Do You Know What You Are Doing, Mr Analytics Head?
What defines a good business analytics leader? No … a great business analytics leader?
As a practitioner, observer and (recent) researcher in the analytics domain for most of my 20+ year career, I am puzzled that so little is known or has been discussed about the leadership attributes required to create a world-class business analytics function within an organisation.
Organisations put in place analytic leaders who had their start in academia to those who were weaned from the line-of-business. The success rate on both ends of the spectrum has been disappointing. Sadly within Asia, I can count on two hands the number of successful and inspirational analytical leaders, despite so many organisations having now invested in the position. In fact, poor analytical leadership has done more to convince the uninitiated that analytical capabilities is a nice-to-have rather than of critical and strategic importance.
"If your analytics team spends 80% of its time churning reports and campaign lists at the behest of the business, you know you've failed, Mr Analytics Leader. No buts about it."
Based on discussions and observations, here's what I believe makes for an exceptional business analytics leader who will be able to propel your analytics function from a service provider to a business driver, and generate significant incremental business value for your organisation:
1. DATA & EVIDENCE APPROACH TO PROBLEM SOLVING
The business analytics leader must come from a background that straddles business domain and data knowledge. It does not imply that the person has to be steeped in statistical or algorithmic solutioning, but rather, the person consistently uses a data and evidence approach to problem solving. And is constantly closing the loop to understand the impact of those data-driven decisions. But a complete reliance on data and evidence is bad, as these are based on historic data. The person must have sufficient business acumen to "smell" if something is not right and to detect opportunities, and to make an informed decision and take risks with new experimentations.
2. BE A TEACHER
The business analytics leader must enjoy teaching, coaching and grooming talent. Analytics is a knowledge profession, and as such, requires fermentation of thought-processes and maturation of problem-solving skills. It's a collaborative affair. The business analytics leader needs to also recognise the importance of and invest in communication skills of the analytics team. I would argue that as much as 50% of the success of an analytics project is based on the strength of communication.
3. CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO
The business analytics leader must have the courage to challenge the status quo and have the ability to influence all levels of management across different functions. True business analytics activities touches Finance, Risk Management, Operations, Technology, Sales, and Marketing. True business analytics uncovers inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of business process and policies. Navigating this spectrum of stakeholders requires amazing deftness. A critical role of the business analytics leader is to tear down walls and clear roadblocks for the acceptance and implementation of analytical solutions. It requires someone who is capable of bringing about a mindset change. Don't confuse this with charisma or great oration skills. In many cases, the business analytics leader must work deep and broad to address genuine concerns at various levels of management. This requires a hands-on approach. This requires determined leadership instead of forceful leadership.
I have seen first hand how forceful analytics leadership has destroyed the credibility of the function, resulting in business tensions and massive resignations from the analytics team. I have also seen how leadership from the wrong background have relegated the analytics function to a mere report-generation entity; condemning analytics to a support function rather than elevating it to a business advisor or driver unit. It's high time organisations do a serious re-assessment of their analytical leadership.