Honesty in Reporting

Oftentimes, I find strong parallels between managing analytics reporting and everyday life. I recently finished reading Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, a book in which Gladwell analyzes and attempts to answer why the successful achieve. This had me thinking about why some analytics programs are successful, while others are not.
Perhaps my favorite analysis involves Gladwell explaining why Korean Air had an exceptional number of crashes in the 90’s, because it so clearly relates to successful analytics reporting. So, what was one crucial quality lacking in Korean Air’s company culture that led to the crashes? The ability to be straightforward and honest with superiors when problems arose. Gladwell further explains his point in an interview with Fortune magazine.
Korean Air had more plane crashes than almost any other airline in the world for a period at the end of the 1990s. When we think of airline crashes, we think, Oh, they must have had old planes. They must have had badly trained pilots. No. What they were struggling with was a cultural legacy, that Korean culture is hierarchical. You are obliged to be deferential toward your elders and superiors in a way that would be unimaginable in the U.S.”
Honesty in Reporting
What Gladwell found, was that copilots had a difficult time correcting their pilots when they made mistakes, even though it was their job. They found it difficult because correcting a superior was frowned upon within Korean culture, a situation I think we can all relate to. We have all had tough conversations with clients. However clients deserve hearing the truth, especially if it saves them from making a big mistake.
Maybe your department spent several months or even years redesigning their website only to find no measureable improvement in performance. It’s even worse when this could have been avoided if you had simply voiced the critique you were thinking the entire time. Many people often find it challenging to push back on a client or a superior, in fact Tim Ash likens it to calling someone’s baby ugly. While every situation is different, below are a few tips on coping with delivering bad news:
1) Focus on success. Maybe you’ve worked with this client for a while and have had some major wins with which you can draw from, if so you’re lucky. Recall those wins and make sure your client is on your side. Reaffirming the trust they’ve had for you in the past, will help them trust your judgment in this situation as well.
2) Stay on point and don’t let the conversation become emotional. Oftentimes, mistakes can be clearly pinned on a person or a small group of people, which has the tendency to make anyone defensive. In your conversation, focus less on whose fault it is and simply state what needs fixing.
3) Have ample supporting evidence. Oftentimes the hardest part of convincing someone of your opinion is proving you’re right, especially if we’re talking about a future change. Be sure to have as many examples as possible to support your position. Look for competitive data or recent usability studies. If what you have to say is important and meaningful, then take some time to back it up by doing proper research.
Being truly committed to the success of a company means speaking up, especially if you disagree with an idea. You may be the one person who catches the mistake that no one else did. With Korean Air everything turned around, simply by changing how copilots interacted with their captains. My best advice is to not be afraid of telling others what you think; they often appreciate your true opinions, especially if it saves them from disaster down the road.
If you have other tips on how to deliver bad news, I’d love to hear them, please share them in the comments!
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