January 30, 2011

Analytics Sunday: 25 FAQs For The New Analytics Leader

A new generation of analytics leaders are about to be crowned.  What do they have to look forward to?  Let's find out.

Question #1:  Will management listen to me?  The reality is that some people will listen to you.  Your analytics projects are important, and what you learn is important.  People will listen to you when you craft a message congruent with the needs of the Executive Team.

Question #2:  Will my staff listen to me?  Good question.  If you came from a peer environment (i.e. you were part of a six-person analytics team), and you've been promoted to lead the team, you'll have one set of challenges.  There will be jealousy, envy, anger.  Folks will challenge you because they want to come across as being smarter than you.  If you come from outside the company, you'll encounter a different set of challenges.  You're not likely to be trusted, even with good credentials.  In either case, you will need to earn trust and respect, your title won't guarantee it.

Question #3:  Are all analytics skills equal?  Unfortunately, no.  I see this every day.  Web Analytics experts look down at the old-school skills possessed by Business Intelligence Analysts.  Business Intelligence Analysts complain that Web Analytics experts only know how to analyze one channel.  SAS Programmers are derided by both parties as having skills congruent with those needed in 1986.  Couple that with inter-industry challenges (i.e. the skills required to manage CRM in the casino industry are different than those in e-commerce), and you'll have challenges that will take some time go get over.  Just remember, the core of all analyst experiences is the same ... you're trying to understand customer behavior.

Question #4:  Can I fire people?  If you are going to fire anybody, do it in the first month or two in your new job.  If your team "isn't on your side", if you will, do your absolute best to move people on with dignity, grace, and respect ... because one day somebody will be doing the same thing to you.

Question #5:  Can I give people promotions or pay increases?  Oh boy.  Somewhere in your company, you have a person who is in charge of "compensation".  This person has a set of goals and objectives that are in direct conflict with what you want to accomplish.  This person has a budget, and salary increases cannot exceed what is budgeted, even if people in your department deserve promotions.  Again, do what you can do in the first two months in your new job, because after that, it becomes much harder to reward people for their efforts.

Question #6:  Do I have to work eighty hours a week?  No.  If you aren't going to work eighty hours a week, be darn sure that you are the most effective person on the planet while working thirty-five hours a week ... and you'll set a good example for your team in the process.

Question #7:  Do I have to set a good example for my team?  Yup.  Your team will watch your every action, looking for cues on how to think.  I once had an analyst tell me that my ears got red when I was angry, regardless of what I was saying verbally.  Spend a lot of time setting a good example on how to behave, this is more important than spending time crafting a vision.

Question #8:  Will I get to set my own vision for my department?  You better do this!  I used to go on a "road show", meeting with every important Executive, learning what they were going to focus on in the next year.  I did this in November or December.  Anything an Executive wanted to accomplish that was congruent with my vision became an objective.  Anything an Executive wanted to accomplish that wasn't congruent with my vision became an objective.  Any resources that remained were allocated against my vision for where to take the department and the company.

Question #9:  What's the best way to make a big splash?  It's not by doing the most complicated analysis project that you can do because you're now in a position of authority.  Do something neat and helpful for a member of your Executive team, and let that member evangelize your message for you.  I always wanted to do something analytically sophisticated.  My non-analytically oriented co-workers wanted simple solutions to complex problems.  You serve your company better by providing simple solutions to complex problems.  I know, that's hard to do.

Question #10:  The information technology department won't help me.  That's not a question!  And yet, it's a problem you're likely to run into over and over again.  My advice is to hire a person that is a "database guru" ... not an analytics guru, but a person who can create databases and link database together.  Honestly, you don't need your information technology people as much as you think you need them.  Have your database person create tables and then have her hand off her code to the information technology department.

Question #11:  What happens when Executives won't listen to me?  It's guaranteed to happen.  I recall sitting with a Merchandising leader ... I wanted to cut her catalog circulation way back, because it was terribly unprofitable.  She patiently listened to my argument, then told me that she was going to increase circulation because she needed to grow top-line sales and asked me to have a plan for her in a week, a plan that had significant circulation increases.  Well, you can fight this to the death, you can call this leader a HiPPO (highest paid person's opinion), or you can do your best to optimize her strategy.  I'd suggest that you do the best job you can to optimize her strategy.

Question #12:  How come my budget is so small?  This always amazed me.  As an analyst, I always wanted to purchase software and hardware and seldom had the ability to convince anybody to listen to me.  Then I became a VP, looked at the budget, and realized that nobody was getting hardware or software!  Well, that's not true, there was money to do stuff, just not enough to do what you wanted to do.  This is a good thing.  Software and hardware don't make the company money, hard-working, brilliant analysts make the company money.

Question #13:  Why won't my company let me speak at eMetrics or Internet Retailer?  Because your company believes that whatever you say at this conference will result in your competition acquiring the tools and techniques necessary to outperform your business.  You and I know that this isn't the case, but your boss is not likely to be an analytics expert ... he will not see the world the way you see the world.

Question #14:  How do I learn if I can't share?  This is a common problem.  Companies ram the analytics expert in a dark closet and then toss bread crumbs under the door to keep the analyst fed.  You see this on Twitter all of the time ... the same six Web Analytics or Business Intelligence gurus (folks who work at agencies or vendors or are consultants like me) dominate "the conversation" with their slanted point of view (me included).  Find a non-competitive company, and offer to visit that company for two days of "knowledge exchange".  Surprisingly, people are open to this, and Management is generally open to this.  Take advantage of what you can do, don't worry about what you can't do.

Question #15:  Our longest tenured person is likely to leave, what do I do?  Each situation is unique.  I've generally run across two situations.  In Situation #1, the business or the department is in dire need of a "turnaround".  In these cases, I hire talent from outside the company, because I need to fix things or I will lose my job.  In Situation #2, business is fine, or the talent level in your department is good.  In this case, I'm going to promote from within, and I'm probably going to hire an entry-level person to replace the person I promote.

Question #16:  My staff disagree with my approach to a problem.  How do I get them to do things my way?  Oh boy.  I've made this mistake 22,439 times.  This may go against every fiber in your body, but try to get your staff to focus on outcomes.  If they have to improve search performance by 15%, don't worry about how they analyze the business to get the increase, just worry about the outcome.  Offer suggestions, but don't demand one specific analytical approach to a situation.

Question #17:  My team doesn't get along with each other, what do I do?  This is why you get paid the big bucks!  I once managed two feuding individuals, and no matter what I did, they wouldn't get along.  So I called each individual into my office, closed the door, and then scolded each individual just loud enough to make sure that a couple of people near my office knew I raised my voice, knowing that the two individuals who couldn't get along would be mortified by this revelation.  This only works when both individuals respond to that type of treatment ... other people will break down and cry, or become rampantly defiant.  Each case is unique.  Spend time studying the habits and personalities of each employee, because there simply isn't a right answer to how to treat everybody.  Sometimes team building works, sometimes scolding works, sometimes you wait for a new leader to emerge and solve the problem.

Question #18:  What is my career path?  Odds are that you've hit the glass ceiling.  I recall a CEO telling me that I was only capable of doing my current job, that I didn't have the background necessary to do any other job in the company.  That fact may or may not be true!  At some point, you're going to have to slide out of the analytics career path and try to acquire additional skills, or you're going to bounce out of your company and work for a vendor or on your own.  By the way, analytics staffers are notoriously bad at crafting a career outside of analytics, me included.

Question #19:  Why doesn't anybody understand what I am explaining?  You don't know this, but you're speaking geek-speak!  Your whole career was built off of impressing other analytics experts, so you unknowingly developed a language that allows you to communicate to other analytics experts.  Comments like "... our tagging solution allows us to do on-the-fly segmentation that is helpful in the analysis of multivariate test results" sound great within an analytics community, but are meaningless to a CFO looking to reduce expenses by eighteen percent.  In your new job as a Leader, it's imperative that you communicate like you are communicating to your Grandmother.  Nobody outside of your department understands what you do, but everybody outside of your department depends upon what you do.  Focus on changing your communication style over time.

Question #20:  I presented data like Edward Tufte would present data, and nobody understood my message.  What did I do wrong?  This goes back to communication.  There's a whole bunch of folks that will tell you to never present a pie chart to somebody ... well, that's all well and good unless the person you are presenting to requires data in a pie chart format in order to be able to understand the data!!  Don't do what the gurus tell you to do, do what is right for your audience.  Gurus are selling a solution, gurus are not selling a solution that works perfectly in your business environment.

Question #21:  How many meetings a week should I attend?  How about zero?  Seriously, keep meeting attendance to a bear minimum.  You are more valuable to the company analyzing data than you are attending a weekly committee meeting.  You have staff, encourage them to go to meetings and encourage them to make their own decisions.

Question #22:  Should I analyze my own data, or have my staff analyze data for me?  Oooooooh.  I think my answer is "yes".  You need to have your own projects, you need to stay sharp, and you need to discover changes in customer behavior on your own.  Having said that, you need to develop your people, so your people should get a steady diet of meaningful, meaty projects.

Question #23:  The gurus make it sound like they're brilliant and I'm stupid.  What's going on?  The new analytics leader has a problem.  The only thing she reads are the comments, thoughts, opinions, and pontifications of about seven people.  Here's a tidbit.  The folks working in the trenches are as qualified as the gurus, and in many cases, are more qualified.  The folks working in the trenches simply cannot talk about what they're doing, so it can sound like the gurus are on the cutting edge while the new analytics leader is dealing with simplistic, boring, pedestrian issues.  Never lose confidence.  You're doing work a guru couldn't hope to accomplish, your work simply isn't being published.

Question #24:  How do I know when it is time to quit?  Not many people talk about this topic, do they?  You'll know the answer to this question, trust me.  You may not act upon your instincts, but you'll know when it is time.  First of all, you're likely to be bored.  Second, you're likely to have tapped out what you can accomplish ... in other words, every company has a glass ceiling for what can be accomplished, politics will eventually limit your effectiveness.  Third, you are likely to have a set of "friends" at your level, and when those "friends" are fired or they leave the company, you end up at an important inflection point ... you'll either be re-energized and you'll start over, or you'll know it's time to move on because new leaders don't share your passion for topics you care about.  No matter the circumstance, you will intuitively know when it is time to leave.

Question #25:  How do I quit?  I'd plan ahead.  In other words, you spend a year crafting the next step in your career.  Write a booklet ... it's not terribly hard to write 40 pages, anybody can do that.  Start your blog now, so that you have a year of content when you finally leave your company and need a job.  Make connections on Twitter, not because you're a savant of 140 character communications, but because when you are ready to get a new job, you'll have 443 followers that can help you.  Make your connections on LinkedIn.  But do it ahead of time ... folks can sense desperation when you do it after losing your job, you're a savvy business person when you do it a year before leaving your job.

Ok, time for your thoughts.  Use the comments section or Twitter to state your question and the answer you'd like to provide to the analytics community.

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