.

Face-to-face communication is important in information distribution. Eventually, communication happens between the ears, while the information can happen over wires. Interaction is key to building trust and collaboration. The availability of technology does not substitute a direct conversation.

The last element, which is impact measurement, can be achieved by measuring results against intentions. Organizations can use key performance indicators to ensure that what was planned has been achieved. Tracking the communication efforts provides an overview of the outcome of the communication. Another option is to conduct regular surveys and to include communication capabilities in appraisals.

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  1.               The Motivation Matrix

By applying this method, senior leadership understands what motivates different employees and learns how to speak to each one’s motivation. There are two key words designed to help: by and for. Everyone is motivated by things and for things. People get motivated by ethos, emotion, or logic, while the same audience gets motivated for achievement, recognition, or power. 

Once the people’s natural desire to perform stands out, one will understand what pushes people. If they are motivated by ethos, the leadership will figure out what authority should ask for the task to be accomplished depending on the degree of credibility. If some are motivated by emotion, leadership will be sure to add emotion to the project. And finally, if some are motivated by logic, leadership will make sure to mention the reasoning behind the task.

Through the motivation matrix, managers will have a sense of what pulls team members. If they are motivated for achievement, they would want to get the work done without hearing what a good job they did. What matters most is to perform the work to the standards set. Those motivated by recognition will look for pats on the back in front of their colleagues, calling their names at a public meeting and giving them recognition when deserved is their way of charging the batteries. And if they are motivated by power, they crave for authority, control, and the ability to make decisions. People who are motivated by power want the award only if it comes with a new title or a new set of tasks to be completed.

Therefore, the leaders that racked up a strong sense of where their teams are coming from can spot what urges them to produce.

  1.               The Four HorseMen

This is the technique that identifies itself as the brightest spot on a painting and catches the viewer’s eye. Applying this technique will make the manager a master of communication as he adds color to his words. Depending on the internal communication channel, the employees might only hear the words without assigning a face to the message. By selecting one of the four categories, the manager chooses how to emphasize words and engage the audience.

Speed– The two components, rate and pace, bring value to the message and allow listeners to follow the speaker. Rate is the speed at which the words are assembled, while pace is the speed at which the thoughts are stuck together. If the manager has to transmit an important message, it would help to build up a bit of speed before arriving at the central thing and then slow down while saying the main information that he wants people to bear in mind. Variate, and people will hang on to the words.

Volume– By alternating the loudness of the speech, one can gain attention and confidence, depending on the situation. In a big room, speaking at loud implies no fear and draws attention to the message. On the other hand, whispering forces the audience to focus and listen.

Stress– It does not refer to the stress faced when trying to meet a deadline, but the one that is applied to a word in order to emphasize something. By changing the stress, a word can be either lengthened or shortened. Applying this third pawn, the author holds the power over the importance of his sayings.

Inflection– Inflection measures the pitch of the message, attaching authority to the one who delivers it. For instance, when asking a question, the pitch goes up at the end of the phrase. Continuing so gives the impression of multiple questions asked. Lowering the pitch in a sentence provides authority and expresses confidence.

In conclusion, business objectives need to be clearly translated for all organizational layers. Internal communication serves as a bridge, connecting those who know what needs to be changed to those who have the power to make it happen. Once the bridge is built, everyone has been provided with a shared understanding of the company’s issues as well as of the “whys” behind the “whats.” The essential assets of an integrated communication are management credibility and trust.

If you’d like to learn more about developing strategies for your business, sign up for The KPI Institute’s Strategy and Business Planning Professional Certification.

Why Interpersonal Skills at Work Matter and How to Improve Them


Effective interpersonal skills are a part of an individual’s professional toolbox. Such skills play an important role in daily interactions at work and relating to others in general.

By nurturing interpersonal relations, people become more at ease in their work environment and collaborate with other teams smoothly. This may also reflect on one’s productivity and ability to deal with clients. 

Poor interpersonal skills could lead to negative feelings and unsatisfactory results at work. It can cause people to feel left out, experience self-doubt, and get into conflicts at work. 

Individuals who make efforts to improve their interpersonal skills can contribute to several areas in their organization: 

Teamwork and Productivity. A group of people who can communicate to each other has a higher chance of completing a goal. Being encouraging and helpful in their language can help improve productivity.

Conflict management. Friction is inevitable in the workplace. Managing conflicts requires careful use of language, ability to listen to all sides of the story, and understanding motivation.

Leadership. Leadership skills are applied to interpersonal relations when you have to provide constructive feedback and motivate others to achieve your goals.

How to Improve An Organization’s Interpersonal Skills

With practice and support from management, organizations can improve their interpersonal skills.

Identify areas that need improvement. This can be done by asking a colleague, leader, friend, or family member. What are the things that make it hard for a person to understand another person’s words? Where does misunderstanding usually start? Companies can also hold workshops and seminars about business communication or workplace interpersonal skills.

Practice active listening. Ask everyone to pause and pay attention whenever a colleague is expressing his or her opinion. Remove distractions, such as mobile phones, to let the person talking knows that his or her opinion is valued. While individuals can express their ideas and opinions, listening can help them understand each other better and make each other feel respected and valued. 

Develop empathy. Being able to place oneself in someone else’s shoes allows you to better understand the motivation and reasons behind their words and actions.

Keep a positive mindset. Having a positive outlook when you are interacting with others allows you to become objective, strive for fairness, appreciate what the other person is saying, and create interactions that will help you get your desired outcome.  

Focus on encouraging others. Encouragement can be shown through acknowledging others’ achievements, offering to help someone who is having a bad day or a difficult time, expressing appreciation for team members, or giving simple compliments.

Be aware of your emotions. Whenever there is tension, conflict, or any source of negative emotions, try pausing for a while or perform breathing exercises. Once you are calm, you will be able to think clearly and communicate your feelings and ideas effectively.

Body Language: Shaping Business Success


Business schools worldwide, management pros, and all sorts of success gurus give reasonable lectures on tips and techniques for upping your game, nailing negotiations, and attaining professional success. Although promising, all these entail some sort of strategy, hack, or sustained effort in order to achieve the coveted performance.


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