Making an Uncomfortable Case for Change

Numbers don't lie, but they don't always get a chance to talk. Here's how to get your organization to listen anyway.

Question: Our CEO knows the market better than anyone, but our members and analysts wish he would embrace our data. Problem is, our data has burned him before. How do we convince our CEO to get on board with our new numbers? — Well, This is Awkward

Dear This is Awkward,

I don’t envy your situation, but there’s a way out—through U.N.-level diplomacy. Your CEO isn’t the first to turn away from over-reliance on metrics and data-brandishing consultants, and he won’t be the last. And while he may be skeptical now—with good reason—it’s not time to give up.

All it’s going to take is a little persuasion.

It’s OK to think like a data geek, but try not to sound like one

It’s easy to write off your CEO as a data-phobe after the last misstep, but he didn’t get where he is today by avoiding the smart play. Gut instinct will only get you so far.

The more your CEO sees data as a tool that helps him win—and crush the competition—the easier your job will be.

Your CEO may need to consider the big picture, like factors beyond web metrics or public opinion, when making decisions. Those might include your brand’s message, core values, and overall strategic plan. For instance, just because an article about celebrities’ cellulite might generate a lot of clicks and go viral, that doesn’t mean the editors at The New York Times or The Washington Post should place it on the front page—or at all.

So before you meet face-to-face, do your homework and figure out what went wrong the last time a data-driven deal went down. That might include discreetly asking a trusted colleague to fill you in on any organizational history that may explain his take.

The more clearly you see beyond the data, the more credible you’ll be

Once you understand what’s driving your CEO, it’ll be easier to express your point-of-view regarding the value of your data and member feedback. After all, he’s looking out for your association in the same way you are.

Offer to slice and dice the data further

After you’ve provided your CEO with the data and you’ve whet his appetite, it’ll be easier to convince him that giving the data-driven approach another chance is the only way to go.

The more your CEO sees the data as a tool that helps him win—and crush the competition—the easier your job will be.

Speak up, but skip the theatrics

If your CEO is ignoring the data you think is important, remain persistent. If the fight’s worth fighting, it’s totally reasonable to put your neck on the line.

  • Remind him that data has proven valuable in the past. Data has worked before—just not last time. A smart CEO knows a one-time blunder when they see one.
  • Keep it matter of fact. If a campaign isn’t working, just say it. Being blunt might win you a couple points.
  • Let him draw conclusions. Be patient. Over time, if your CEO ruminates on the data and thinks it’s meaningful, he’ll ultimately wander down your path. It might just take him a little longer than you’d prefer.

In the end, you can lead your boss to the well of data, but you can’t make him drink. He’s got to come to his own decisions and own them. That’s why they pay him the big bucks.

— From the Desk of Browser, Protech Associates

Our AMS solution, Alliance by Protech, is built within the Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform. Protech’s experience in the association community runs deep. In fact, we’ve been helping association leaders “Automate Goodness” for more than 30 years.

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