Gaining a seat at the table
“Gaining a seat at the table.” This popular phrase has been a hot topic in the business world for years now. But what does it mean? Gaining a seat at the table means that you are included in the high-level decision-making conversions. You’re not only invited, but your input is valued and appreciated. I am going to show you how gaining a seat at the table will help your company and your career as an Adobe Analytics power user, whether your official role is that of an admin, a data analyst, or whatever else your business card says.
Why you need to be at the table
First, let’s get something out of the way. The role of data professionals has evolved. They can no longer sit behind their computer screens focusing only on eVars, events, and sProps. You, as the admin have the responsibility to make sure your company is making the right data-driven decisions. But to do this, you need to be where those decisions are being made, not crunching numbers at your desk.
Here are three reasons why you need to be there.
- You provide a unique perspective. The best decisions are made when a diverse set of participants are included in the process. Each person needs to bring a fresh perspective. As the Subject Matter Expert (SME) for digital analytics data, it is unlikely that anyone else possesses your unique expertise. Leadership would be hard-pressed to find anyone who can provide the same incremental value as you.
- You can help avoid data misinterpretation. The work you do is complex and nuanced. It’s impossible to communicate that nuance through metric definitions and data disclaimers. Someone at the table needs to have a deep understanding of the data; otherwise, it is almost certainly being misinterpreted. Usually, the impact of that misinterpretation is minor, but that might not always be the case. You need to be at the table to help avoid bad decisions based on a misinterpretation of the data.
- You can improve communication. When an executive has a question that you can answer, it is much more efficient for them to ask you directly. Questions often lose their context and urgency when redirected through mid-level managers. The disconnect also makes it difficult to ask for clarification. This problem is solved if you’re already in the meeting. Direct communication will improve the speed and value of your analysis.
How to get a seat at the table
Now that you understand why you need to be included, it’s time to start taking steps to get that invite. Here are three things you can start doing today to gain a seat at the table.
Step 1: Find someone already at the table - To get a seat at the table, someone has to invite you. Think about the decision makers at your organization and assess them with the following questions in mind:
- Does this person have the power/influence to invite others? If they can’t impact the guest list, then they are not your target.
- Can I provide value to this person? Some people at the table are going to be too far removed from the work you do for you to really provide value. Find someone who really cares about the data that is your expertise.
- Will this person be a good partner? This is probably the hardest to identify, but it might be the most important. The attributes I look for most are open-mindedness and self-confidence. Do they seriously consider alternative viewpoints when presented with supporting evidence? Do they have the self-confidence required to share the credit for good work? (Remember, if you’re not at the table, this person is likely taking all the credit.) These are a couple of the questions you can ask when looking for a good partner.
- BONUS - Is this person doing impactful work? Let’s face it, not everyone does impactful work. There are very “successful” people who are not making a noticeable impact in the organization. Find someone making an impact. Your job will be a lot more fulfilling when you can see that the work you do makes a difference.
The questions above should help narrow the list. By now, you should have one or two people who you can focus on for the next two steps. I’m going to steal the framing of the next two steps from a recent Analytics Power Hour guest - Cassie Kozyrkov. She laid it out so perfectly when she said that you need to “be useful and be excellent.”
Step 2: Be Useful - The next step is to figure out how you can be as useful as possible to the decision-makers you identified in step one. The key here is to put yourself in their shoes. What do they care about? What are they worried about? What unknowns are you able to shine a light on that will help them do their jobs better?
Show this person that you understand what is important to them and that you can help solve their problems.
Step 3: Be Excellent - Now that you’ve identified your target stakeholder(s) and determined how to be useful, you’ve got to follow through with excellent work. Everyone has their own idea of what excellence looks like. It might be quite different for you than for me. The key here is to go above and beyond what you would normally do for any other person or any other request. Here are a couple of tips that have helped me produce excellent work.
- Tip 1: Focus on design. One simple tip that is far too often ignored is to focus on design. Be thoughtful in the presentation of your work and follow best practices for information design. This will help ensure your message is easy to understand. When you deliver overly complex work without a clear message, you make your audience feel stupid. No one likes to feel stupid. And they don’t want to work with someone who makes them feel stupid.
- Tip 2: Do the Impossible. Have you ever gotten a request that sounded impossible? Usually, those come from people who don’t understand how the data works. It’s easy to react with amusement (“ha, they clearly have no idea what they’re talking about”) or even anger (“I can’t believe they want me to do that! That’s impossible!”). I’ve had both of those reactions more times than I can count. But when I step back and approach the problem with an open mind I’m almost always amazed at what I can come up with. If you stick with a problem long enough, something good usually comes from it. That’s because when something seems impossible, you have to think outside the box to come up with a solution. And thinking outside the box often leads to excellent work.
I hope this article has helped you realize that you need to be at the table. It’s likely going to take time and focused effort. But if you stick with it and follow the steps above, you’ll find yourself in a position with more autonomy and influence at your organization. That will ultimately lead to more success in your role and a more fulfilling career.