Does your organisation need an 'analytics translator'?
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Someone who bridges the gap between analytics and decision-making within your business, turning commercial challenges into coherent analytical briefs and translating technical analysis into commercially understandable recommendations…
Does this sound like something your organisation would benefit from?
The emergence of the analytics translator role is not exactly breaking news anymore, but it has certainly been a topic of debate in the analytics sphere since it was first talked about back in early 2018.
The most commonly asked question being, “Do we really need one?”
So, do you? Let’s take a look.
The main purpose of analytics translators
In February 2018, McKinsey posted an article titled “Analytics translator: The new must-have role”, outlining the purpose of the job, the reason it came about and the types of people being hired to do it. Here’s a quick summary:
● The purpose: To understand analytical insights and turn them into clear, stakeholder-friendly recommendations.
● The reason it came about: Because many data scientists and data engineers, although very technically gifted, struggle to engage decision-makers.
● The people being hired to do it: Business professionals with sector expertise, a very clear understanding of what analysts do and strong technical knowledge. That said, they are not necessarily technical people in the practical sense. Many analytics translators are not from practical analytical backgrounds themselves, cannot code or use analytical software.
So, essentially, businesses are hiring analytics translators because they want to ensure that their analysts’ valuable work does not go to waste.
Why does analytical work often goes to waste?
It’s an age-old problem, and one that I’ve come across countless times in my own analytical career and as a trainer of analysts.
There are several reasons why it might happen:
1) Technical jargon vs. business lingo. Analysts are fluent in the language of data, whereas stakeholders and decision-makers are fluent in the language of business. As such, there can be a fundamental lack of understanding between the two parties. It’s not necessarily either party’s fault, but it does mean that the decision-makers will not see the value in the analysis if it is not presented in their kind of terminology.
2) Lack of business context for the analyst. Stereotypes are beginning to shift but, in many organisations, analysts are still kept in the corner and/or at arm’s length, called upon only when their technical expertise is needed. The problem here is that the analyst cannot gain a full understanding of their business or the needs of its decision-makers. If they are never involved in conversations or meetings that provide invaluable context to the work they do, how can they hope to produce accurate and truly insightful work?
3) Poor data visualisation and/or overcomplicated reports. What many analysts don’t understand until it’s explained to them is that decision-makers love simplicity. All they want out of any piece of analysis is a clear recommendation of what they should do – what the wise action to take is, from a commercial perspective. They don’t want bamboozling. If an analyst overcomplicates charts or inflates summaries with unnecessary detail, the message will not get through or the decision-maker will likely tune out (or never even tune in).
Do you need an analytics translator?
If any of those scenarios describes what’s currently going in your organisation, you probably would benefit from an analytics translator.
With all of that in mind, it’s clear why the role has come about: to make sure the value of reports and recommendations is showcased properly.
It’s better for business decision-making, and it’s better for the analyst and their general sense of purpose, because their insight is not going to waste.
What skills and traits do you need to look for?
As we’ve already covered, you don’t need your analytics translator to be a technically gifted analyst, so don’t narrow your search down to that. What’s more important is that they are commercially minded and able to engage and influence decision-makers – because that is ultimately their key objective.
Here’s your checklist:
● Impressive technical knowledge of analytical work and the processes involved
● Strong people-management skills, including delegation and communication
● Expertise on…
○ The sector your organisation operates in
○ Your organisation itself – i.e. the company’s performance, its strategy, etc.
● Data presentation and data visualisation skills – taking the analyst’s findings and making them shine
● Emotional intelligence and the ability to persuade different types of personas across the business (especially those stakeholders!)
Can an analyst become an analytics translator?
Most definitely! Although analytics translators don’t have to come from technical backgrounds, it certainly helps if they do, because this means that they truly understand analysts, what the work involves and what the biggest headaches are.
In fact, there’s an argument for playing the longer game and nurturing all your analysts to be able to fulfil this role instead of hiring someone additional. However, it’s key to not underestimate the softer skills required for this type of role, which requires a training, professional development and a general shift in mentality.
The types of analysts who are perhaps best-suited to analytics translation roles are those who are open to developing their softer skills – skills which will enable them to effectively communicate with the organisation and straddle both technical and commercial worlds.
But not all analysts are like that. Some have an aversion to personal interaction and lean heavily to the technical side of the role. And that’s fine; it just means they might not be best-placed for fulfilling the requirements of the translation role.
Develop your analysts’ soft skills
Whether you intend to nurture an analyst into the role of analytics translator or not, the development of soft skills benefits every type of analyst – even the most technically inclined.
Understanding each stakeholder’s motivations. Being able to mould briefs better at the outset of projects. Knowing how to communicate clearly and negotiate deadlines. Mastering the art of storytelling within outputs. Making sure data is properly visualised for immediate understanding.
All of this will raise your analysts’ individual profiles as well as elevate the perception of your entire analytics department across the business.
At Sophic, we specialise in the type of soft skills training that will make this happen. Our ‘Working Consultatively’ workshop directly addresses the changes in mindset and communication practices that are needed to work collaboratively with stakeholders and enable the analyst to start positioning themselves as 'translators'.
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