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How to create a High performance Analytics team?

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Lets assume that you are CEO of a MNC with operations across the globe!

Over last few years, you have heard a lot of buzz around analytics and about a lot of companies benefiting from analytics. On the other hand, you also come across companies, which invested big time in Analytics, but the unit continues to remain a cost center even after years of presence.

While the idea of creating an Analytics team sounds like an obvious thing for your company, you wonder:

Why companies falter in creating value through Analytics?

It’s a question which many leaders across the globe face on a regular basis. Of late, similar debates and discussions are happening with regards to starting a big data practice. The aim of this post is to bring out some of the best practices analytics leaders follow to create a high performing Analytics team.

high performance team

Keep a high bar on recruitment:

If there is only one advice, you would want to follow, this is the advice. If you get this right, everything ahead becomes easy to implement. If you fail at this, you will never be able to create a High performance team, no matter how much you excel in remaining tips.

So, how do you make sure that you are recruiting the right profile? Judge the analyst on the following skills:

  • Structured thinking
  • Business understanding and problem solving
  • Attention to details
  • Ability to triangulate numbers & do back of the envelope calculations
  • Communication skills – Ability to tell stories based on numbers

You can read further on how to judge on these skills here. In addition to these skills, check how curious the person is? How many questions does he / she asks. Remember, you can teach technical skills. You can manage performance. What you can’t do is force curiosity or passion.

Most of the highly analytical companies hold multiple rounds of case studies, role plays and interactions to judge the analysts on these traits. While these might sound easy to implement, they might not be. It means saying no to any back door entry. It also means, letting go of an analyst not clearing the thresholds, even though the work might suffer.

Provide right tools, trainings and resources:

Once you have the right people on-board, you should provide them with best in class training and resources. These training could be delivered externally (e.g. Training from SAS institute) or internally (e.g. Structured thinking and writing training to be provided by a seasoned analyst).

Some of the highly recommended training with in first 3 months of an analyst joining the team are:

  • Technical tool training: The analyst would be working on these tools day in and day out. A training upfront can build the momentum straight away. The best way to deliver these is by providing a basic module followed by a period of application. This can then be followed by a more advanced module.
  • Structured thinking and writing: This is another must do training for an analyst. A good training here can increase the productivity of an analyst many fold. You can find some more tips on structured thinking here. Some of the topics which can be covered in this training are “The Pyramid Principle”, Importance of hypothesis driven analysis. Common frameworks for presentation and story-telling.
  • Basic Statistics: A basic knowledge of statistics can go a long way in understanding basics of Business Analytics. Similar to technical training, advanced statistical concepts can be left for later.
  • Subject matter expertise for business understanding

 

Create a culture and community that fosters analytical thinking:

Now that you have trained your potential analysts, you need to provide them with a culture that accentuates analytical thinking. Following are some of the best practices, I have observed in analytical leaders:

  • Provide business ownership to the analysts: By doing so, you make sure that Analysts start working closely with business and there is high alignment with the customers.
  • Identify high value problems and challenge the analysts to solve them: Lets accept it! Analytical resources are scarce and expensive. Hence, it is very critical that you engage them in really high value problems and to continuously challenge their thinking to bring out the best in them.
  • Provide opportunity to step up for bigger roles: Best Organizations groom talent internally rather than hiring externally. So every time you have a step up opportunity for an analyst in your team, provide it to him. Handhold him in initial days and provide him regular feedback on how he is performing (mentioned in detail later).
  • Create a community – Have knowledge sharing sessions with in team, create forums to share best practices, perform team activities, discuss and solve case studies. Creating an active community of analysts is the solution to manage analyst attrition. The more closely knit the community is, lower are his chances of attrition.
  • Encourage healthy debate, brainstorming sessions: Brainstorming and whiteboard sessions bring out the best of ideas among analysts. They not only improve structured thinking, but also bring out some out of box thinking to the table.
  • Some other good practices include having a flat hierarchy, Imbibing testing culture within team

 

Manage the performance:

Once you have a thriving community in place, all you need to do it manage the analysts to make sure they are workinng on most important and challenging problems on one hand and their is healthy work load to bring out the best in them. Following are some of the must do actions to manage the analysts:

  • Have clearly defined and agreed objectives and expectations.
  • Continue to challange the analysts with most important & value generating problems.
  • Provide regular two-way constructive feedback. Additionally, this should be done at end of every project.
  • Continuous monitoring of benefits through implemented projects.
  • Provide development and training time to analysts on a continuous basis
  • Try and keep ad hoc work and multiple projects out of system. Analysts should focus at least 50% of their time on a single project.
  • Provide break for analysts to unwind and come back refreshed for working on high value problems.

If you are setting up an analytics team, this article provides you with a list of best practices. If you already have an analytics team, just check which of these practices are missing in your Organization and how you can implement them. Additionally, if you have any thoughts or practices which I might have missed, please add them in comments.

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