analytical talent
December 19, 2014

6 ways to succeed at Recruiting and Retaining Analytical talent

By Paul Laughlin

The well trailed difficulties in recruiting data scientists or other analytical roles, followed by the equivalent challenge in retaining them long enough to recoup your investment, have been likened to ‘talent wars’.

There are hotspots around the UK, but it seems all areas to some extent share this experience. London is perhaps the most challenging place to retain your talent, but there is more on the market (in amongst the charlatans & just plain deluded).

In my own experience, it has been easier to recruit in South Wales & Bristol (the latter being particularly good for having a pool of analytical talent), whilst much harder in Bournemouth & Edinburgh for example.

Several factors can improve your odds, including how you advertise, whether or not you use an agency and especially how clearly you explain the role.

(1) Role description

Providing clarity on the role & what you expect from candidates is harder than it sounds in this sector. So many terms which you might use (like analysis, insight, intelligence, data, modelling, reports, presentation, etc) are open to interpretation and some very poorly skilled candidates use this language to describe what they can do.

For this reason, I recommend avoiding technical jargon as much as possible (apart from specifying any exact software in which you require expertise). Seek to describe the role in terms of the outputs you require the person to be capable of delivering.

For example, do you want a candidate who can produce analytical reports or someone who can influence marketing leaders and present information that is sufficiently persuasive to change strategy or guide design of a new campaign/product.

(2) Advertising and Agencies

Advertising your role is another conundrum for the would be hiring manager. Given the high fees charged by some recruitment agencies, for little visible effort, it’s not surprising to see the growth of both companies investing in their own recruitment portals and greater use of LinkedIn by recruiting managers.

The latter approach has the advantage, for a well connected professional, of both tapping into their existing network and approaching those who both understand the language they use and may be best placed to know analysts ready for a move. However, the novelty factor has now worn off and with so many recruitment consultants also bombarding LinkedIn users it is harder and harder to get your message across.

I would certainly encourage use of your own company advertising (to tap into fans of your brand) and LinkedIn as a first step. However, despite all the charlatans in the industry, I have still seen real benefit from specialist agencies that genuinely know this market.

Having recruited analysts for over a decade now, I’ve found these informed specialist recruitment agencies few and far between and those I trust, to be even rarer. However, amongst this rare breed, I am happy to recommend MBN recruitment. They always understood my brief and provided viable appropriate candidates as well as pragmatic advice on salary and approach to wooing the undecided.

(3) Motivating and Retaining

As all insight leaders will be only too well aware, even thought finding the right analytical talent in the first place is challenging, it can be even harder to keep them motivated, engaged and ultimately retain them long enough to see their potential realised and value added to the business.

Every journey starts with a single step, as the Chinese proverb goes, and it is really important to start well. For anyone who has not yet read it, taking the approach recommended in “The First 90 Days” can be a recipe for any new hire (especially at a more senior level) to hit the ground running and make the right first impression.

(4) On-boarding Coaching

I’m also conscious that leaders of insight teams are even harder to find and so many organisations are needing to appoint, to the growing number of these roles, candidates with strong generic competencies but little or no experience of customer insight.

Coaching at Work magazine published an article on on-boarding coaching and its growing popularity. Laughlin Consultancy can see a need for trained executive coaches with a background in customer insight leadership to help support this population to be as effective as possible through their first 90 days and so are providing that service.

(5) Performance Management

Ongoing motivation and engagement of analysts could be a blog post topic (if not a book) in its own right, but for now suffice to say that there is a natural tendency for this population to be more cynical. Given Marshall Goldsmith described most performance management systems as an occupational hazard at best, there is a need to flex the company policy to better work for these skilled people.

I was struck when reading “Punished by Rewards” as to the importance of not relying on bonuses or internal recognition systems to bribe them to work hard or give a high score in the next engagement survey – rather being genuinely interested in the work which they do & reclaiming the essential importance and nobility of that craft.

For performance reviews I would also recommend taking the approach recommended by Nancy Kline.

(6) Competencies and Career Paths

One final recommendation, to achieve motivated and retained capable analysts, is to invest in a clear career path for them. People, especially analytical people, want to understand clearly how their skills match up to the ideals for each role and potential routes for their development if they can improve and ‘up-skill’.

I have seen skilled analysts become very motivated by simply having clearly documented competencies for different technical roles and seniority within them. For that reason I have posted separately on the importance of Competency Frameworks. When you add to this clarity as to potential career routes through that matrix, it can lead to conversations and planning that result in those analysts staying for many years not just months.

How I hope to help you as a leader

For that reason Laughlin Consultancy is launching a product to help produce bespoke versions of just such tools for customer insight leaders, suitable for the businesses in which they work. Career planning for the Talent Wars if you will.

Hope those tips are helpful to you, please do share what has worked during your leadership too…