Are Softer Skills for Analysts Neglected?

Ever since Google made “data scientist” the sexy job title for the decade, suppliers and users have obsessed over analysts' technical skills.

Are you neglecting the development of softer skills in your analysts? Based on conversations with customer insight leaders, including at the very pleasant DataIQ Talent Awards, it would seem you are. When I shared the experience of Laughlin Consultancy, that training for analysts in softer skills is our most popular service, these leaders were not surprised. But 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:

  • Underinvestment in these teams or in training during lean times
  • Softer skills not valued by some geekier analysts or leaders
  • Skepticism from line managers (especially CMOs) as to what value such training would deliver
  • Just too busy!

All these are understandable challenges or excuses, and more than one resonates with me from my time creating and leading large customer insight 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 over technology and technical skills.

Following the comforting old maxim, "it's what you do with it that counts," I worry about this fetish with all things techie. As an Apple addict, I can empathize with the attraction of new shiny technology and beautiful design. However, I'm sure we'd all agree that commercial leaders should be focused 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 customer relationship management (CRM) bubble. When that term was in vogue, 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 that most of us are keen to avoid repeating mistakes, it's a pleasure to report that more and more switched-on businesses are realizing 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 the first half of 2015 was 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 issue is, what distinguishes your top talent from those analysts who prove to be just so-so? My experience is that it's capability in these softer skills. Over the years, I've met or employed hundreds of analysts, and while many may be a whiz 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 experience, or would you identify other training needs for your team?

Paul Laughlin

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Paul Laughlin

Paul Laughlin is the founder of Laughlin Consultancy, which helps companies generate sustainable value from their customer insight. This includes growing their bottom line, improving customer retention and demonstrating to regulators that they treat customers fairly.


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