Infographics Suck

I was riding my bike around Marin (north of San Francisco) this fall, it was a bit cloudy, grey and not as bright as usual.  Just the week before, I had purchased a new pair of lenses for my sunglasses, just for this occasion, and I was absolutely stunned at the difference it made to my ride.  I felt like I was seeing the road and the vistas for the first time.  Indeed, it was simply the first time I was seeing the views with a Yellow #20 lens.  The reality is that I’d done this exact ride dozens of times before.  I commented my amazement to my riding buddies, how different everything was, brighter, more cheerful, and happy.  But alas, it was just the Yellow #20 versus my usual middle grey.

The current world seems to be in love with the infographic.  Hell, I’m in love with the infographic.  They are pretty, colorful, easy to understand, present only the key pieces of information that you need.  In 45 seconds, every one of us can be conversant in a topic with a very defined point of view.  Well, actually, this is exactly the problem.  You see, while the infographic is a very valuable tool, we should all realize that it’s there as a precision marketing tool.  It is there just to provide a point of view, not a complete conversation.  Here are a couple of things you can do to combat “infographic conventional wisdom.”

  • Take infographics with a grain of salt – statistics are useful, but remember that there is a whole book called “how to lie with statistics.”
  • Question everything – we don’t always look at the source, nor do we ponder the alternative points of view when looking at these things.
  • Evaluate the publisher – if the infographic comes from a vendor, just remember it’s a marketing tool.
  • Rely on research – infographics will continue to be a good source for quick summaries, but research with full commentaries still outvalue the quick infographic by far.

So why am I writing this in an HR blog?  As buyers of HR technology and services, if we are not already flooded with infographics, we will be quite soon.  We love these things for good reason – they are so easy to use, and marketers know it.  Hell, I’ve been known to produce an infographic when I’m presenting a business case to a steering committee.  The problem is it’s too easy to take them without full context and conversation.  90% of the time they are a single point of view only, and an alternative vendor may have statistics proving why their own software is better in exactly the opposite direction.

This great infographic from











Nucleating agents for change

Interesting thing about water.  You can pretty significantly influence the temperature at which water freezes  simply by introducing an agent to it.  But there are other times when water actually should freeze, when it is pure and below the freezing temperature, but that water can be held in a liquid state at just below the normal freezing temperature until a nucleating agent is introduced.   We’ve seen in it a variety of environments whether it’s in movies or what not.  I remember a recent mythbusters show (for those of you who watch discovery channel in the U.S.) where they were able to keep a liquid in the liquid state, but once the first ice crystal was introduced, a rapid chain reaction occurred and the rest of the liquid formed into ice in seconds.

HR is much the same.  Any time you are introducing change to the organization, there are times where change happens naturally, and other times when change has to be strongly influenced.  Unfortunately for us, we need those nucleating agents more often than not.  The problem is that we don’t always realize until it’s too late that we needed an agent, or we didn’t know which agent to choose.

I completely realize that we are all sick and tired of the concept of change management, but all too often as I visit my clients, change is treated in the same fashion that it was 10 years ago.  We push out training programs, and we attempt to do the same type of communications.  Let’s be the first to admit to ourselves: HR has no flair for marketing.  We’re in HR partly because we are not salespeople – often times we don’t even understand salespeople.  But sell we must, and when we realize that we don’t have those abilities/competencies, it’s time to find the nucleating agents that will sell for us, and spread the word – forming ice crystals in seconds instead of… well, never.

The best nucleating agents are those who are not only already on our side, but those who are obviously influential.  There are those who have broad networks, and others who simply have the right connections to other important people.  One would think that in Human Resources, we would know who these people are – but we don’t.  In the organizations that do understand that they are not the most effective marketing arm for new rollouts, HR solicits the help of VP’s to communicate the message and brand.  In effect, we have managed to enhance our training and communications materials with and additional layer: change management by edict.  This is not to say that VP level communications are not necessary – in fact their level of sponsorship is very necessary.  But when rolling out new manager portal tools (for example), the people who are going to sell are not the VP’s, but other managers who buy into the product, decide that it is more effective than the prior state, and will selflessly market it for you.  These, indeed, are the true nucleating agents in the organization.

As sick and tired as you all are of hearing people talk about change management, it is still under-budgeted and improperly deployed.  As sick as you are of it, I’m equally sick of most of us not getting it right.  I totally understand that when we are in the throes of implementation, we’re all heads down and grinding away at table configuration and testing, but that is no forgiveness and excuse for messing up the end user rollout.  Better to get the audience right and miss a bit on the config.  So here’s me, asking yet again, find your nucleating agent.  Deploy them well.  Get buy-in and adoption in the seconds it takes to crystalize liquid when the right conditions are met.

The Marketing of Snowflakes

If you ever look at a snowflake dangling from the window at your local Macy’s or Bloomingdales, realize that this snowflake is only a piece of marketing, there to draw your eye, but not an accurate representation of reality.  You see, most marketing snowflakes have either five or eight sides to them.  Nobody seems to know how or why this happened, but I suppose some marketer out there thinks that it is more aesthetically pleasing to have a five or eight sided snowflake.

The reality of the snowflake is that they almost always have six sides.  Sometimes they may have three or twelve, but those are relatively less common to the six sided variety.  The reason for the multiples of three is simple, snow is made up of water, or H2O molecules, and chemically have so many bonds to offer to other H2O molecules.  The end result is that water molecules can create snowflake structures with three, six or twelve sides.

The beauty of the snowflake is a wonderful thing.  Certainly it does draw our eye and our attention.  Certainly the thought of beautiful fresh white snow brings to mind a white Christmas, skiing through fresh power, kids and snow angels, or whatever else you have in mind.  But at the core, it is still just a marketing figment of our imagination, inaccurately portrayed.

Manager and executive dashboards are quite the same.  Often, we have planned and conceived for months or years about how to best capture the attention of our executives and bring them thoughtful HR data.  We’ve given them tools and pretty graphs, and indeed, these dashboards carry the flare and flash that can draw anyone’s attention with a state of coolness and color.  But at the end of the day, the dashboard is just the dashboard.  VP’s of HR and other executives often don’t really look at the dashboards we’ve worked so hard on.  They might glance at a particularly high turnover rate, but rather than digging through the detail themselves, they might instead pick up the phone and call they nearest HR director with an inquiry about what’s going on.  At the end of the day, they still rely on the same old mechanisms for information.  They want us to create reports, and have meetings.

The cause of all of this is particularly simple.  Executives have no use for data.  The best representation of an HR analytic, whether it be a trended graph, or some sort of drill-through crafty piece of eye candy, is still just data.  What executives want is information, and our dashboards still don’t interpret data for them.  That’s why they still need the rest of us, our reports, and the face time in meetings.

I don’t think I’m being critical of dashboards – in fact I rather love them.  But we have to understand the gap if they are to get better.  Dashboards can give execs a glance at the health of their organization, but they don’t provide understanding and diagnosis.  We need to be able to provide information, not data.