What Does the Data Mean?

Sometimes, I find it difficult to see the data in front of me. I might think there is no data. I might make meaning of the data—possibly incorrectly. We need to see the data and what that data means.

In one of my middle-manager jobs, my new boss canceled our one-on-ones every week. In three months, I didn’t have a single one-on-one. When I told him—by email—I was looking for another job and was not going to ask him to be a reference, he replied, “Don’t!” He was in my office a couple of hours later. He said, “You’re the only director who’s doing anything useful!” He was wrong, but he didn’t know because he didn’t have any data.

I’m in the midst of another no-feedback, no data situation. Here’s the interesting part:

In the absence of data, we make up stories which turn into “facts.”

Both my boss and I had limited data. I thought he didn’t want me to continue in my role because I wasn’t any good. He thought he didn’t need to offer feedback because I should “know” I was doing well.

He thought I was the only successful middle manager. He didn’t know the entire story for the other managers.

We had assumptions which we turned into stories which became our “facts.” Notice that the original data didn’t necessarily factor into our “facts.”

I bet you have circumstances in your work where you also have limited data. You might need some choices to obtain that data instead of making assumptions as my boss and I did.

Option 1: Make sure things are okay before you decide on what the data means:

  • Use an asynchronous communication, such as email or text, to ask a short question. “If you’re okay with what I’m doing, please respond “okay.” (You might add, “I haven’t heard from you in a couple of weeks. If things are not okay, please let me know when we can meet.”)
  • Stop by in person for synchronous communication. I’ve met bosses in the hall while they were walking to another meeting. I asked the okay question. I’ve never had to camp out by the parking lot, but that’s an option.

Option 2: If things aren’t okay, ask for a time in the next few days to discuss: “When do you have time this week for a one-on-one?”

Option 3: If your boss doesn’t make time for you to discuss, see if you can find some coaching in the organization or coaching/mentoring outside the organization. Do you actually have data in the form of a coaching plan or an action plan? Do you think you’ve finished that plan and your boss doesn’t? Can you build a support system?

I’m human. I always make meaning from data or lack thereof. It might not be the right meaning.

Oh, and the circumstance that led to this blog post? The geographically distributed team was discussing my work and it took them a while to come to a conclusion. I have the feedback now and it’s working for me.

The question this week: What does the data mean?

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