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Attracting and Retaining Top BI Professionals

To create high-performance BI teams, we need to attract the right people. There are a couple of ways to do this.

Skills Versus Qualities

Inner Drive. First, don’t just hire people to fill technical slots. Yes, you should demand a certain level of technical competence. For example, everyone on the award winning BI team at Continental Airlines in 2004 had training as a database administrator. But these days, technical competence is simply a ticket to play the game. To win the game, you need people who are eager to learn, highly adaptable, and passionate about what they do.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t hire technical specialists whose skills may become obsolete tomorrow if your environment changes. Hire people who have inner drive and can reinvent themselves on a regular basis to meet the future challenges your team will face. If you need pure technical specialists, consider outsourcing or contracting people to fill these roles.

Think Big. To attract the right people, it’s important to set ambitious goals. A big vision and stretch targets will attract ambitious people who seek new challenges and opportunities and discourage risk-adverse folks who simply want a “job” and a company to “take care” of them. One way to think big is to run the BI group like a business. Create mission, vision, and values statements for your team and make sure they align with the strategic objectives of your organization. Put people in leadership positions, delegate decision making, and hold them accountable for results. Reward them handsomely for success (monetarily or otherwise) yet don’t punish failure. View mistakes as “coaching opportunities” to improve future performance or as evidence that the team needs to invest more resources into the process or initiative.

Performance-based Hiring

Proactive Job Descriptions. We spend a lot of time measuring performance after we hire people, but we need to inject performance measures into the hiring process itself. To do this, write proactive job descriptions that contain a mission statement, a series of measurable outcomes, and the requisite skills and experience needed to achieve the outcomes. Make sure the outcomes are concrete and tangible: such as “improve the accuracy of the top dozen data elements to 99%” or “achieve a rating of “high” or better from 75% of users in the annual BI customer satisfaction survey” or “successfully deliver 12 major projects a year on time and in budget.”

If done right, a proactive job description helps prospective team members know exactly what they are getting into. They know specific goals they have to achieve and when they have to achieve them. A proactive job description helps them evaluate honestly whether they have what it takes to do the job. It also becomes the new hire’s performance review and a basis for merit pay. For more information on writing these proactive job descriptions, I recommend reading the book, “Who: A Method for Hiring” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street.

Where are they? So where do you find these self-actuated people? Steve Dine, president of DataSource Consulting and a TDWI faculty member, says he tracks people on Twitter and online forums, such as TDWI’s LinkedIn group. He evaluates them by identifying the number of followers they have and assessing the quality of advice they offer. And he avoids the major job boards, such as Monster.com or Dice.com. A more direct and surefire method is to hire someone on a contract basis to see what kind of work they do and how they get along with others on your team.

Retaining the Right People

Finally, to retain your high-performance team, you need to understand what makes BI professionals tick. Salary is always a key factor, but not the most important one. (See TDWI’s annual Salary, Roles, and Responsibility Report.) Above all else, BI professionals want new challenges and opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills. Most get bored if forced to specialize in one area for too long. It’s best to provide BI professionals with ample opportunity to attend training classes so they can pick up new skills.

One way to retain valuable team members is to create small teams responsible for delivering complete solutions. This gives team members exposure to all technologies and skills needed to meet business needs and also gives them ample face time with the business folks who use the solution. BI professionals are more motivated when they understand how their activities contribute to the organization’s overall success. Another retention technique is to give people opportunities to exercise their leadership skills. For instance, assign your rising stars to lead small, multidisciplinary teams where they define the strategy, execute the plans, and report their progress to the team as a whole.

Summary. By following these simple techniques, you will attract the right people to serve on your team and give them ample opportunity to stay with you. For more information on creating high performance BI teams, see a recent entry at my Wayne’s World blog titled “Strategies for Creating High Performance Teams” and the slide deck by the same title at my LinkedIn Page.

Posted by Wayne Eckerson on May 20, 2010


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