Leading by example

Analytics success starts by selecting and formally mandating the right leaders

In their quest to become an Insight Driven Organization (IDO)—those that turn analytics into a core capability by promoting a culture of data-driven decision-making—Canadian businesses have made significant technology and data investments. Yet until organizations are ready to engage the power of their people, IDO success will remain elusive.

In this four-part blog series, we explore the four ‘people’ levers organizations must activate to accelerate the development of sustainable analytics capabilities including: leadership; operating model; talent and capability development; and culture and change management.


Here’s a sobering truth: despite years of investment in data and technology, only 5 percent of Canadian organizations consider themselves insight-driven organizations (IDOs)—ones that turn analytics into a core capability across the enterprise by promoting a culture of data-driven decision-making. This compares to 17 percent of US organizations that claim to be IDOs. This gap highlights the danger of Canadian organizations falling behind in today’s disruptive business environment.

To even these odds, many Canadian enterprises have gotten serious about attracting data scientists, building technology infrastructures, and wrestling their big data into shape. The problem? This isn’t enough to become an IDO. To develop sustainable analytics capabilities, organizations must engage the power of their people. There are several steps to getting this right. The first one hinges on selecting and formally mandating the right leaders.

How? By identifying analytics executive sponsors who are transformation-savvy influencers capable of leading by example and who hail from key business functions that drive growth and profitability—not Chief Information Officers (CIOs) who typically have a mindset of running a cost centre.

The primacy of purple
According to a recent Deloitte survey, the fourth ranked hallmark of analytics maturity is the presence of a full-time Chief Data Officer (CDO) or Chief Analytics Officer (CAO) who sits on the executive committee and ensures the organization takes a holistic approach to analytics by investing not only in data and technology, but also in strategy, people, and process.

U.S. companies have taken this to heart, with 37 percent appointing a full-time CDO or CAO and more than half boasting formal analytics leadership at the C-suite level. In Canada, however, only 22 percent of organizations have a full-time CDO or CAO, and a full 63 percent lack formal analytics leadership. In the absence of a formal mandate, analytics is at best everyone’s problem and at worst no one’s business—which means progress is stymied before it can ever take hold.

To complicate matters, analytics success also depends on an organization’s ability to create purple teams—those that combine technically-savvy people (red skills) with seasoned business communicators (blue skills) to deliver actionable insights. When this reality is applied to analytic leadership, it becomes clear that not just any leader will do. Rather, the likelihood of IDO success rises when the analytics journey is championed by a purple person.

This goes counter to the approach of many organizations that have selected sponsors primarily for their technical and analytical (i.e., red) skills. Unfortunately, experience shows that these organizations do not become IDOs. To effect the sweeping change required, organizations need executive champions who are either purple people or who have strong blue skills—skills which include business acumen, change management, political navigation, and the ability to resolve problems using creative, user-centred solutions.

The qualities of analytics leaders
Although 27 percent of Canadian executives consider themselves purple people, 25 percent say they are primarily red while the remaining 48 percent consider themselves blue. Given the prevalence of blue leaders, it falls to these sponsors to reinforce the strategic importance of analytics, help people understand the difference between data and insight, and work to disseminate a vision that inspires the organization to action speeding up ROI.

In their drive to deliver on these objectives, blue sponsors need the organizational knowledge to select the right analytic use cases and the political capital to spur business leaders to adopt reengineered processes. They should be willing to invest in personal growth to raise their analytics IQ and hone their purple skills. And they should walk the talk—leading by example to drive the cultural change required to truly become an IDO.

This post on leadership is the first of a four-part series on the four ‘people’ levers organizations can pull to gain an analytics advantage: leadership; talent and capability development; operating model; and culture and change management. Tune in next week for part 2.

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