It is my great pleasure to introduce our guest blogger this week, Sameer Dhanrajani, Business Leader, Cognizant Analytics, Cognizant Technology Solutions. Sameer is spearheading the Cognizant Analytics practice and is primarily responsible for crafting differentiated strategies around analytics consulting, platforms and services coupled with creating best of breed GTM, business development, operational excellence solutioning exercises and delivering transformational analytics engagements. A recognized industry thought leader in outsourcing and analytics space, Sameer has a proven senior leader track record of 17 years in various leadership roles. Prior to Cognizant, Sameer was the Country Head, Fidelity National Financial. Analytics India Magazine recently named Sameer as one of the 10 Most Influential Analytics Leaders in India. Thank You Sameer for this post which has some great insights for analytics leaders. And for those of you starting an analytics career, this article will open your eyes as to what you can expect from your bosses and your work environment.
Numerous studies in the past have shown that an engaged workforce significantly out-produces an unmotivated one. And even a greater number of those studies reinforce the common notion that employee creativity is the key to innovation and eventual customer or client satisfaction. To a great degree, for most industries and organizations, talent is one of the most treasured asset and to an extent a key differentiator in the marketplace. Every company needs a creative team, decision makers and visionaries, but on a similar note, it’s equally important to have a motivated workforce who can give their all for the cause day-by-day. As clichéd it may sound, Analytics truly is one of the industries where the average churn or attrition rate has typically been on the higher side (as compared to industry average in general) due to great demand for Analytics experts in the industry across the globe and dearth of skills required. I presume all my readers would concur on the perennial challenge of analytics talent crunch most businesses are grappling with today. And even if you find the so-called right analytics resource that align with your skills requirements, you’re bound to chart out engaging career prospects and develop that talent over what could amount to a decade before that person is achieving optimum results for your company.
Analytics is all about working with an extremely talented & creative set of people, who need constant care and attention from their leaders & mentors. And undoubtedly, most businesses yearn to maximize output and increase topline, they need to have their team working as effectively as possible. But how should they go about this? A generally accepted phenomenon that happy workers tend to be productive ones – meaning there are clear benefits to keeping people engaged and motivated.
When it comes to job satisfaction, financial rewards may be lower on the list than most people think. Being happy with the job seems to depend more on the intangibles: feeling part of a team and being valued and appreciated consistently outrank money when employees are polled about job satisfaction. It’s all about keeping employees highly engaged & give them the due respect they deserve. Engaged analytics talent learns, grows, displays high leadership quotient, deliver heightened ROI and significantly decrease your organization’s turnover rate. However, keeping a team that approaches work with vigor and passion intact is easier discussed than executed.
Every other company which employs analytics services or is outsourcing it wants to hire and keep the best of the breed talent – how do you stay a step ahead? Clarity on company’s mission that they are driven to lead themselves is all commonplace and is a sanity in Analytics as with every other industry. And if an employee isn’t engaged, creativity is not present! So what truly keeps this evolved species engaged enough?
First & foremost, as leaders, we must acknowledge that Analytics talent is different from rest of the organizations and placing them rightly within the organization is crucial to ensure they are truly able to create the real impact. Bright minds cannot be chained or siloed or put in a bureaucratic hierarchy, lest they tend to lose their sheen and may end up attriting or be sitting ducks stuck up in the usual business stream where their skills are definitely not put to the best of use. Analytics talent should be led by analytic leaders who know this industry in & out; because they are the ones who understand how this talent needs to be groomed & nurtured, and shielded from the political bureaucracies, and the analytics leaders should effectively communicate those differences throughout the organization constantly. Separate HR policies, working culture and operating rhythm is required to give these prodigies a conducive environment to deliver their best. They should acknowledge different processes for them, they should have different technical ladders, different job expectations. It must be thoroughly acknowledged that they have different motivations and is the organization in the capacity to carve out that special niche for thriving Analytics talent. Whether you keep them together in their own close knit group so they can keep their skills sharp with constant interaction with each other, or should they be spread across company’s business units because that is where they must have an impact?
It’s important for your analytics talent to garner complementary skill sets. Obviously, you intend to build a team with eclectic mix of skills instead of having all people who are good at data massaging or modelling or all people who do optimizations or visualizers. Analytics is a broad space and there are umpteen specialties, and piecing together these different puzzle elements is the key to generating impactful business insights. As an analytics leader because you understand the space, you understand these specialties. So to be a good leader of such a talented team, you really have to focus on the individuals on your team and help them succeed.
Talent always needs a clear future vision on their career trajectory & growth within the organizations with distinctive career paths through career ladders and lattices. A clarity/transparency on roles, career tracks and skill expectations has to be in place to affirm that your analytics professionals have a well thought through career roadmap charted out. Structured capability building, systematic learning and development frameworks could be crucial to ensuring that career architecture plan is laid out appropriately.
An effective training and development plan is one of the best ways to convey to your valued employees the commitment and faith you have by investing in them. And, when you consider this investment in the long run with a way higher ROI, the expense of a solid training program suddenly seems measly. With the pace the Analytics industry is maturing, it’s crucial that your talent is in tune with the current needs in the industry, has hands-on experience with the topical tools & technologies and is abreast with the latest and greatest techniques being used today to deliver business impact. Just to substantiate with an example here, R being open-source has tons of pre-built libraries & many more keep getting added to the repository, avoiding duplicity of effort and ensures optimal procedures/techniques are being employed which have proven to be effective & accredited by experts in the wider public analytics community. Smart talent is always hungry for more and it’s imperative for the analytics leaders to keep feeding their talent with all the trending skills/tools and keep their talent’s arsenal up-to-date.
Give your talent the wings of freedom, to innovate, to be creative, basically get out of their way and empower them, give them the requisite tools to deliver. Don’t keep them shielded from the real-world all the time & get them the exposure to be deeply embedded in the C-suite. The senior executives want to make decisions based on data and they trust this talent tremendously. Get them in front of the clients or the C-suite and give them the platform to talk to them directly as to what they are doing. That’s what keeping them there, as they feel that they are in the driver’s seat helping businesses navigate in a highly competitive, relentless environment. Highlight in appropriate forums about their achievements & the impact they have made.
Analytics professionals need to be spending a sizable time(between 6-10 years) to industry-specific challenges before they can have the right context to understand the problem well and know exactly know what’s needed & what not to go about finding a solution. This is among the scariest challenges which majority Analytics leaders across the globe are trying to figure out and still poses a big question mark for most on how to get their analytics talent a business bent of mind. Continuous exposure to the business, ongoing domain-specific trainings are hence an important ingredient to their success & keeping them relevant.
Throw all sorts of challenges and varied projects at your talent. Be it as far away from their comfort zones & let them drown in it. This is what they truly enjoy doing and they love finding their way out from the middle of nowhere. Organize week long hackathons, competitions & give them stringent timelines to deliver. Give them the opportunity to make the impossible possible. The sense of achievement & gratification after working their way out from challenges unimagined in their wildest dreams is what keeps them going. Let them mingle up with the wider Analytics talent beyond the walls of the organization; let them participate in global competitions organized by Kaggle, 5th Elephant, VCCircle, Analytics Vidya etc. Motivate them to join interesting discussions pertaining to Analytics online (twitter, blogs, linkedin communities) and make a contribution, be an expert advisor in the area they specialize in.
Value your talent, get them the requisite support and developmental environment from mentors & other experienced professional in your Analytics team, pay them well, recognize their contributions, and give them the opportunity to rise up the career ladder. Start collaborating with academic institutions from where you hire, increase interventions, do guest lectures, seminars, workshops, mentoring sessions, case competitions, “Shadow a Leader” program etc to be constantly engaged with your pipeline talent.