The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

Deception and Selling Your Data

Deception and Selling Your Data

Jun 27, 2011

US President Obama is a Muslim, right?  Raised in Kenya, he’s a Mau Mau sympathizer, and actually not even a US citizen (masterfully covered up I must add).

Apparently in a new poll, fully 50% of the US population registered with the Republican party believe this1  I mean, COME ON!!!! Seriously?  I remember having an argument with my uncle back in early 2002.  Before the US “shocked and awed” Iraq, there was a pretty large part of the US population that was quite sure we would never find WMD’s there.  The evidence that Saddam didn’t have WMD’s was actually stronger than the evidence that he did.  And listen, I’m sure the other side does it too.  I just can’t give you examples because I’m sure I’ve bought into all of the left’s version of crap as a left leaning Democrat.  (Please don’t stop reading because of that)  At least I’ll admit it.

We lie.  Does not matter what side we’re on.  We lie to get what we want.  No, don’t call it manipulating the truth.  There is no truth in the tools that many politicians use to coerce their voting populace to give them money and votes.

How many of our organizations do we describe as “political”?  We politic to get ahead, to get funding, to get systems, to get employees, to get what we want.  Even though we all decry how much we hate it, we all play the game to some degree. In some cases (Mau Mau sympathizer??) we’re just making up crap.  In other cases, (WMD’s) we might actually believe we have the right information, or have manipulated the data to say what we want it to say.  ROI studies are probably the best example.  We’re big believers in ROI not just so we can get funding, but so we can get executive sponsorship.

There is an art to presentation and telling a story.  Crafting an effective story is truly the difference between getting change and not getting it, whether it’s a sale, executive sponsorship, funding, etc.  At the end of the day, the story is about conveying emotion, not data.  We use data as a tool, but we realize that the data can skew the emotion of what we’re trying to change by many degrees.  Knowing this, we sometimes  manipulate the data.

I’ll be honest in saying that every now and then the data surprises me.  I’ll go back to colleagues saying, “is this really telling me what I think it’s telling me?”  The result is going back and re-cutting the data several more ways to validate the results, and then, instead of crafting new results and “spinning the message,” going back to the client and admitting, “this is not what we expected.”

I recently did a survey with one of my clients which was supposed to tell me what their functional and system weaknesses were.  Instead, the data I got back was crap (self described).  It took me a couple days and many conversations to realize that the result I wanted (knowing what areas they needed to target to improve service delivery) was never going to materialize.  Instead, a completely new and unexpected story started to unfold in front of me.  Upon reanalysis and looking at the data in a completely different way, the client had deeper issues than functionality and technology.

Sometimes we know what we want, we get some data, and it’s just not corroborating our story.  But we end up telling our story anyway.  But you know what? Somewhere in the data lies a truth which is waiting to be uncovered, and that truth is stronger than any fictional story we want to tell.  It’s hard work, and it isn’t always the direction we want to go, but get to the bottom of it.  There’s no point being 3 years down the road later and wondering why anyone thought the Mau Mau thing was anywhere close to real.


  1. Joe Klein, “Huckabucking.”  Time Magazine, March 11, 2011.  Page 15. [back]

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