Analysts Behaving Badly

When you read the comments of the analytics community on Twitter, you learn several important facts.

  1. There are many smart people who are not being properly recognized.
  2. There is a lot of innovation happening.
  3. Executives are frequently perceived in a negative manner.

The most popular term is “HiPPO”, loosely defined as “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion”.  This term is sometimes used to discredit executives who fail to adopt the recommendations of an analytics community looking for much-deserved recognition.

I’ve led an interesting career.  From 1988 to 1993, I was an analyst.  From 1994 – 1997, I was a manager.  I spent a decade trying to get executives to accept my recommendations.  I know the frustration of having a perfectly sound data-driven argument go up in smoke when an executive makes an illogical decision!

In 1998, I became a director, and began spending a lot of time with executives.  I began to understand the reasons that executives didn’t accept the opinions of analysts.  Notice I used the phrase “opinions”.  It turns out that analysts frame their own hypotheses, then look for data to validate each hypothesis.  When executives quizzed analysts, analysts weren’t able to credibly answer “the next question”, causing the executive to make decisions on the basis of gut instinct.

In 2001, I became a Vice President. I was the “HiPPO”!  I can assure you that I made a lot of decisions based on gut instinct, more than I made based on data.  Analysts simply cannot anticipate all of the moving parts that executives deal with, and executives simply cannot frame questions in a way that result in complete answers from analysts.

More important, you learn as an executive that analysts are as flawed as executives are.  Sure, executives make decisions based on gut instinct, ignoring analyst-based data-driven arguments.  But analysts pull stunts that just make you turn your head and say, “wait … what??”  These stunts cause the executive to not trust the analyst as much, and when you don’t trust the analysts as much, you don’t accept data-driven arguments as readily as you would in other situations.

I once had an analyst who refused to work more than twelve hours a week, and frequently went shopping at a local mall during the day.  Heck, I once had an analyst who refused to work outside of a 9:00am – 3:00pm window, because as he said, “some analysts come in at nine, some leave at three, so I am going to work from nine to three”.

I once had an analyst who refused to create one Powerpoint slide, because he felt tired.

I once had an analyst who stole stuff from another department.

I once had an analyst who made mistakes with numbers, then threatened me to “prove” that the numbers were wrong by running my own queries against the database.  Trust me, his numbers were really, really wrong!

I once had an analyst who brought a major vendor in for a visit to consider revamping a department that the analyst had no authority over!

I once had an analyst ask to have an analyst in another department fired because the analyst didn’t agree with the methodologies of the analyst in another department.

I once had an analyst cost my company a half-million dollars of profit by making a major catalog circulation mistake.  And I was once the analyst who cost my company a half-million dollars of profit by making a major catalog circulation mistake!!

I once had an analyst who asked to work from home each Friday.  I granted this request, much to the disappointment of analysts who were working five days a week.  Later, I learned that this individual was not working from home on at least half of all Friday work days.

I once had an analyst recommend to co-workers that “they not perform my requests because co-workers could just wait me out until I was no longer working at the company, like all other VPs who had passed through the door in the past few years”.

I once had an analyst refuse to execute my promotional marketing strategy because, “that’s not how we do things around here”.

I once had an analyst call another analyst a “hack” because of the methodology being used by the other analyst.

I once had an analyst loudly and publicly demean another employee, from another department, with foul language that would make just about anybody blush.

I could go on and on.  The point isn’t to go on and on.  The point is to illustrate that analysts make mistakes.  Analysts have the same positive and negative tendencies that executives have.  The secret, then, is to figure out how we can all get along.

It has been my experience that things change when an executive trusts an analyst.  Once trust is established, the executive views the analyst as their “right hand (wo)man”.  This becomes a satisfying relationship for both the executive and the analyst.  I’ve experienced this relationship, both as an analyst and as an executive.  I had a handful of analysts I completely trusted when I was an executive, I would not hesitate to bring these individuals to any meeting I participated in.

Let’s work on building trust.  Let’s work on improving our communication skills.  Once we accomplish these goals, we are more likely to see data-driven decisions implemented in the companies we work for.