Hiring

How to make sure your analytics team has the soft skills to make a hard impact

by Hudson

With the surge in organisations using data to inform strategies, accelerate business performance and drive competitive advantage, the analytics function is at an exciting stage of its evolution. But is it time to look beyond the tools and the tech in order to accelerate the function’s impact and effectiveness?

In the past when hiring analytics professionals, managers have tended to focus heavily on evaluating a candidate’s “technical” skills – that is, the skills needed to perform the practical tasks of the role – and their proficiency in using the required tools.

While technical skills are definitely important to ensure you have a team that can adeptly use tools to extract, model and analyse data, they are only a part of the picture when building a high quality and effective analytics team.

For the analytics function to be perceived as a true “business partner” – one that helps solve complex problems, creates business opportunities and impacts business transformation – it needs to be resourced with people who have a strong mix of “soft” skills as well as technical skills.

So, what are soft skills (or “competencies” as they are often called) in this context? They are essentially “people” skills and are attributes such as critical thinking, communication, influencing, commercial acumen and stakeholder management. A combination of these can quite dramatically increase the effectiveness and impact of an analytics function. 

analytics professionals looking for image

IAPA’s 2017 Skills & Salary Survey 2017 identified the importance of analytics professionals having both strong technical and soft skills, however the three key skills that had grown most significantly in importance were: communication and influencing, change management, and business leadership and engagement.

Early this year Hudson conducted their annual Analytics Insights research in New Zealand: NZ Analytics Employment Market 2018. The research also identified the criticality of soft skills. Furthermore, when respondents were asked to rate their analytics functions on a number of critical success factors, soft skills were rated below technical skills.

Analytics capability health check: managers rate their organization

Q: On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is poor and 5 is excellent, please rate your current company on the following where it comes to analytics: Average score out of 5.

Technical (analytical and data management) skills of their team 3.5
Technical innovation 3
Ability to take action on insights 3.1
Exec sponsorship 3.3
Soft skills of their team 3.2
Data integrity 3
Data availability 3.1

We also asked managers what they thought was the biggest soft skill missing from their teams: stakeholder engagement/business partnering was the top competency missing– a concerning statistic given the importance of this skill in generating business outcomes.

Behavioural gap in team

Top competencies managers thought were missing from their teams that would make the biggest difference

Stakeholder engagement / business partnering 21%
Ability to interpret data 10%
Business acumen 10%
Critical thinking 8%
Negotiation and influencing 8%
Innovative thinking 8%

Improving soft skills in your team

So how can organisations get the soft skills they need to improve their functions’ efficiencies? 

  1. First, identify the key “success drivers” for the roles within your team.

    No organisation is identical to another, and so the success factors vary across organisations and teams and depend upon the data maturity of the organisation. Start by examining the factors that make the analytics function successful within your organisation. For instance, is it the ability to tell a strong story with data, sell ideas and influence across multiple functions or diagnose critical issues early? Then look at what type.

    To do this, run focus groups, look to your high performers, and speak to your team, department and executives to work out what skills they think are critical for success at your organisation. Then select the skills that you believe are most important in each role and incorporate these into your role profile/job description.

  2. Assess carefully for soft skills during the hiring process to ensure you select the right hire.

    Hiring managers regularly assess for technical skills but less time is often invested in evaluating soft skills. As it is harder to assess soft skills, utilise a combination of psychometric assessments and competency based interviews to get an accurate picture of the candidate’s capabilities.

  3. Look beyond skills to get a full analysis of a candidate’s capability and future potential

    Evaluate three key elements of a candidate’s capability to ensure you select the right person for the right role. [See diagram below]

    A candidate’s “know how” provides the basic measures of their technical skills and experience.

    A candidate’s “can do” assesses their capability and attributes and whether they are able and willing to apply their skills and experiences to the desired behaviours of the organisation.

    “Want to” assesses a candidate’s motivational fit, career fit and indicates whether their career drivers and desired way of working will “fit” with that of the organisation.

    A correlation of these factors is what determines the likelihood of a candidate staying and performing in a role.

    Hudson Performance Driver Model
  4. Once they are in their role: help them focus on the big picture

    To ask the right questions, uncover new insights and accelerate the value they can provide, it’s critical that new employees very quickly understand the organisation’s business strategy and commercial objectives. This means that they can align their focus to the same objectives.

    Get them to sit within the business. They can learn a lot from observing daily operations and organisational objectives and strategies play out in action. Coach them to actively take part in meetings and interact with stakeholders, so that they are able to ask the right questions. Even in junior roles, rather than getting them to provide just the data, get them involved in the whole decision-making process. 

    If you want to accelerate the function’s effectiveness, it’s time you started to re-think the way you hire and develop the team’s soft skills and broader capabilities.