Are Softer Skills for Analysts being neglected?


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iStock photoAre you neglecting the development of softer skills in your analysts? Talking to Customer Insight Leaders recently, including at the very pleasant DataIQ Talent Awards, it would seem they are. When sharing the experience of Laughlin Consultancy, that training for analysts in softer skills is our most popular service this year, all these leaders are not surprised and agree they are needed. If there is such widespread support for the idea, why haven’t businesses invested in this training sooner?

People have suggested a number of theories:

  • Under investment in these teams or in training during ‘lean times’
  • Softer skills not valued by some more geeky analysts or leaders
  • Scepticism from line managers (especially CMOs) as to what value such training would deliver
  • Just too damn busy!

All these are understandable challenges or excuses, more than one resonates with me from my time creating & leading large CI teams. Perhaps there is another reason as well. In my new line of work, I get to speak at industry conferences, read data/analytics/research publications and scan the plethora of blogs or social media comments on this topic. What becomes clear when consuming these is that the “buzz” or fashion is to focus on the technical. Ever since Google made “data scientist” the sexy job title for the decade, both suppliers and users have obsessed with technology and technical skills.

Following the comforting old maxim, “it’s what you do with it that counts”, I worry about this current fetish with all things techie. As an Apple addict, I can sympathise with the attraction of new shiny technology & beautiful design. However, I’m sure we’d all agree that commercial leaders should be focussed on outcomes not tools.

This recent fascination with “big data” or “predictive analytics” or “data scientists” is also worryingly reminiscent of what happened during the CRM ‘bubble’. When that term was in vogue rather than out of fashion, businesses were falling over each other to ‘do CRM’, which a number of large technology suppliers made sure equated with buying a CRM system. Not surprisingly, with hindsight, most of these CRM projects failed and systems did not repay that hefty price tag.

Given most of us are keen to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, it’s a pleasure to report that switched on businesses are now starting to invest in closing this gap. More and more are realising that they can’t just hire technically competent graduates and get the insight their business needs.

So, what do I mean by softer skills? Maybe not precisely what you might come up with, but I hope the list below is familiar. Laughlin Consultancy’s most popular service in H1 2015 has been the delivery of a “consultancy skills for analysts” training course that includes theses elements:

Have you invested in training like that for your analysts? What results have you seen?

Another way to think about this is what distinguishes your top talent from those analysts who prove to be just so so? My experience is that its capability in these softer skills. Over the years I’ve met or employed hundreds of analysts and whilst many may be a whizz at coding or have mastered model building in SAS, few are great communicators who really get what the business needs. Those who did master the skills I’ve outlined above went on to not just be effective consultants within their business, many are now leaders themselves.

Is that your past experience or would you identify other training needs for your team?

Image Source: iStock

Paul Laughlin
Paul helps companies make money from customer insight. That means helping them maximise the value they can drive from using data, analysis & research to intelligently interact with customers. Former Head of Customer Insights for Lloyds Banking Group Insurance, he has over 12 years experience of creating & improving such teams. His teams have consistently added over £10m incremental profit per annum through improvements to customer retention and acquisition.


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