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Mike Alaimo

Partner & Talent Services Leader

8 Characteristics to Look for in Your Next Data Analytics Leader

Hiring a new data analytics leader can be daunting. This is a critical role—one that requires a broad range of skills and characteristics to be successful. Bringing the wrong person on board, a scenario that happens all too often, can have a negative impact on the organization, with team morale, resources and productivity all taking a hit.

To help you find the perfect candidate, we’ve put together eight characteristics to look for in your next data analytics leader. Use it as a guide as you begin the hiring process.  (Or, if you’re an data analytics professional, you can use this list to prepare for your job search.)

A data analytics leader should have:

1. The ability to define and execute a strategic vision.

Whether a CAO or CDO, your data analytics leader must be a big-picture thinker. They must create data and analytics strategies that take their company to new levels of competitive advantage and productivity. Driving growth while simultaneously streamlining cost and process is no easy feat, yet this is the promise of analytics.

Effective data analytics leaders possess strategic vision with an ability to take swift action. They must execute strategies by building roadmaps and leading project implementations. Research from the Harvard Business Review suggests that only eight percent of executives are skilled in both strategy and execution. However, experts believe good strategists can gain skills in execution and vice versa—a doer can learn to be more strategic.

2. The vision to guide both people and the organization.

Data analytics leaders must have the skills to find, attract, and retain the right people, and position their team for impact and growth. They should have experience building (or adapting) a team that aligns with corporate culture and core values. This might require re-examination of traditional organizational structures and changing up the skills-mix and roles within their own team.

Don’t settle. Look for someone with a history of creating an environment that encourages innovation, experimentation, making mistakes and iterating. And, to retain their valuable employees, data analytics leaders should foster an environment with horizontal and vertical growth opportunities, rewards and recognition programs.

3. The passion to become a data evangelist.

As the face of the analytics team, a leader must work across all business layers and silos to evangelize the value of data and analytics within the organization. As part of the leadership team, they must act as an internal data scientist, forging a connection between the company’s strategy and data.

According to writer and Snowflake senior evangelist Eva Murray, data evangelists must be good listeners and patient. “You cannot convert people overnight,” Murray says. Good data analytics leaders must establish “concepts and methodologies around empowering people with data, sharing data, and data literacy.”

The bottom line? The ability to inspire others around their priorities is an essential quality for any data analytics leader.

4. A mind for change management.

Change, real change, must come from the top down. So, it is critical that your data analytics leader gains executive support for their strategic plan. Transformational change is not just about technology, it’s about the business as well. Data and analytics have the power to change the way people make decisions.

“The companies best positioned to change in the next decade will be the ones that set themselves up well now, by collecting the right kind of data and investing in their analytics capacity,” according to a Harvard Business Review article about data-driven change management. Executive sponsorship and an ability to rally the company are foundational to setting up programs that encourage information sharing, collaboration and self-service analytics.

Change management isn’t easy, but it’s a critical skill for any data analytics leader. Seek someone who has the courage to lead cultural transformation and knows how to manage it across the organization.

5. The ability to clearly communicate to everyone in the organization.

Your data analytics leader should be a strong communicator. They must be able to articulate the data and analytics vision to all levels of the organization—upward and downward. Having the ability to take very complex analytics concepts and distill them down to a message customized for each audience is critical.

Successful leaders have excellent speaking and writing skills, are able to navigate political environments, and communicate openly and honestly. In fact, strong communication skills can make all the difference between success and failure. Many projects crash and burn simply because of communication gaps, according to a Towards Data Science article. If an analyst doesn’t understand the business context of a project, for example, the deliverable provided at the end may be useless. Data analytics leaders must know the right questions to ask to ensure every project is on point, and have the communication skills to ensure everyone is aligned—no matter their role in the organization.

6. The ability to improve data literacy to create a data-driven culture.

A data-driven culture must be developed and nurtured.  Your data analytics leader and executive team must cultivate a culture that rewards data literacy.

According to analytics leader and influencer, Bill Franks, data literacy is a two-way street between Business and IT. “The business needs to analyze the data and know how to interpret it, but IT needs to provide the data in a format and level that the business can easily consume,” Franks said in a recent Analytics Leaders Network (ALN) webinar.

People, not technology or process, present the biggest challenge to cultural change. You must foster a culture of innovation, learning, self-service and collaboration across all levels of the organization. Your data analytics leader must understand the company’s stage of data maturity and have the experience to guide the transformation forward.

7. A breadth of experience.

Siloed or narrow experience must be avoided at all costs. Rather, seek breadth of experience across three domains—industry, business, and analytics. Relevant industry experience is important for analytics leaders, but ideally, they also will bring experiences and insights from other industries. This provides novel and effective ways to address data challenges.

Does your data analytics leader candidate have experience working with various internal department within an organization—sales, marketing, operations, supply chain, and finance? By understanding business roles and processes, the analytics team can better provide the right data in the ideal format for their various audiences.

Strong leaders have a broad understanding of the data analytics environment, including data management, governance, business intelligence, general analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. They will be able to leverage their knowledge of industry, business and data to propel the organization’s growth.

8. A firm grasp on analytics methodology and technology.

Of course, a solid leader must understand data analytics, and have the knowledge and experience to garner credence at all levels. That means being comfortable sitting down to talk with top executives to discuss big picture and granular items, and then grasping the technical details in conversations with the various members of their multidisciplinary team of analysts, engineers, quants, developers, data scientists, data governance and project managers.

Investing in the right tools is also key to a successful analytics department. The leader should stay apprised of the latest and greatest methods and technologies, and strategically invest in new tools when it makes sense.

Finding the perfect data analytics candidate isn’t easy, but the good news is the right leader brings exponential value. You deserve nothing less than a passionate and strategic leader, with broad experience and strong communication skills to develop a data-driven culture.

Need more guidance? Contact us to learn about tools that can help you find your next analytics leader.

Talk to a Mavent expert today

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