One chart can make your idea plain, powerful and approved. But who hasn’t used a graphic only to get one question that makes it combust right on the board table?

The Center’s Best Practice Workgroup helped a member role-play a “you only get one shot” presentation.

3 Big Ideas

  • A great graphic can help win your point—but you’re putting your reputation on the line
  • You must establish credibility, context and continuity for your graph, table or map
  • Keep playing with your data so you can find spot new or shifting trends

(The graph in this post’s title depicts Napoleon’s 1812 march on and catastrophic retreat from Moscow. It’s considered one of best charts ever made.)


Kyle Buerger, Bob DeVita, Michele Harris, Bill Mitchell, Jerry Pettigrew, Valerie Renk, Derrick Van Mell (facilitator). Who should you forward this post to?

Exploration: Credibility, Context, Continuity

Credibility: Don’t be dismissed as “fake news”

Thanks to politicians sneering at good and important data as “fake news,” managers must work harder to prove their data is solid.

I once had a board member take me to task for a $200 error in a footnote to a facility plan worth over $20 million. That said, someone should play the role of “Data Skeptic” who’ll challenge your numbers before they’re presented. Ask your audience: “Do you have high confidence in this data?”

Some industry associations provide excellent research and benchmarks. And even a general comparison to a familiar competitor can give your data credibility.

When presenting, you now need add time to describe your data sources, metrics and assumptions. But facts can be uncomfortable, so this time might work in your favor by helping people adjust to the coming ideas.

Context: Beware the trap of “false precision”

Don’t forget that all decisions are ultimately based on someone’s judgement. Trying to quantify everything can lead your audience away from the obviously sensible. Graphics can help portray the common sense of your proposal. One member uses a color system to indicate high, medium or low importance to avoid getting bogged down in “false precision.”

Any big proposal should be obviously relevant to the strategic plan and the organization’s key metrics of success, such as ROI, retention, productivity or customer or employee satisfaction. It should also somehow indicate risks.

Continuity: Learn the data and stick with it for years

Getting decision-makers used to the organization’s critical data and measurements—like the board’s dashboard—establishes the credibility, context and importance of any proposal using those numbers.

If you design a survey or study right the first time, you won’t have to change it in the future, which makes it much more credible. One member shared the dashboard they’ve been using with the board for years—who have faith in the conclusions.

Tracking data is essential to your reputation. Top decision-makers are realists, so they’ll usually understand if a chart or graphic didn’t predict the outcome or future perfectly. But it’s a lot better for you to spot the deviation before they do!

But the world changes (you might have noticed), so introduce new data and new interpretations—but slowly and carefully.

Spark Innovation with Playful Analysis

Jim Garner, the former CEO of Sergenian’s Floor Coverings, said, “When in doubt, count something and divide it by something else.” Because everything’s connected, it’s likely your award-winning graphic has other insights just waiting to be discovered. So, follow your hunches: divide one number by another, ask some questions, play with the numbers again, ask more good questions.


Next topic: The peers decided to tackle the best practice management tightrope of building small team spirit (project, department, facility) yet maintaining a binding overall culture.

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