As a former practitioner in banking analytics for more than 14 years, I often get questions about the qualities of an inspiring analytics leader, particularly when I meet with banking executives. Executives are keenly interested in identifying the critical success factors in building a skilled, business-oriented and fact-driven analytical function. Clearly, a strong leader who not only leads the function but also inspires the knowledge-based workforce to challenge the norm and drive innovation will play a crucial role in the organization’s digital transformation. His or her leadership will have a decisive impact on the creation of a world-class analytics function. And it will position this function as critically and strategically important to the organization.
The exceptional analytics leader
Typically within an organization, analytics leaders have postgraduate academic degrees in the field or transfer from the business side with domain experience. Each path carries its own strength and weakness. But you need both ends of the spectrum to succeed in this role. Therefore, leaders must be willing to get out of their comfort zones and quickly learn new skills and garner knowledge.
The biggest gripe we hear today, across financial institutions of all descriptions, is: “How can we move forward? My analytics team spends 80% of its time churning reports and campaign lists and cannot cope with the number of other requests from the business.” Employing the right leader is the first and most critical step toward answering this question.
So what makes an exceptional analytics leader? A leader who will propel your analytics function from a support unit to a business partner. And, more importantly, a leader who will create tangible business value for your customers and the organization.
Data and fact-driven approach to problem solving
Analytics leaders must understand the wider context of the bank’s business, as well as data science. They don’t have to have a PhD. But they do need a deep background in using data-driven methodologies and approaches to problem solving. They need a strong grasp of the relevant products, processes, policies, operations and technologies. And, most critically, they must understand the business challenges their business partners face now and in the future.
They must be able to deliver a closed-loop analytics solution for these challenges, put in place a system that monitors and evaluates the impact of data-driven decisions, and apply feedback that continuously improves the outcome. This will create a complete beneficent cycle that yields lasting business results.
Moreover, the leader should have sufficient business acumen to connect the dots and detect a business opportunity. A leader will build partnerships and hold a seat at the executive table. In addition, leaders need to be listeners, great storytellers and have the ability to simplify the complex while promoting the analytics function. They must explain what the teams do, why they do this, how they do this, and what the expected outcome is and its business impact.
Be curious and challenge the status quo
All leaders must have the courage to challenge the status quo and the personality to influence stakeholders across the organization. “Why” should become your analytics team mantra. Make sure that you don't take the day-to-day work for granted.
On a personal note, back when I was managing the analytics function in an MNC bank in Asia, the analyst team often reviewed, debated and, when necessary, challenged results and questioned whether there was a better method of delivering similar results. The rule of engagement was “no question is a stupid question.” This encouraged out-of-the-box thinking and innovation and eliminated complacency. It avoided the response “we used to do it this way.”
A decision maker, not just an adviser
Most people are pretty good at thinking and strategizing. But when it comes to making tough decisions and moving forward to operationalize their ideas, the pool of talent quickly drops. This is where proven experience is critical.
True business analytics uncovers inefficiencies and ineffectiveness in business processes, policies, operations, technology and systems. The ability to navigate these issues and deal with other stakeholders requires great deftness. A critical role of an analytics leader is to tear down walls and sweep away obstacles to gain buy-in and drive adoption of analytical solutions. Ultimately, this demands a change in mindset.
In his book On Managing Yourself, Peter Drucker astutely noted: “Organizations are no longer built on force but on trust.” An inspiring analytics leader – rather than a forceful leader – is the answer to getting you through your digital transformation journey.