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Finders keepers: Finding – and keeping – the talent to foster an analytic culture for your organization

When you compare two big box stores (or any two comparable organizations in the same industry, for that matter), what gives one the edge over the other? It’s not labor costs. Those are comparable. It isn’t, for the most part, the cost of goods. Both have wrung all the bloat from their supply chains. Innovation and customer service? Perhaps. But what drives the innovation and customer service? Analytics. More than any other business process today, analytics is the differentiator that separates successful businesses in all industries from their less successful counterparts.

But succeeding with analytics involves skill sets that companies haven’t traditionally needed to hire for or nurture. It’s unknown territory. In the past, a company might have sought certain types of talent from a leading MBA program or a top engineering school. But one-stop shopping doesn’t (yet) exist in the analytics world. One of our goals in founding the International Institute of Analytics (IIA) is to help companies understand how to find and nurture analytic talent. Here are four steps to finding analytic talent and four steps to keeping it.

Finding Analytical Talent

Analysts don’t all hail from one discipline: For HR people who like neat job descriptions that make it easy to scan resumes automatically, hiring for analytical talent is not easy. While technical skills are critical (thus the need to look at computer programmers and statisticians), knowledge of the business and communication skills are equally important.

For HR people who like neat job descriptions that make it easy to scan resumes automatically, hiring for analytical talent is not easy.

The skill set involves both sides of the brain:You need people who can build models and take a business problem, translate it, use the models and software to solve that business problem and then translate it (via business intelligence solutions) to the business users. Purely technical individuals rarely understand the business needs. Those with a business background need technical skills. A blend of technical skills and communication skills with an understanding of the big picture is critical.

You can’t depend on higher education to hire your way to success: Not yet anyhow. While analytics is being taught in college and graduate programs, it’s rare to find the right talent fresh from a degree program. You need inquisitive, experienced people who have spent some time in business units.

Don’t try this with academics: The academics that study and teach analytics are critical to advancing the discipline, but you will need individuals with a healthy understanding of ROI and the ability to select projects that will help the organization achieve a strong return on its investment. That person might come from the academic world, but don’t confuse a robust understanding of theory with the practical needs of your business.

Keeping Analytic Talent

Don’t hide or pigeonhole your analytic talent: They will get bored and leave. Rotating these folks into different business challenges is critical. It’s also important to keep them trained and up to date, which means letting them attend that conference – even if you fear they might use it to network.

Don’t keep the talent hidden from each other: An analytical center of excellence is critical to keeping ideas circulating among your top talent. Consider it less as a think tank that you pour money into than as a clearinghouse where talent can learn from one another. You do need someone to run the center and track how different departments are doing with analytics. This can help your organization become more efficient and effective in using both talent and tools.

Analytical center of excellence: Consider it less as a think tank that you pour money into than as a clearinghouse where talent can learn from one another.

Understand what motivates talent to stay: Salary is important, but because analytical talent often carries a variety of titles and responsibilities, salary data is a bit difficult to define. That will eventually change, but in the interim, to attract and retain talent, focus on providing challenges and on building a culture that respects and values the work the analysts bring.

Make sure efforts are supported by C-suite:  Attracting, hiring and retaining analytical talent needs the support of the senior leadership. They need to understand the value of analytics and understand that it doesn’t just happen organically. It involves commitment and a strategy. The brightest analytical talent won’t stay long at a company whose executives don’t value their contributions.

Follow these steps to finding – and keeping – analytic talent, and you’ll be on your way to becoming an analytic organization – and differentiating your store from that other box store down the street.

Get tips for developing your own analytical center of excellence in the white paper Make the Most of Your Analytical Talent.

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