March 15, 2021

The subpersonalities an analyst needs, part 1: contracting

By Paul Laughlin

I promised a series of posts inspired by my reading of “Psychosynthesis Leadership Coaching” and my memory of a subpersonalities exercise. As a reminder, a subpersonality is a personality mode (or mindset) that we activate to help us cope with certain circumstances.

Although it might at first sound almost schizophrenic, in fact, it is quite healthy that we are all aware that we can exhibit different personas in different contexts. I know analysts who are very shy at work but very demonstrative at a football match, for example.

With that model in mind, I will use this series to revisit the Laughlin Consultancy Softer Skills model from the perspective of subpersonalities. I hope to highlight not just the skills but the attitude or mindset needed to succeed at each stage. I hope it helps you think about “how you turn up” in different situations.

This first post in the series will explore the 3 steps that make up what is called the Contracting phase. It includes the first 3 steps in this model, each focusing on different softer skills required by analysts.

Subpersonality 1: The Detective

The first step of the Softer Skills model is called Questioning. As I shared in a previous blog post focussed on this step, the key skill here is Socratic Questioning. Changing the dynamic from the all too common ‘order taker‘, to someone who questions to help identify the real need.

Thinking about the subpersonality or mindset needed here, it struck me as personified by a persistent Detective. Like those crime dramas you read or watch on TV, an attitude of persistence is needed to pursue your goal. Akin to finding the author of a crime, analysts need to seek to determine the real business need. Something that can be uncovered or proved/disproved by analysis.

Your inner detective needs to adopt the ‘golden rule‘ attitude recommended in Tim Harford’s book, of being curious. It helps to assume that you are not getting the whole story from the beginning. It also helps to consider a number of people/suspects, not just the person requesting some analysis. Wider stakeholder consideration & commercial knowledge can help your detective spot patterns & prioritise more clearly.

Subpersonality 2: The Architect

The second step of the Softer Skills model is called Planning. This is where analysts can borrow skills from the world of project management. Whether using a more traditional ‘waterfall‘ approach or a variant of agile project management. The key point is to prepare well & to put processes in place to learn from what has gone wrong in the past.

With regards to subpersonality, the personification that I imagined is an Architect. Like a good architect, the analyst should be a student of what works & what does not from past projects. Considering how to designing an analytics project that both fulfils the function required by real business need & is also appealing. Thinking beyond the short term delivery to longer-term usability & context.

I’m also reminded how much Architects need to keep in mind foundations. Similarly, analysts must remember to pay attention both to the end understanding or insight sought & the basics. Do you talk with the DataOps team to understand planned downtime or risks? Do you have visibility of what others are building (e.g. Kanban board)? Do you have access to the metadata to consider wider options & building materials?

Subpersonality 3: The Seller

Step 3 is called Buy-In. It is all about considering, prioritising & engaging a network of stakeholders to secure buy-in & set your analytical work up for success. Fairly obviously, the subpersonality that I noticed here is that of a skilled Seller (or salesperson). Because so much at this stage is about understanding people & flexing your style to influence them.

Although easy to caricature & even dislike, there are many laudable skills to sustainably successful sellers. Perhaps more than any other role within a business they understand how people tick & how they are likely to react. Such a mindset is vital at this stage.

When this step is not overlooked by analysts, it too often becomes a transactional exercise. I’ve seen it reduced to emailing a few potentially interested parties & maybe flexing the level of detail communicated to different levels of seniority. But with the mindset of a Seller, this is about thinking more deeply about influence within your business & who should be engaged (and how) sooner rather than later. Thinking like a Seller can help an analyst both better understand what’s needed & the other questions/challenges to be ready to answer when presenting findings.

Do you recognise the need for these subpersonalities?

I hope those above descriptions ring true for you. Can you recognise the mindsets that I describe and why they help analytics work succeed?

If you are feeling like you can’t be “those types of people“, I encourage you to think again. The model of subpersonalities helps us all recognise that we already have a wider portfolio of personas at our disposal than we might recognise. I’m not meaning a “fake it till you make it approach“, rather noticing what you can be like in another context.

When you run into a technical problem, puzzle or DIY issue at home, can you recognise your Detective persona? Can that part of you relish exploring the evidence or deducing the cause? For large events in your life (like a wedding, new home or major move), can you recognise an Architect persona? At those times can you relish research & planning? What about when you’re selling items on eBay or trying to get a discount for poor service? Can you find your inner Seller then?

I encourage you to take some time to reflect on this topic. How could you bring to work more aspects of yourself to help at these key stages? Meanwhile, I look forward to introducing you to my next 3 subpersonalities soon.