January 29, 2007

"Hand On A Mouse" Syndrome

Seems like the past week has been 'reunion week' --- numerous phone calls from colleagues from all over the country. I wish there was a little more cheer in our industry. Maybe the end of the fiscal year has people edgy. For many retailers, this Saturday evening is the end of the fiscal year. Be careful out there this Saturday evening, folks. Way too many fiscal year end celebrations get out of control.

One of the more interesting discussions was with a former colleague. This person talked about bring branded as a "database" person. In particular, this person said "Once folks knew I could get data, they didn't care about what I thought about anything, they just used me to get at more data."

All too often, our analytical folks are treated poorly by folks who have no idea they are mistreating anybody. I call this "Hand On A Mouse" syndrome, named after a computer user holding a mouse.

The syndrome occurs when a talented analyst gets so efficient at doing his/her job that management sees the analyst as the best way to get at information to promote various management strategies. Management uses the analyst as their own personal mouse, as a tool to access a corporate database.

If you are in management's shoes, this is a logical strategy. Management cannot keep up with the myriad of questions they are peppered with each day. An analyst who can quickly access the customer database becomes an ally, an asset.

Management appreciates the new found access to data. The analyst wants to showcase business analysis skills, not query skills.

Eventually, the questions asked of the analyst become more and more rudimentary, and easier for the analyst to get at. This allows management to answer more and more questions, allowing management to look good among their peers. Finally, feeling under-unappreciated, the analyst looks for and identifies career opportunities elsewhere.

Management wonders what went wrong? Management cannot possibly understand the fundamental problems, the frustration felt by the analysts.

How are your analytical folks perceived, where you work? Does "Hand On A Mouse" syndrome infect your analytical team members, and if it does, what do you do to vanquish it?


  1. Anonymous5:42 PM

    Its an interesting question. You have a team of women and men with master's degrees in statistics w/ business background that are some of the smartest people out there: analytical, organized, and driven. However, its possible to fill the same analyst position with an IT-minded guy or gal with a handful of SAS skills and some training in statistics.

    In my opinion, you have to decide what do w/ your team at an individual level. Strive to get your savvy analysts out there and give them an opportunity to drive the business. You'll be amazed at what they can do! But you can't force the IT mining and query-minded folks into marketing planning and expect them do pull it off. Like I said, it has to be at an individual level, but I'd recruit the business minded folks and teach them the SAS! And like Kevin said, if they're strong and not provided an opportunity to succeed (and treated like a mouse instead), they're going to bolt.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Ray.

    It's really hard for management to not treat analytical folks like a mouse ... really, REALLY hard.

  3. Anonymous8:06 AM

    This is one of Management's great mysteries. It actually takes one of two forms: i) an employee is really good at what she does and is promoted to a managerial position, although the employee was outstanding at what she did, she is not prepared to manage and becomes a lesser manager or ii) an employee is excellent at what she does and thus stays forever doing what she does so well.
    The cycle is easy to break if managers want to: foster promotions along employees' strengths and interests, invest in management training (real management training, not make believe, fadish training)and quit talking about "leadership", what makes firms produce is "followship", not "leadership"

  4. Anonymous4:23 PM

    Looking for elaboration on the "followship" vs. "leadership" idea. Its an interesting thought!

  5. Anonymous9:48 PM

    In my industry, leadership can be hard for analytical folks to demonstrate.

    Inevitably, analytical leaders will have to question the work of merchandisers, operations folks, creative, other marketers, or even the CEO. 9 in 10 times the analyst will be asked to crawl back into the dark room where the servers are running.

    But if the analyst is able to make a compelling argument, it has been my experience that career development can happen quickly. The analyst needs to capitalize on the 1-in-10 chance of success, and run with it.


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