The CEO Wants Analytics! Now What?

November 1, 2011
396 Views

The Big Guy just read the latest popular business book. Now he wants a piece of the hot analytics-on-data action! It’s up to you to make it all happen. Lucky, lucky you.

If you were brutally honest with your boss, you would ask just a few questions to assess his readiness for putting analytics into action. You’d look him in the eye and ask,

“Are you prepared to make decisions based on analytics?”

“Do you understand that success with analytics requires hard work, patience and time?”

The Big Guy just read the latest popular business book. Now he wants a piece of the hot analytics-on-data action! It’s up to you to make it all happen. Lucky, lucky you.

If you were brutally honest with your boss, you would ask just a few questions to assess his readiness for putting analytics into action. You’d look him in the eye and ask,

“Are you prepared to make decisions based on analytics?”

“Do you understand that success with analytics requires hard work, patience and time?”

“Will you use your full executive influence to ensure that analysts have access to the data and other resources necessary to their work?”

You’d ask all of that if you were brutally honest, but you aren’t brutally honest, are you? Not that it matters. You probably already have a good idea of what the answers would be.

How do you stimulate analytics success when the boss’ level of commitment isn’t aligned with his expectations for results? You change the answers to the questions.

Yes, you read that right – you have to change the answers to the questions. You’re going to have to make your boss willing to make decisions based on analytics, be patient and commit resources to the analytics program.

Please stop laughing or crying or updating your resume for a moment and listen. No, this isn’t going to be easy. In many cases, you won’t succeed. But it’s worth a shot, because this is your chance to dramatically increase your worth by becoming an analytics innovator and an enterprise hero.

Look at that first question: “Are you prepared to make decisions based on analytics?” You won’t ask the question, because no matter what he says, your experience says the decisions are being pulled out of… well, they aren’t based on analytics. But most decisions made in a large organization are not made at the CEO level. Thousands of day-to-day decisions are made by mid-level and line managers. And some of them are already data-driven.

If you work for a large organization, you can bet that somewhere in the organization there are some decisions being made in a methodical fashion, based on some type of analytics. Maybe your direct marketers are using thoughtful campaign analysis to optimize returns on direct marketing spend or the guys on the shop floor use statistical process control to minimize manufacturing waste. Your first step is to find the analytics success that’s already happening in your organization and convince the boss that this is his success, preferably his idea. In other words, you’re going to flatter him. Hey, Big Guy, you’re a success at this already!

Now that he’s had a taste of success, move on to small new projects. Pick the easy ones to start. Choose the lowest-risk, highest-benefit small projects you can find. Each success increases comfort level with analytics, and increases executive willingness to move a little further forward with analytics.

On to the second question: “Do you understand that success with analytics requires hard work, patience and time?” Be honest as you report as about the analytics efforts in your organization. Talk about the investments of time, effort and money that go into each program. Talk about the pitfalls that happen on the path to success. But mix it with plenty of talk about the rewards.

As Big Guy becomes more aware of both the benefits he’s getting from modest analytics investments, he’ll gradually become more willing to say “Yes” to “Will you use your full executive influence to ensure that analysts have access to the data and other resources necessary to their work?” But it won’t come in one giant, unqualified “Go for it!”

Instead, you’ll have to break that last question into smaller ones. Look for specific, justified investments in resources and projects. Perhaps you’ll suggest creating a team of data analysts available for internal consulting. Or bring in business analysts to assess the best processes for operationalizing new models created by statisticians. Maybe you’ll introduce a training program to develop analytics skills in some current employees. Each step deepens the commitment to analytics, and of course, the benefits.

Asking an executive to face up the commitment required for analytics success is a lot like getting him to eat an elephant: you’ll have to feed it to him, one bite at a time.

©2011 Meta S. Brown