/ When Does Data Massaging Become Naughty?

I am 35 years old and I have never had a massage. Crazy? Maybe. I like to think I know what I am doing. The fact of the matter is I am quite certain I would love the experience, but I don’t want to “need” the experience to the tune of $50-$100/month. I know friends who “have to get a massage” every few weeks; they are addicted now. It’s the ONLY way they can relieve a stressful week at work or rejuvenate a sore body from a weekend of Spring cleaning.

In the business world, I have seen the same addiction. Managers of all levels can’t seem to deliver their data to VPs or C-Suite personnel without “massaging” their data first. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. I think everyone has done it. I am not talking about reviewing the data to check for accuracy. I am talking about the massaging of data to where it starts to get a little naughty. Rounding that number up when it probably shouldn’t be rounded at all. Making that spike in costs not so sharp at the top and that dip in web leads not so deep. Perhaps you have applied some “logic” so that the data reflects what you think would have happened if your execution were better. That’s naughty.

So, why do we get so nervous when we are asked for data? Other than quality control to ensure a clean data set, why do we spend so much time massaging data before it runs up the chain? What are we afraid of here? I get it. We all want to look good to our superiors, like we are actually worth our salaries. But let’s look at this from the top down. Imagine you are the CEO and you are actually trying to run a successful business; you have hard decisions to make, and if you are armed with the correct data, you have a good chance of making the right decision. You have requested critical data from your management team and it comes pouring into your inbox in various formats: Excel, Word and…who the freak sent you something in NotePad? There you are trying to piece it all together. Numbers that should align across multiple departments but don’t. You start to wonder how they are different. Then it hits you; you are not looking at “real data”; that data has been massaged. Whose numbers do you trust? You don’t have time to call everyone on their data. You have a presentation to the board tomorrow AM and you are still working your own slide deck. How do you feel about massaged numbers now?

So what is the answer? If you manage a group, do you want them to massage their numbers before it gets to you? If you are a CEO, do you prefer massaged numbers that tell the best story or the real story? Any board members out there? I am certain that you don’t want a CEO that has been prepped with massaged data. You have shareholders, don’t you?

So let’s start the conversation. What will it take to make you comfortable to have your data out there, all the time, ready for your managers to see at any time?

Tags: data, reporting

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