Leading and Organizing Analytics for Success. Here’s What the Emerging Leader of Analytics Will Look Like

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Back in 2010 there were very few defined senior roles with the words data, analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) or Chief in them as there are today. During those times, analytics was essentially everyone’s job (and opportunity), from the CEO and senior executives to line managers and individual contributors.  

For many of us data and analytics devotees, DELTA is the acronym still scribbled on the inside front cover of our work notebooks as a handy reference for the main pillars of a successful enterprise analytics program. The “L” of DELTA, which stands for leadership, describes behaviors of traditional line/function executives and managers that made them more analytical when performing their core duties. Those included strong people skills, good at setting expectations, ability to hire smart analysts, leaders by example, results-oriented, leverage seekers, persistent, ecosystem builders, ability to work along multiple fronts and understand the limits of an analytics-only approach.

Today, the success of any enterprise analytics program correlates positively to the vision and skills of the person leading the expedition, not just the extent to which the passengers on the vessel are rowing in unison. While the aforementioned skills are still important for a leader to embody, it is time to establish more relevant leadership qualities that codify the skills, background and behaviors of the dedicated data and analytics leaders who are the newest members of the executive teams at many enterprises. In fact, many carry the Chief Analytics Officer (CAO), Chief Data Officer (CDO), Chief Data and Analytics Officer (CDAO) or equivalent titles.  

During some recent conversations with analytics leaders at large organizations including John Deere, CIGNA, CVS Health among others, the traits and experience that were considered the most important emerged into the following six key categories:

1.    Personal/character

2.    Leadership

3.    Organizational

4.    Business

5.    Quantitative

6.    Technological

The personal/character traits of a new analytics leader 

When it comes to personal and character traits, a leader showing curiosity stood out above the rest. Inherently, people drawn to a data and analytics role tend to be viewed as intellectuals, direct, rigid and here’s a new one: “analytical.” However, managers and HR teams today are strongly looking to bring in data and analytics leaders who embody emotional intelligence, humility, empathy and increasingly have a learning mindset. 

According to the leaders I have spoken with, the traditional skills and qualities still hold strong. These leaders must also be results-oriented, have a passion for storytelling, show tenacity, stamina, patience and determination. 

The leadership traits of today’s analytics leader 

One of the most powerful skills that has been set into overdrive this past year is the ability to lead and marshal change in an organization. The old adage that change is the only constant, applies in data and analytics. Change management skills cannot always be taught, but circumstances can certainly force leaders to showcase whether they have them or are doing their best to adjust at a reasonable pace. This is by far one of the more prominent skills that today’s analytics leader must have. Other key leadership traits that will grow increasingly necessary are the CDO or CAO’s ability to influence others, particularly business partners, ability to construct a clear analytics vision and strategy and communicate clearly at multiple organizational levels.

As we know, the analytics role and function may serve across various parts of the business, which means that analytics leaders cannot operate in a silo. In today’s enterprise, the analytics leader must be comfortable with a culture of feedback and iterative progress, be comfortable with integrating external perspectives and have the ability to innovate within financial and operational constraints. 

Analytics leaders must possess an organizational understanding

It’s no surprise that talent is critical to moving the organization toward its vision and objectives. For the analytics function to be successful within the enterprise, the data and analytics leader must have the ability to hire well, and create and motivate a healthy, diverse team. 

Leaders I have spoken with from multinational and Fortune 500 companies agree that analytics leaders must have strong coaching skills, the ability to collaborate with a variety of backgrounds and personalities, the ability to quantify tradeoffs, help team members prioritize work and clearly define success for their team in the capacity it supports and across the entire enterprise. 

Business understanding and analytics leadership go hand-in-hand

Having a thorough understanding of business models and business processes gained through time is also a critical function of the new analytics leader role. No matter where the data and analytics function within the organization lives, it is imperative for the leader in the role to be able to translate the overall business strategies into the data and analytics objectives. 

In addition, many CDOs, CAOs or CDAOs are within parts of the enterprise that are often external facing. This means having the skills and ability to establish trusted relationships and connections with external vendors and partners will become an important part of the new analytics leader’s role. 

Quantitative skills become more critical to the function of analytics

For an analytics leader to have quantitative skills, seems like an obvious trait. That said, with the trends rapidly shifting from machine learning and AI to automation or enterprises focused on being more data-driven, it is critical for today’s analytics leaders to have a foundational understanding of statistical and quantitative methods. 

In addition, to keep up with these trends, data and analytics leaders must have a foundational understanding of data science and how it applies within their organization. 

Technological skills

Despite common perception, the data and analytics leader role is primarily non-technical in nature. Successful leaders emphasize orchestration, leadership, collaboration and familiarity with the business over technical (quantitative methods and technology) acumen.  The focus is on marshaling the right forces from “battle to battle” in the aim of achieving large enterprise goals.  This is a clear sign data and analytics as a function and capability is now on-par with traditional functions, requiring a seasoned executive to set the vision and execute against that vision. 

To execute on the objectives and vision, from a technology perspective, it will become even more important for the analytics leaders of today to have a strong understanding of analytics software options in the market to include commercial, opensource, on-premise, or various cloud solutions. As data grows exponentially across the organization, it will also be critical for the data and analytics leader to have a strong understanding of database and data storage technologies that exist to help them simplify and securely manage their data and access to that data at a reasonable cost. 

It is the unique skills, temperament and backgrounds present among today’s analytics leaders that make for an entirely new breed of leader who is blending traditional disciplines with new attributes to be successful. Whether the leader is in sales, marketing, product, or even HR,  leaders who use data and analytics to add leverage to their functions will increasingly rely on the leadership and support of their analytics team. Now is the time to distinguish this new breed of dedicated, full-time analytics leaders who are increasingly critical in managing and overseeing these successful data and analytics programs within the enterprise. 

About the Author

Jack Phillips is the CEO and co-founder of The International Institute for Analytics (IIA), which is focused on helping Fortune 500 multinational enterprises and growth-stage companies build successful analytics programs from the ground up. At IIA, Jack leads a network of analytics experts, academics and leaders at successful companies, where we advise and guide our clients to implement analytics strategies across the organization. Jack, a former Harvard grad, is also the host of the Leading Analytics Podcast, where he speaks with the industry’s top data and analytics leaders to discuss how their roles within an organization can be a game changer for improving business outcomes.

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