How Data Can Help You Recession-Proof Your Career

Daniel Codella

Data Evangelist, Sigma

He irritated the executives at Procter and Gamble (P&G), but succeeded in getting them to think differently. Never satisfied with acting on gut feelings or hunches, he continually pressed the organization to gather data about their customers’ habits and behaviors.

His name was Paul “Doc” Smelser and he is the godfather of market research. A small man with a strong personality, Doc built a reputation for always asking questions and letting data lead his decision making.

By 1925, Doc had shaken up leadership at P&G so much that they put him in charge of the brand new  Market Research Department. It proved to be a wise decision. As the Great Depression ravaged the country, the insights Doc Smelser and his team uncovered helped P&G make winning bets that kept the company afloat.

Success through soap operas

(Source: Medium)

While most of their competitors cut advertising spend, P&G doubled down. Their data-driven approach helped them identify who their main customers were (housewives) and what media they consumed most (radio). This led the  company to invest in daytime serial dramas to push their most popular product: soap.

“During the Great Depression orders for soap plummeted, but P&G did not cut back on their advertising. Instead, they ramped it up by going into the relatively new medium of radio to advertise their soap products. They sponsored a daily radio drama called Ma Perkins, which appealed to housewives who could listen in during the afternoon.

The response was so positive that other soap manufacturers started sponsoring daytime radio dramas — and commentators were soon calling all daytime radio dramas ‘soap operas’ in a sort of backhanded compliment.”Pavek Museum of Broadcasting.

P&G is one of just a handful of companies that came out of the Great Depression as true winners, thanks in no small part to the influence of Doc Smelser and his team. His curiosity and data-driven approach helped Doc retain his own employment and protect the employment of thousands of others.

Bracing for an uncertain future

As we enter a period of market volatility, many career-minded people are worried about what the future may bring.

(Source: Linkedin)

Companies are re-evaluating their strategies, revising forecasts, and restructuring their workforces. In response, employees are doing everything they can to be seen as ‘indispensable.’ But what does being indispensable really mean and how can it be achieved?

The DNA of an indispensable employee

Across industries, a certain kind of employee thrives through downturns. Examining the data, specific traits and qualities show up again and again:

Efficient and productive

Being productive is not the same as being busy. Productive employees are aligned with the organization’s goals and  work to meaningfully contribute to them. They are always looking for ways to optimize their workflows, magnify their impact, and improve their decision making.

Reduces expenses and drives revenue

Closely related to being efficient and productive is a focus on reducing expenses and driving revenue. Every successful action a company takes contributes to one of those two results. The indispensable employee prioritizes tasks that impact the company’s bottom line and looks for new ways to move the needle.


In uncertain times, one of the most valuable traits in any organization is decisiveness. Uncertainty has a paralyzing effect on people, but periods of  volatility are the best times to take action. While others waver, indispensable employees move forward.

Quantifies results

Being indispensable means that our value is understood and recognized. This requires removing subjectivity and measuring results against clear benchmarks. Indispensable employees understand their organization’s goals, determine the correct metrics for success, and focus their efforts for maximum impact. This helps them clearly demonstrate their value and contributions to others.

Magnifies Impact

The best employees are not just the high performers that get twice as much work done as their peers. Truly outstanding employees are the ones that make everyone more productive. Instead of withholding knowledge, they freely share their learnings and discoveries with others. Improving the performance of those around them makes them even more valuable to their organizations.

The data is in: data is in

There’s one skill that strengthens each of these areas: data literacy. Data provides a measure of certainty in even the most uncertain environments. It informs the best and most successful decision making. Without it, our judgements can be tainted by bias and false assumptions. Doc Smelser knew impactful business strategy  could not rely solely on the opinions of P&G executives and their families. His department hit the streets, literally, to talk directly to their core audience. He gathered all kinds of surprising data from their interactions.

Sigma’s COVID-19 Dashboard

Once luxuries only the C-suite had access to, data tools like business intelligence and analytics software are now considered mission critical necessities that every department must employ. Even in this pandemic — an event many have called a black swan — scientists, businesses, and governments have turned to data and analytics tools for help. Dashboards, data models, and tracking help organizations respond to and overcome Covid-19 related challenges.

Building up our ability to collect, analyze, and act on data is a skill set that is recognized by all as indispensable. So what are some key areas we should invest in?

4 key data skills

Data Modeling

Data modeling is the process of organizing and presenting raw data using business logic so people can understand and analyze it. Models make it easier to get meaning from data by giving it context. This ensures analysts and domain experts use accurate and reliable information to surface insights.

Learn more about data modeling.

Data Analysis

Analysis is the process of evaluating data to discover useful information, trends, patterns, correlations and insights. Data can be organized into two broad categories: quantitative or qualitative. Depending on the type of data, a variety of analysis methods are used to extract relevant insights.

Learn more about data analysis.

Data Visualization

Data visualization is the process of making data more understandable by placing it in a visual context. Presenting data visually helps the viewer draw conclusions and makes data actionable.

Learn more about data visualization.

Data Storytelling

Data storytelling is the process of translating an analysis into terms that are easily understood and presenting them to influence decisions or actions. The value of data insights come from the results they achieve when put into practice. Data storytelling is the critical link between analysis and action.

Learn more about data storytelling and reporting.

These skills are in-demand, applicable to every industry, and can be learned through focused effort.

Put these skills to use now

Nearly all companies take the same four steps during an economic downturn:

 Cut unnecessary expenses

In uncertain times, getting visibility into cash flow is absolutely crucial. Leadership needs access to accurate and real time bank balances, overdue debts, unpaid invoices, and other transaction insights. Companies that are able to quickly eliminate wasteful spending, collect debts, and manage their own commitments put themselves in the best position to minimize the effects of a volatile market.

 Re-structure and optimize

With spending cut, the next step is to optimize the business. Some of the first questions executives ask during down markets are which parts of the business are performing and which ones aren’t? The goals are to quickly identify and eliminate redundancies, allocate resources effectively, prevent production or supply chain disruptions, and set the business up to function most efficiently.

 Invest resources in activities with greatest return

Funds must be diverted to the activities that yield the highest return. To do this effectively, companies must identify shifting consumer behavior and respond to evolving trends in real-time.

 Retain highest quality customers

The last step is doing everything possible to hold on to top tier customers. Customer success teams proactively reach out to at-risk customers. Sales teams work hard to identify upsell opportunities as outside opportunities contract.

Data dramatically improves each of these initiatives. Proactively helping our organizations address these four areas now and providing quantifiable results of our efforts are the best ways to demonstrate our value.

Take things day to data

No one can say for certain just what lies ahead. What we do know is that employees that consistently surface insights and make impactful decisions are valuable. They anchor themselves and those around them on facts and not emotions. As a result, organizations are able to make more prudent decisions.

Doc Smelser’s obsession with gathering, analyzing, and communicating data insights helped P&G come out of the Great Depression in a better position than they were before it. During that difficult time, they widened the gap between them and their competitors and grew their share of voice in the market. P&G went on to become one of the most successful companies in history.

We don’t need the armies of researchers Doc Smelser did. The companies we work for are already gathering huge amounts of data. Chances are, most of it is going unused. What we do need our tools that help maximize our impact.

Sigma is a modern, flexible tool that is used for data modeling, analysis, visualization, and reporting so companies can get the full value of their data. With Sigma, anyone in the organization to uncover data insights — no manual SQL writing required. Down markets cloud judgement and make opportunities difficult to spot. Building up our data skills in the four key areas help us make more sense of the world, see beyond the obvious, and add more value to our organizations. We don’t know what tomorrow may bring. But no matter what happens, we’ll be in a better place through data.

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