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Who Gets To The Top in Analytics?

As an Executive Recruiter in Analytics I have found that the selection criteria when hiring includes a lot of intangibles. Gone are the days when businesses are just seeking people with a certain set of technical skills. In many cases a degree of technical proficiency is seen as a given, it is actually a different set of qualities and skills that the hiring manager is seeking in a candidate. With this in mind I wanted to explore and provide some thoughts on what is necessary for a person to progress in Analytics from mid level management to Executive leadership roles.

Often, when myself and my team meet with junior analysts, data scientists and the like we find that many seek to gain career growth by focusing on further developing their technical ability. This could be in terms of learning of new tools, methodologies or techniques. And while this is obviously a worthwhile endeavour for people at the beginning of their career, I find myself advising them that they should also seek to develop other business skills that are outside of pure analytics.

Once people progress into management and then further on to more Executive level roles the less actual hands on analytical work they will do. And while this seems obvious to state I have found that many incredibly bright and focused Analytics professionals have put less thought and effort into developing these “other” kind of soft skills they will need if they are to move into leadership positions.

So, what are some of the skills people should look to develop?

Far and away the most common skills clients seek in Analytics leaders are a thorough understanding of business itself combined with an ability to communicate. Many executives state the simple maxim that the most advanced and technically brilliant technique is worthless if it is aimed at the wrong target. Similarly, if an Analytics leader cannot converse and engage in simple business language their efforts will be lost.

Kshira Sagaar, Head of Analytics at Datalicious refers to this as the ability to translate “Math to Business”. Sagaar points out that Data Scientists across all levels are great with numbers. However, it is in converting the numbers into language where business action occurs. Furthermore, it is the ability to follow an insight through to an outcome, at the same time getting the necessary engagement and buy in from stakeholders.

Leif Evensen, General Manager of Business Performance and Analytics at Westpac, expresses a similar sentiment stating that commercial acumen is paramount. That Analytics leaders with “deep understanding of business context and operations yield credibility with customers and ensure that analytical endeavour is pointed at the things that matter most”.

Similarly, the ability to engage and communicate is essential. Evensen said that “without the ability to (a) distil complexity in a way that resonates with senior stakeholders and (b) bring the analytics team along on a journey, the impact and influence of a leader is impeded significantly”.

On top of those two key skills Analytics leaders should look to further develop their organisational ability as the complexity and number of moving parts will increase exponentially in an Executive role. And last of all it is important to keep abreast and up to date of new developments in the Analytics field as it continues to rapidly evolve.

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