Tips for Building an Analytics Team
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Data AnalyticsStrategy Careers Dec 7, 2015

Tips for Build­ing an Ana­lyt­ics Team

How to hire and keep data ana­lyt­ics superstars.

Building an analytics team will help grow your business.

Sorbetto via iStock

Based on insights from

Eric T. Anderson

Dan Wagner

Leslie Hampel

Scott Jones

What is the best way to hire top-qual­i­ty data sci­en­tists? And giv­en that they are so often in short sup­ply, how do you pre­vent the super­star you hired from being poached by oth­er companies?

Data-ana­lyt­ics experts offered advice dur­ing a recent ses­sion at the Kel­logg School of Management’s Growth Forum. Below is an edit­ed excerpt of their dis­cus­sion about build­ing an ana­lyt­ics team, led by mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sor Eric Anderson.


Where do you find tal­ent? What are you look­ing for?

DAN WAG­N­ER: CEO and founder of Civis Ana­lyt­ics, for­mer­ly chief ana­lyt­ics offi­cer for the Oba­ma 2012 campaign

I’ll tell you the sto­ry of the smartest per­son I ever hired. I said, Why do you want to work for me?” He goes, I don’t know. I just think it would be fun or some­thing.” This guy end­ed up being the top per­son that I ever hired, a com­plete genius. But he was not capa­ble of express­ing his thoughts in words. Now, in most com­pa­nies, he would get screened out. What I’ve learned from the thou­sands of peo­ple that I’ve inter­viewed is I don’t have the intel­lec­tu­al capa­bil­i­ty of hav­ing the con­ver­sa­tion with a human being and assess­ing whether or not they’re going to be good at this job. What you can do is sim­u­late the job for them through an exam process. See how they do and rank them against every­body else. What you’ll find is that the intro­verts tend to do much bet­ter, and that is the clas­sic per­son that you’re try­ing to hire. There is way less pedi­gree bias in that. There’s less, I went to Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, I want these peo­ple. I went to Har­vard, I want these peo­ple.” That’s stu­pid. There’s less gen­der bias in that. Peo­ple have things going on in the back of their brain that you can’t con­trol. You want to make sure you have an objec­tive mea­sure­ment of intel­lec­tu­al capacity.

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LESLIE HAM­PEL: Direc­tor of glob­al strate­gies at Starbucks

What I am look­ing for is some­one who can bridge the gap. Can you do the math? That’s impor­tant, but can you pull the sto­ry out of the math? Par­tic­u­lar­ly for the next 10 years or so, as we work our way through this cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of CEOs who don’t under­stand algo­rithms for the most part. They are mak­ing deci­sions from a very dif­fer­ent place. How do you show them that you have applied the ana­lyt­ic rig­or, then help tell the sto­ry so that they feel com­fort­able invest­ing mil­lions, if not bil­lions, of dol­lars in this idea? It real­ly becomes about storytelling.Finding some­one who can do both com­ing straight out of school is almost impos­si­ble. I look for peo­ple who are curi­ous. I need you to be so curi­ous that you’re going to keep dig­ging into that data until you find the nugget of insight that real­ly unlocks the whole story.

SCOTT JONES: Vice pres­i­dent of mobile appli­ca­tions, ana­lyt­ics and per­son­al­iza­tion at Nordstrom

I’ve not found any pre­dictabil­i­ty in terms of where real­ly good, high-qual­i­ty, and yet prag­mat­ic peo­ple come from. We’ve had life sci­ences folks come on board. We’ve had some­one from auto­mo­tive engi­neer­ing come on board. They hook on real­ly quick­ly to how to sell fash­ion hand­bags. Don’t allow appear­ances or an expec­ta­tion on back­ground to dri­ve it​.As you find that great team of peo­ple, it is your job to make sure you’ve got big­ger and more chal­leng­ing prob­lems to throw at them. Make it mean­ing­ful. Peo­ple have to have a sense that, you know what, this com­pa­ny is under­stand­ing more, get­ting into the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence more, and mak­ing deci­sions based on what I’m doing. If you don’t do that, the best ones, they have 100 oppor­tu­ni­ties out there. Every sin­gle day, peo­ple are call­ing them.

Whether peo­ple like it or not, the robots are com­ing and some­times they wear glass­es.” — Dan Wagner


How do you address the ques­tion of what’s my future? When they look up the lad­der, they don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly see peo­ple that look like them today.


I think you have to be very can­did and hon­est with peo­ple and say, We’d love to keep you here for the next 20 years and throw all kinds of stuff at you.” At a min­i­mum, you’re hand­ing them the abil­i­ty to do mean­ing­ful work in this emerg­ing space.Two or three years down the road, as the com­pa­ny evolves, we’d love to throw big­ger and more excit­ing chal­lenges [at them]. Some of these roles, as the com­pa­ny becomes more data dri­ven, some of those roles will mutate. But at a min­i­mum, I want to make sure that we help them make mean­ing­ful career progress and that they have great options down the road. I want to make sure that we don’t leave some­one in the cor­ner with no options when the time comes.


We have to con­vince peo­ple to cre­ate new [career] path­ways. And part of that is by putting your head down, work­ing real­ly hard, and prov­ing your val­ue, so that two, three years down the road when you’re ready for that next step, someone’s will­ing to invest in you.


If you are able to under­stand, cre­ate con­clu­sions, and com­mu­ni­cate those con­clu­sions to a wide group of indi­vid­u­als, you have more lever­age than pret­ty much any­body else in the orga­ni­za­tion. I think a lot of them, frankly, in 10 years are going to be CEOs. I have high faith in them. I think about that moment where Mitt Rom­ney was sit­ting with his advi­sors at noon on Elec­tion Day and they were say­ing, Things are so great. We’re going to win. Everything’s great. Look at this poll thinga­ma­jig­gy.” Three hours lat­er, the anx­i­ety start­ed to go up and then five hours lat­er, they were the laugh­ing stock of the plan­et. Peo­ple have a choice, orga­ni­za­tions have a choice: Are they going to be Mitt Romney?Organizations that decide to live like Mitt Rom­ney are not going to exist in 10 years. Whether peo­ple like it or not, the robots are com­ing and some­times they wear glasses.

For more insights on hir­ing and retain­ing data sci­en­tists, read our arti­cle on the top­ic with mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sor Eric Leininger.

Featured Faculty

Eric T. Anderson

Hartmarx Professor of Marketing, Professor of Marketing, Director of the Center for Global Marketing Practice

About the Writer

Emily Stone is the research editor at Kellogg Insight.

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