#081: The Career Growth Conundrum: Lead People or Crunch Data?

January 30, 2018

You love analytics. Great. You even love your job (hopefully)! But, you’re thinking about the future, and it looks like there is a fork in the road. Should you take the path that leads you down the people management path? Or, should you take the path that leads you deeper into the data itself, but as an individual contributor. Can you pursue¬†both paths? As it turns out, Michael stumbled down the former path, while Tim has headed down the latter. So, Moe took a turn in the moderator chair to guide a discussion about the considerations and relative merits of each option. As well as how the culture and HR processes of different companies can influence the availability of alternate paths.

References in the Episode

Show Transcript

00:01 Michael Helbling: Hi everyone. Recently, my long time friend in the industry, Tim Wilson, joined me here at Search Discovery. And a lot of you know that now. But I wanna talk about it really briefly because obviously we record the podcast together, along with Moe, our other co-host. And as part of our podcast, we’ve strived over the years to be independent. Not only of the vendors in the space, but even from our own companies to a certain extent, to be able to express a point of view that we really personally felt and believed in.

00:33 MH: And what I wanna assure everybody is is that we’re still that same podcast and we’re still those same people. We’re not gonna filter our views. And what’s great about our respective companies is that they’re not asking us to. And so that’s something we wanna share, we wanna be proactive in talking about it because there are a lot of people who’ve got lots of interest in our industry, and we wanna be upfront with you about what’s happening with us. Anyway, we appreciate your listenership and we hope you keep listening. Here’s to a great next year, and more and more success for all of us. Thank you.

[music]

01:12 Announcer: Welcome, to the Digital Analytics Power Hour. Tim, Michael, Moe and the occasional guest, discussing Digital Analytics issues of the day. Find them on Facebook at facebook.com/analyticshour and their website analyticshour.io. And now, the Digital Analytics Power Hour.

[music]

01:36 Moe Kiss: Hi everyone, welcome to the Digital Analytics Power Hour. This is episode 81. We like to keep things fresh around here, so today, I’ve booted Michael out of the moderator chair, and I’m giving it a red hot crack. Mainly, it’s because I need a break from debating with Tim, and to take a bit of a back seat. No. The real reason is, have you ever wondered whether you should chase those big shiny management dollars, or continue to crunch the data becoming somewhat of an expert? And I used the term expert loosely around here. [chuckle] Now, I myself have been wondering this exact question at this point of my career. It’s quite a tough call really, which is why I thought I would turn to my two co-hosts to get their sage old advice. Welcome as always to the esteemed leader of people, manager of talent, regular show recruiter, Michael Helbling!

02:32 MH: Thanks Simone. [laughter]

02:35 Tim Wilson: And older than Moe guy. [laughter]

02:37 MH: Yeah, I’m the old part of the sage old.

02:40 TW: You just wrap it up towards the next one.

02:44 MH: You know what Moe, it is a pleasure to be here. This is my second time as a guest on the show. And it’s always delightful.

02:49 MK: Great. And for my other co-host, welcome to the cruncher of data, analytics wizard, and supporter of clients, Tim Wilson. [laughter]

02:58 TW: And weighing in at 40… Oldest…

03:05 MH: I find it if you explain your weight in stone, very few people can really translate on the fly. [laughter]

03:11 MK: Oh, dear. Now, before we get into the thick of things, I actually thought it would be really good to start off with I guess a little bit of background about both of you, about when was that aha moment that you knew that you wanted to head down one path, either that management path, looking after people mentoring talent, or you really wanted to become a subject matter expert, you really wanted to keep I guess to analyzing.

03:38 MH: So, I wanna make something clear right off the boot. I never wanted to actually do the job I do now. But, I do it because it’s necessary. But it’s also because I wanted… I, as an analyst, I love analyzing data and eventually I wanna get back to doing that. So long term, I wanna probably still go back to being more on the analyst side than on the management side. That being said, I certainly have a perspective and obviously stepping into a role where I’m responsible for managing a team. I wanna be thoughtful about how I do that, and leverage the skills I have, and all those kinds of things. So I don’t want it to seem like it’s a mutually exclusive arrangement. At least from my perspective, I don’t feel like it is.

04:27 TW: You’re looking forward to being a junior analyst five years from now when you… [laughter]

04:33 MH: Yeah. There are a lot of amazing internship opportunities as an analyst today that I feel I could compete effectively for if I could just get there before I turn 50. [laughter]

04:47 TW: I feel like, I don’t consciously remember ever thinking I wanna jump into management, although I probably did. Like there was a point in my career, as I bounced around before I sort of discovered analytics. I was kinda clearly individual contributor and loving what I was doing to some extent, I mean I hadn’t found analytics yet. So I sort of stumbled into managing a small team kind of at the long end of a chain, and I thought, “A-ha! Now I’m on the management track.” And so I think I spent a couple of years thinking, “Ah, this is that progression which… ” And I am now on this management track, and I will always be managing people, so I went from three people to four, to five, to back to three and then to like 20. And I think as I hit that, and then I had a couple of roles after leaving that company where I managed very very small, two or three. I sort of found myself engineering my way out of managing those people. I think even when I had a team that was close to 20 people total, but I had like three or four people who were reporting to me.

05:52 TW: And I didn’t really get comfortable until it was all clicking along where that team was so solid, my direct reports, that I was just kinda there to sort of to help them out and it was kind of a… I sort of felt like managing that department by committee and that felt fine then the next time I shifted where all of a sudden I was managing somebody again, I just caught myself being like, “Ugh, this is just not… ” I don’t have the confidence and the comfort and I struggled to figure out what even exactly that manager-employee relationship really should be. And at the same time I was finding myself in whatever time I had outside of meetings wanting to dive into, data deeper or different tools or projects. And so pretty quickly became evident as my career was progressing, that I was finding ways to engineer my way out of managing and also at the same time, with seeing people who were phenomenal. I had some amazing managers who were gifted and natural and talented at that.

06:58 TW: And in some cases I stepped into their roles and I was like “Wow, I am… ” Alison could manage me… She was a mentor for me and a manager. And she actually wound up working for me for a while and I was like “Well, this is odd.” She wanted to get back to individual contributor role, and she’s a better manager than I’ll ever be so I think I just embraced that as much as I like to work with other analysts and collaborate, actually managing a team… It just stresses me out.

07:25 MK: Can I just ask on the point you were making about Alison being a great manager? What was it about her that you think made her a good manager of analytics staff?

07:35 TW: It’s interesting because she did not come up through the analytics ranks. She was an engineer I believe, who kind of inherited the BI team at the place that I worked. She knew the business inside and out. She was super, super highly regarded, and she was incredibly loyal to her team, and yet she was also did not shy away from very direct conversations. And she was absolutely sharp enough that she did something that I see a lot of managers struggle who don’t come… She did not come up through the ranks of using Oracle Discoverer and digging into the data, but she was a very, very, very quick study. She actually inherited the web analytics department and very quickly was… She wanted to understand the details of what I saying was tricky about trying to capture this data or push it somewhere.

08:27 TW: She would engage to the point of making sure she understood what the issue was, and then she could go and represent that as needed. She was definitely the high water mark in my career for managers ’cause she was both tough and direct but she wasn’t in love with management I guess was the thing. She wasn’t of the ilk of “Yes, just go do that analysis,” and “What do you mean that took you three days? Like why did that take you more than two hours?” She understood what was messy which I think is… That can be a challenge for people who have not done analysis to understand the what, sometimes will be very time consuming of getting the data, cleaning the data, sifting through it. So, I don’t know that could be my homage to Alison Ferguson. I’m not super close touch with her outside of exchanging Christmas cards but she was amazing.

09:23 MK: So that actually brings me on to my next question which is, I guess there is a view and it’s pretty common in our industry that in order to be a really effective leader of analysts you need to have been a really effective analyst. Michael, what are your thoughts on that?

09:41 MH: Well, I’m living proof that that’s not true. [laughter] Maybe, well, actually let’s flip that around ’cause maybe I’m not an effective leader of analysts either so.

[laughter]

09:54 TW: Oh wait, which one were you saying, yeah.

[laughter]

10:00 MH: I will say this and it’s a little bit of a tie back to the original discussion around sort of this progression. I know early on in my career I felt like I had to manage people to show progress in my analytics career like as if that was a milestone that I must achieve as part of my career growth and it was mostly because I saw others doing that and so I thought, “Well, that has to be me too.” I need to develop myself in to a position of managing a team of analysts as a natural progression of my growth as an analyst. And I think it took time for me to kind of look at that and be like, “Well, actually… ”

10:40 MH: And actually, Tim, you and I would talk about this when you were managing a big team at an agency and not really enjoying all the aspects of those things about kind of not wanting to go that way and it was kind of helped me shift my thinking about maybe you don’t have to manage people to still develop and advance your career. And honestly, like that’s… Part of my mentality is managing people is a whole other skillset than being an analyst so we should really treat them as different. And not everyone who’s a good analyst should be a manager and not everybody who’s a manger needs to be an analyst. So I totally agree. Probably my best analytics manager was also someone who was not an analyst historically.

11:26 MK: But it does sound like being able to I guess empathize with the role and the challenges is a key quality.

11:36 MH: Absolutely. Well, for any effective manager, empathy or emotional intelligence, like I’m a huge proponent of that as a contributor to success and so that’s really important. But honestly, for most organizations, the attribute of a manager that is probably the most important to success and impact for the analytics team is probably more about their ability to understand and navigate the political structure of that organization, than it is to know about regressions or sophisticated analyses, because the ability to bring the right data or the right data interpretation into the right place and time and the right preparedness level, is way more important than they being good at analysis individually.

12:30 MH: And so you could see how that’s a very different skill than actually managing the numbers. Because it’s the typical trope or the same thing again and again, I keep telling the organization what we need to do and no one’s listening to me. A great analytics manager is putting analyst in a position to be heard and listened to, and is preparing them to know, “Here’s what you need to do to have your ideas accepted by this group of people, I can steer you down that path and give you the tools to do that.” And then your preparation will then meet the opportunity.

13:04 TW: So is it fair to say, there is part of managing people that is the actual managing of people. There is also part of the management role which is typically ownership of the strategy and the roadmap for that group, that department, right?

13:18 MH: That’s right.

13:22 TW: I think there’s a complement to what you’re saying around the manager and actually I will go back to… This was not gonna meant to be an homage to a manager that I had years ago, but her strategic mind of putting the bits and pieces together because I’ve watched cases where somebody’s got hired to come in and manage and they immediately go to an implementation, a data capture thing or a new technology. They go in and they’re like… Especially if they are hired from outside, there’s a motivation to make a very discrete change and to say, “We’re going to buy this product from this company” or “I am gonna sit down and do an RFP process, and we’re gonna swap out Google for Adobe or Adobe for Google or Google for Snowplow” or you name it.

14:07 TW: And I think that can be very detrimental. If you go from implementation versus process, versus people, then a good manager has to have the appropriate balance and figure out what is the way that we’re moving this forward and it’s not gonna be fast enough for anybody to be happy, the people on the team or the management. And so that expectations have to be said. So then you’re back into the kind of the political side of things. But I see that cases too where a manager comes in, and because they haven’t cut their teeth enough to realize that you have to move all of these things forward at once, and that’s kind of an engineering challenge.

14:48 MH: Well, or, I mean and so like I would start to say to you that there’s a difference between sort of a manager and maybe like a senior manager director level, in terms of thinking through strategic direction and those kinds of things, because somebody can manage a team of people without necessarily being on the hook for delivering that level of strategy. It is necessary for the organization to be able to have that and have a “Here’s where we’re trying to go. Here’s the vision and direction we’re trying to take.” It’s a mandatory element. But if you think about it, that could be done at that level or it could be done at a level above too, depending on the person.

15:28 TW: That’s fair.

15:29 MK: So where do you both see the role then for the very senior practitioner, who is the subject matter expert, they’re the most experienced analyst in the company. I only know one company I’ve heard of, who’s doing this fairly well and I don’t know from the inside, but I know it’s going well, how does that work where you go, “Okay, actually I don’t wanna be a manager, a people manager. I really just wanna become an expert in my field.” How do you still have that progression, but also how do you have the respect within the business to be included in those meetings if you don’t have that manager title, because I think that can be the conundrum.

16:12 TW: I’ll let my manager answer that question.

[laughter]

16:23 TW: We’re gonna be working through this dynamic for a while on the podcast.

16:28 MH: There’s actually a really great book and I wanna get the title right so I’m gonna Google search it, but I believe it’s like “You Don’t Need A Title To Be A Leader”. And I feel like it does not get read enough. Yeah, I think that’s what it’s called, “You Don’t Need A Title To Be A Leader”. The idea of leadership is the thing that we need to embrace as analysts. Really what we’re trying to do is not have a title that imbues us with some sort of organizational respect. What we’re really trying to do is develop influence to move the organization in the way that we see it needing to go.

17:05 MH: And so as an analyst, leadership comes from developing that level of influence, and it doesn’t absolutely have to live within a specific title within the organization. Titles are sometimes important for various reasons so I’m not saying just be an analyst your whole life, but as you get more along, title means less and less to you, I would say. ‘Cause to me I just don’t care, I know what I’m gonna go try to do and I don’t need a title to go do it. But other people they need to… That wasn’t true of me eight years ago, I needed a title, I wanted to make it to a certain level that was my objective and my goal. So that changes. This changed for me over time, but that’s the idea that I want that I think is important for people to grasp a hold of is, “How do I develop my influence within the organization whether or not I have a title to back it up at all.” I guess is the way I’d say that.

18:04 TW: And I think there are organizations, and I was joking about it earlier. But, Search Discovery is kind of embracing that, I think, with… That’s an agency so that’s weird. It’s a little different. But I would say consulting in general… Consulting is inherently kind of… If you go that path, there’s a very good chance. Even if you’re at a big three consulting firm, there’s some level of titles that kind of everybody is… There’s kind of a progression of individual contribution. Going back to that same company that this wonderful Alison was at, we had a BI team that had an extremely senior analyst and she absolutely commanded respect throughout the company. And she had tried managing as well and she didn’t really enjoy it and she wasn’t really that awesome at it and everybody recognized her.

18:56 TW: She had stature and she was well compensated. But to me that was partly to the organization’s credit and that was a company that had a ton of engineers and a ton of software developers and they had pretty well recognized that there are lots of these roles where, we don’t wanna just fall prey to the Peter principle and move people into management. So I think there’s some dependence on the company to the extent that they say, “Oh, we are gonna find… We are gonna define career tracks… ”

19:27 MH: Yeah.

19:28 TW: “Where that’s an option.”

19:29 MH: That’s the key right there is, you have to give a career progression path on both sides. In other words some company’s career progression doesn’t happen unless you take over a managed team, a team or teams. If that’s true, then there’s nowhere for you to go in your organization except down that management path. And knowing that is really important. ‘Cause as an analyst, this is where a lot of us get hung up which is, “If I go off and do this management thing… ” Actually, it’s funny because over the last six months I’ve probably had five or six conversations with people who have found themselves in management positions but sort of yearning or longing for doing the analysis or growing in their expertise that they’re kinda missing because of the other work that they’re doing. It’s sometimes not possible to do that and then if you set up the organization though, such that it recognizes the contribution capable of someone who is developed as an analyst to a certain point, that then could be a career path that does not require people reporting as part of its function.

20:40 MH: And again, you have to have in your mind that obviously if someone is at a senior level as a subject matter expert, their impact or influence should be pretty profound. And so, that’s what you wanna be building toward, if you’re gonna stay in the expertise path is how do I drive more results and more capabilities across an organization from my one spot in the org. It’s not by doing the same things all the time. So even on the analyst side, it’s not about being a better analyst as much as it’s also learning some additional skills around how to use those analyst skills to drive and be more influential or at least that would be my perspective.

21:27 MK: I’m gonna play devil’s advocate for a moment. Because it does sound like, there are some companies who are starting to move in towards the right direction of understanding that you need sometimes referred to as a practice lead, people who are expert, whatever you wanna call it and they should be compensated fairly for that. They have or have earned respect throughout the years and have innate leadership. But if you are working at a company not like that, and particularly let’s take consulting out of it, ’cause that seems to be an area that does get it.

22:02 TW: Hmm… Not very much.

22:03 MK: I’m just… I’m trying to think…

[laughter]

22:05 MH: Then, it’s not true everywhere in consulting. In very few places.

22:09 MK: Yeah. But in some companies, it seems to be more, I guess better understood, in some companies. I’m just… Yeah, I’m trying to think really practically for our listeners. Let’s say, you’re a mid-level analyst at a big company, how do you earn that leadership position without the title? If you’re not… And I’m just talking like I’m lucky I don’t work at a particularly hierarchical organization but if you are… If you’re not even in the meeting, if you… You don’t even know… You don’t even have your blinkers off because you’re so in whatever tunnel that you’re in, how do you even become part of those conversations, to start effecting change, if you’re just not even in the room because you don’t have the title or the… I don’t know, I just…

23:03 TW: I think you’re making it sound a little too black and white. There’s a point where… Just the natural… Any career progression, any role is you’re doing role X, and it appears that… Well, no I take that back. There are cases where just through tenure you kinda get progressed up through role X, staff X, senior X, whatever and that’s kind of you’re letting time drive it. I think a much more productive way to drive your career is to say, “I need to be doing X, but I’m gonna do X+1, I’m gonna find, what that plus one is, and I’m going to… I say, weasel my way in into it.” But then at some point somebody’s like, “Wow, you keep doing this X+1. There’s this other role open or we want to progress you.”

24:00 TW: So as long as… If you’re always exceeding expectations then that’s giving you the permission to go to your manager probably, maybe to HR, and say “What is the track?” Like actually I realize I’m on this path, I don’t really want your job, I don’t wanna be managing five people, I wanna continue to progress but I wanna do it as this individual contributor and I think there’s an opportunity to do bigger things as a contributor. How can we figure out a way to try that out and maybe that is a let’s carve out another project that is well beyond what I’m expected to do and see if that pays dividends.

24:39 TW: The nice thing about analytics is that I think generally a lot of those more senior roles, they obviously pay for them themselves. When you say I just made the business a million dollars because I spent three months doing this thing nobody else even understood how to do it to pull this data together, sure yeah we’ll call you senior Grand Poobah whatever and we’ll pay you a good salary you’re making with zero direct reports. To me it does feel a little more organic but it also goes with conversations up the chain and if you’ve got a manager who is living in 1952 saying, “Nope these are our HR pay bands and this is the description and the role… ” HR has mechanisms writing new… HR wasn’t writing senior systems architects job descriptions in 1982 and yet every company has senior systems architects now.

25:34 TW: So there are processes and companies to define new roles and I have many times in my career been part of that, “Here’s the new role, let me help write what that is and define what that is and define where it falls in seniority.” But also if you get shut down then you leave if that’s… If you can’t go that route.

25:52 MH: The other thing worth noting is that there’s a paradigm for this that’s been in effect for a long time in the software development world. So architects…

26:04 TW: Like the architect?

26:05 MH: Yeah, so those roles are individual contributor roles that people build up to over years of software development or web development whatever it is, those people are highly experienced, well-compensated, well-regarded people. And so we can use that in a little bit of a paradigm if we want to, to try to understand how we might roll that out in the context of analytics because in a lot of ways there’s a lot of similarities in a certain sense. Like I have a good friend who spent his whole career as a developer in one organization and the level he’s at, the next level above him is sort of this architect role and there are these expectations. It’s not just that I’m gonna be a really, really good developer, it’s I’m gonna be published in these journals, I’m gonna speak at these kinds of events. And so there’s ways that you can actually map the influence and contribution of these senior-level experts to what they actually create as impact for the organization or for the industry or whatever. So in a certain sense, that influentialness also attracts people to that organization. I mean, Tim Wilson is… People will want to come work with Tim Wilson I think. I do.

[laughter]

27:27 TW: Well, have we talked about whether like an analytics architect and maybe that has the risk of being interpreted purely around systems. But I think to that point when you advance and say… And I think to the DAA’s credit, their competency framework, they don’t necessarily say “Oh and then by the time you’re level 3, you’re managing.” There is a breadth of internalization and vision and figuring out the ecosystem of the technology and process and people or some subset of that that really just… And also depth of knowledge about the business.

28:07 TW: There’s a point where it’s like “Wow I know all these parts and it doesn’t mean that I know how to connect social data and our CRM data and our mobile data and our web analytics data but if I’m being compensated to go figure that out, I uniquely as this senior person have the ability to go and figure it out and that’s what you’re paying me for as an individual contributor and that’s not a management role and there’s tremendous value.” The organization still has to recognize, I mean they’re taking a bet that… Just like upgrading their phone system, that they’re like, “Yeah, it’s worth having somebody who gets the system and can help figure out that the sum of the parts are greater than the whole” and it is more of kind of an architecture role often.

28:56 MH: Yeah, and so there’s a blurry line in analytics, Digital Analytics specifically, which is there is sort of a technical track that a lot of people in our industry get into where they’re doing very technical things and then there’s also kind of the analysts or sort of more business analysts track if you will that kind of guides you not as technical. So like there’s two… And maybe you can even cut it up further than that because depending on where you would stick something like data science and that kind of stuff, where does that live? Is it separate from those two things? Because there’s a lot to be said for somebody who really can strategically understand the intricacies of how to do an implementation with various tools in the right way versus someone who can then take that data and really make meaningful business decisions with it versus somebody who is gonna take and do a lot of cool statistical analysis and machine learning or things like that with it. So there’s a lot of ways you can slice and dice it but yeah I agree with that.

30:00 MK: Okay, so I have a few more, I guess, key points that I really wanna hit on today… Getting all of this sage advice out of both of you. The first one [laughter] is on mentoring. So let’s say hypothetically you have this team, where you have a really senior analytics manager, but you also have a really senior analytics practitioner in the one team. Where does the coaching and the mentoring sit? Do you both still see that as the function of the actual people manager or is that a function of if you have a really strong lead, practice leading your team. Like how does… How do you think it works?

30:42 TW: It depends on what the person needs or is trying to grow on. If somebody really is hell-bent on growing to become a people manager and they’re gravitating to that, then I think their manager may mentor them. I would think of somebody saying, “No, I’m really jazzed up about the intricacies of this implementation” or… I still think that falls to the individual who is looking for some oversight. The manager is gonna be responsible for making sure the environment is there, that that’s supported, that the time and encouragement and the kudos for the senior practitioner get some recognition for spending the time to do that, but… I don’t know. This is more your area, Michael.

[laughter]

31:30 MH: Well, I will tell you this. Sharing what you know is something that we should all do from every level, from every direction. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to those, who come behind us to share what we’ve learnt. And honestly, one of the most heartwarming things I see in the organization that I work in is when there are people who’ve only been, doing this for a couple of years or even less, sharing and helping someone, who’s just a little less experienced in that regard, on their own, of their own volition, just seeing that they need help and going and helping that person. That’s amazing. That’s what analytics people should be like, because then we’ll develop people more quickly. ‘Cause let’s put it this way, if it was on me to mentor every single person in my organization, A, they would all come up with my faults, which are many and, B, I wouldn’t possibly be able to get to every person.

32:34 TW: Do you want me to send you that list now or you want me to wait for another week or two?

32:36 MH: Yeah. No, yeah. No, Tim, you’re front and center on the… [laughter] No, come on… This is… Already this is… The whole show is gonna be awkward from now on, Tim.

32:47 TW: I’ll do my best to make that happen.

32:49 MH: I’m trying not to talk about Search Discovery. Anyways, but my point is is that it comes from every angle. Honestly, my job as a leader of people is to make sure it’s being done. Not that I am personally doing it. I guess is the way I would say that. Yeah.

33:07 MK: So I agree with both of you. Someone recently shared a viewpoint with me at an analytics catchup, which I was really just floored with. And this particular viewpoint was that this particular analyst had always done it alone. They had taught themselves everything, completely self-taught. And the view was that it’s part of the analyst DNA to dig and to figure out stuff on your own. You shouldn’t need to ask someone what’s in a particular database because you should do the homework yourself and part of becoming really familiar with that data is doing that digging yourself and not getting support. And it leads me to a question that I’ve never asked either of you, is like “Have you, guys, had mentors or coaches and how did that work?” Because I don’t ever… I don’t think I’ve ever asked you that.

[laughter]

34:01 MH: So there is… I do agree a little bit in their being a balance between, sort of, the RTFM and asking people for help. So there is sort of like you want independence but collaboration, I guess is the way that I would… I’d try to balance that. Which is, as an analyst you should be pushing to gain knowledge on your own, as an analytics team we should be sharing knowledge and helping each other when you’re getting stuck. And if it’s too… If that balance swings too far in one direction by that individual, there will be a problem in the team or problem with that person. If one person is always like, “I need help with this” and it’s literally right there, you could just read about it or one Google search would literally get that for you, then a couple of “Let me Google that for you” links is a good way to kind of encourage people to kind of step it up a little bit.

34:58 MH: On the other hand, throwing somebody in the deep end and being like “Well, I sure hope, you figure it out ’cause this project is gonna be done by next Friday and you’re gonna get fired if you don’t get it done,” this poor person’s gonna work non-stop for the next week and a half and lose a bunch of sleep. And that’s like “Oh, that’s not very nice”. If you could support that person and get them where they need to be, then why wouldn’t you? So it’s a balance, is my opinion.

35:25 TW: I will say, I’ve never formally had a mentor. I guess now I’ve actually formally been a mentor, but I have a list that I could sit down and write 20 different people who I look up to in all aspects of analytics who… Again I want to not look… I don’t ever wanna get “Read the fucking manual” link or “Let me google that for you,” I guess the digital equivalent, note from them, so I always am gonna dive in and say “How much of this can I figure out?” I think I’ve got this figured out. Let me beat my head against the wall. I’ve learned that I don’t wanna beat my head against the wall for a week and then have them tell me, “Oh, this, I could answer that in two seconds.” That’s inefficient. So there’s a finding of balance. There are definitely people who like the formality of a mentor-mentee relationship. And I’m now seeing that be very productive both for me and the people that I’ve mentored. But I personally feel like, “No, there are people in my head that I try to make sure I’m staying in touch with, because I wanna get their thoughts on things.”

36:32 MH: Yeah. I’ve definitely had mentors. And what’s funny is some of the most influential ones have not been in the field of analytics. Some people have just been my counsellor at an organization I worked at or my boss. But it’s interesting because those people have been influential because I see the things they’re doing to be successful in their role and I translate it into what I need to do or learn to be successful in what I do. You can find mentors anywhere from sort of where there is good help to be found. It was not formal. I didn’t go to Tim and be like, “Let me be your disciple” or whatever. I probably should have. It would’ve made Tim feel super awkward.

[laughter]

37:21 MH: But it’s sort of like, “Yeah, I’m just gonna hang out and try not to be a nuisance and maybe there’s something I can contribute too. But we’ll all just sorta learn from each other or whatever.” But then there’s been people who’ve been very much… In my early career, there was Chris Grant. She worked for a whole other agency in a different state, but was just someone who was so willing to share the knowledge she’d learned about web trends as a software that I learned so much from her. And then learned a lot from her in terms of my career development over the years, as well. There’s just people that sorta stick out. And in the last five years, Mike Gustafson and Lee Blankenship, who are my boss and my CEO now, are people I feel like I’ve learned a ton from. Neither of those people are analytics people necessarily, but I’ve just grown a lot from being around them. So, yeah, mentorship is important.

38:18 MK: For you now Michael, as a manager, where do you draw the line and say I should spend this extra time I have? I’ve got half day on Friday or my training budget or whatever it is. And where do you decide I’m gonna spend that money on my management skills versus doing something more different with your analytics trade?

38:43 MH: That’s a… [chuckle] If I had a great answer to that question Moe, I think we’d be twice the company we are today. No. [chuckle] I will say this. I will say this. It is hard to figure out and I think you have to kind of balance it. The other thing though is it’s important to recognize. So like, I am a manager, I have a team, some of my team will listen to this show and I will feel embarrassed or whatever ’cause they’ll probably say something to me about it. And that’s cool, whatever. Hi guys, if you’re listening. If you’re not listening, why aren’t you listening?

[laughter]

39:21 MH: No. Kidding. It’s not mandatory. It’s not that I have to be some level of expert to do my job most days. It’s that I need to understand where that expertise is gonna come from or how we will deliver that. So it’s not important that I be the one to do it. It’s important that it gets done. If someone else could do this job and not have my background in analytics and be as or more successful in the role. It’s a role that I play. So in that regard, I could leave this role and take on another role where I could switch my time or expand my time. But today, my focus is on six different… I have a job description, and in that job description, there are six categories or areas that I’m responsible for as the practice lead. In those, are kind of where we’re going, what’s our vision, what’s our go-to market, what’s our… Operationally, how are we gonna function, how do we handle our client delivery, all those things. So, in a certain sense, I need to have at least an understanding of our current marketplace such that I understand what’s possible with the tools and what do our customers need from us in our context to be able to deliver.

40:40 MH: What should we be delivering to our clients? And so if I can keep abreast of those two things, then I’ve probably done enough. And typically, I do that by reading a lot, attending or trying to speak at a couple conferences every year, and reading a lot of books. So that’s how I do it. But more important to me is how the other leaders within the organization how are they getting a chance to build and develop that opinion or how am I drawing on that. So that’s really… I mean ’cause if I’m doing my job right, there’s a whole other group of analytics leaders that are emerging from within the organization who are even smarter, better, and more knowledgeable than me and have honed their craft now and are ready to step up into these positions of providing deep industry experience and insight. And that’s what I’m trying to learn how to build. ‘Cause, at the end of the day, if that group is then we’ve taken something that I can do as one person and we’ve multiplied it out and scaled it across a bunch of people, we’ve created something really special. So that’s the hope.

41:43 TW: If I can be in the awkward spot of chiming in, even though I’m not in that role. [chuckle] But it’s somebody who I am mentoring and she’s kind of moved into a management role, got a small team. One of the people on the team is a total R, loves kind of is diving and learning and growing on that and she’s like, “I don’t have the bandwidth to do that.” And I sort of pointed out to her, “But you have somebody who works for you who is an expert and is on that journey, it is not that hard to engineer the next project. Say, you know what, could you like obsessively comment the code? I’d like to just manage to run the code myself and if you spend, we’ll spend the first fifteen minutes of our one-on-one making sure I’ve got this stuff installed, if that’s what your pursuing.” To Michael’s credit, I remember it was six months ago or so you were like, “Hey, this person on my team was just walking me through some of the stuff he’s doing,” and again this was in the context of R and your like, “Hey, that’s really cool.” A lot of managers are in analytics…

42:43 MH: Yeah.

42:43 TW: Because it’s gotten so broad and so deep, there is gonna be expertise and they work for you. So don’t put a burden on them but you’ve got an ability to say, in this context, what’s the way that I can get a bite sized benefit. Oh hey, you’re also getting the opportunity to maybe present on what you did to the team. Like you can kind of build some of your own curriculum. So there are opportunities there to kill two birds with one stone, or three birds with one stone in some cases.

43:11 MH: Absolutely, and that’s the beauty of it is I don’t need to be an expert on every topic ’cause I can leverage somebody else whose done the work and that’s exciting. That’s super exciting. They’re passionate to wanna go learn something and it’s like “Wow.” That just makes me feel like a genius and I don’t know jack squat like I wanted… Even on the podcast with Tim kind of delving into R over the last couple of years, I’ve been jealous. I was like, “I wanna learn R.” And I even downloaded it, and Simo has encouraged me to learn it and I do aspire to be in there and actually learn how to do some stuff. Although, now I’m kinda thinking I just jump straight to Python, I don’t know. Vote on that on our Facebook page [chuckle] if you think I should…

44:01 MK: So I’m taking my moderator duties today very seriously which means I’m channeling Fran Kelly from Radio National in Australia for those familiar with her, and I have one question but to take us to the news you only have thirty seconds to answer.

44:16 MH: Oh, Tim. That’s gonna be tough for you. [chuckle]

44:20 MK: This is gonna be tough for both of you. Do you think…

44:22 MH: I can do it in three words, what is it?

44:25 MK: Oh, good. No, ’cause now you’re really gonna be like yes or no.

[laughter]

44:30 MK: And your answer can’t be yes or no.

44:31 MH: Okay.

44:32 MK: Do you think it’s feasible that someone could do both roles? So they could be analyst this percentage of the time, manager this percentage of the time. Do you think it’s possible?

44:43 MH: It all depends.

[laughter]

44:49 TW: So that means I get to take fifty seconds.

[laughter]

44:52 MH: There you go, that’s…

44:54 TW: I think it can be possible. It does depend. To me it depends on the organization but I think there are cases where, yes, probably not where you’re responsible for a 50 person analytics organization at Dell to be the manager of that organization but I absolutely think at organizations that are small to mid-sized teams… And I even think you can divide up the duties of the people management, particularly. I actually think kind of some level of management by committee. Yes, I think it absolutely can be done. I think that there is a scale issue where naturally one of those will start to crowd out the bandwidth for the other over time as there’s growth.

45:34 MH: It goes back to portfolio and size. So if you’re managing a small team, then you’re gonna… You should probably have some time still to spend in direct work yourself, and that’s great. The key or the trick, kind of Tim made mention of this, is not to spend your time doing work that would be better done by your team but doing work that would be an enhancement or additional for your team so you get more. But as your team grows, your ability to do that shrinks, so you just have to be realistic about it. And trust me, your company will push you on this already so you have to create the space accordingly.

46:17 TW: I have watched, occasionally, where somebody comes in to like… And there’s a two-person team and they’re gonna manage them and they’re like, “I’m just the manager.” And I’m like, “What the fuck are you doing with all your time? You’ve got two people. How can you possibly be spending 100%… There’s no way that you should not be a player coach if it’s a really small team.”

46:34 MH: And at the same time, if you’re managing 15 to 20 people and you’re spending all your time in the data, you’re not doing your job. And that’s all I have to say about that.

46:43 MK: This is true.

46:44 MH: Okay. [chuckle]

46:46 MK: Well, as Michael always says, it has been so fantastic speaking to you, I could talk about this topic all day but…

[laughter]

46:55 MH: But you know Moe, I managed to make it sound convincing when I say it.

[laughter]

47:02 MK: I’m not sure I was trying to be convincing to be honest.

[laughter]

47:05 MH: Why…

47:06 TW: She just called you out on what you were really saying every time you say it with sincerity.

47:13 MH: I believe I should take back these moderating duties ASAP.

47:18 MK: On that note though, I will defer to our esteemed leader slash normal moderator Michael for his last call.

47:25 MH: Oh, last call. Okay. So, couple of things, right this second obviously the Digital Analytics Power Hour is warming up by the fireplace in Hungary at super week so be ready for an episode coming soon from that but over the holiday I have been getting into Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies and so I have a funny video I found on YouTube of JP Sears talking about how to talk about Bitcoin with your friends. So that’s my last call. It’s hilarious.

48:03 TW: It is. I’ve seen it.

48:04 MH: And also don’t at me about cryptocurrencies. I don’t wanna know. Alright.

[laughter]

48:12 MH: I feel like [48:12] ____.

48:13 MK: And over to you, Tim.

48:15 TW: So I’m also gonna do a little throwback to the system that I caught over the holidays, and it’s extremely tactical, and it was actually out of the ConversionXL, which Moe will be, we believe, speaking at in Austin here in a bit. But ConversionXL… And a lot of times it’s these like, “Oh, 11 things, 10 things, whatever.” But they did a post of 11 analytics experts share their favorite new features of GA and Google Tag Manager, and it’s got some things that actually sort of inspired me to be like, “Oh, I’m gonna go dabble with that.” I am not in GTM much at all, but there were some things that I was like, “Hah, I guess I was not paying really close attention.” And there were some kind of cool things in that list. So it’s worth scanning to say “Oh” or some of these kind of easy updates that I should take advantage of, it seemed like a nice little article. Simo’s got one, Jeff Sours got one, Krista has one. That seems like a little bit of a homer. She had to be the 11th.

49:16 MH: I wish had time to dabble in GTM, Tim. No…

[laughter]

49:22 MK: Oh, jeez.

49:28 MH: That’s right, or those paths choose us or something.

49:32 TW: Moe was giving me some shit about implementing a CMO blog post from 2015 on the analyticshour.io site. She’s like, “Yeah, that’s what you do for fun over the holidays. Good on you, Tim.” What about you? What’s yours, Moe?

49:46 MK: So this is gonna be either amazing or embarrassing, I don’t know which. And the reason is, I have no idea if Tim has ever mentioned this before, but in January I did a bit of housekeeping. And of course as a podcast, we share some Google sheets, as you do, and Tim had created this really cool thing on it, which was basically like you push a button and it creates a Bitly link for you so it links to your Bitly API. Tim, have you mentioned this before? You’re already cackling.

50:17 TW: No, I have not mentioned this. This was just something I hacked together at some point.

50:21 MK: Yeah, this is my point. Tim does this shit for fun. Anyway he hacked together… Basically, you go into your tools and into script editor, and he’s build this little script that when you press a button in your Google sheet, it auto-generates a Bitly link for you, and for me has freaking changed my life. As my last calls often do, because instead of going to Bitly for every single link now, I just press this one button. So this is me spurring Tim on to do more goodness for the community and sharing some details around how to do this in our show notes.

50:54 TW: Oh shit. Now I’ve gotta actually make that script public. Son of a bitch.

51:02 MK: Anyway, for the marketers out there, I thought it… Particularly someone that’s sharing links all the time, it might come in handy.

51:07 MH: Moe, what’s an Australian compliment if somebody does a good job with something. Is it like crackerjack? Is there a crackerjack, is that a thing?

51:15 TW: Good on you?

51:16 MK: Yeah, good on you.

51:17 MH: Oh okay. Well, then never mind.

51:20 MK: Crackerjack is like a crazy person.

[laughter]

51:22 MH: Yeah. Crackerjack job, Moe.

51:25 TW: Those compliments you thought, when you were lost in Australia, Michael, apparently…

51:29 MH: Good on you. Good on you is the moderator today.

51:32 MK: I think good on you is probably pretty relevant. So, Michael, can you let our listeners know where they can find us?

51:38 MH: Absolutely, Moe. You can find us on the Measure Slack, on Twitter, and on our Facebook page or at analyticshour.io. And if you’re listening on iTunes, and you like the show, we’d love it if you would be willing to rate and review the show. Alright, back to you Moe.

51:58 MK: So from my two co-hosts, keep analyzing.

[music]

52:05 Announcer: Thanks for listening, and don’t forget to join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or Measure Slack group. We welcome your comments and questions. Visit us on the web at analyticshour.io, facebook.com/analyticshour or at analyticshour on Twitter.

52:25 TW: So smart guys want to fit in so they made up a term called analytics, analytics don’t work.

52:33 MK: Oh, man, we’re doing so well today.

52:38 MH: I basically have spent the last two weeks getting big into cryptocurrency, so that’s the only thing…

52:45 TW: Have you bought some Ripple?

52:46 MH: You know what’s hilarious? I did buy some Ripple.

[music]

52:50 TW: Oh my gosh. Moe, you’re so prepared. Not used to this.

52:54 MH: Well, Tim actually knew about Ripple which is surprising, so it means he knows a thing or two, as well.

53:01 TW: So I would think… So I think that… Was it fair to say…

53:09 MK: Trying to frame that delicately, Tim?

53:11 TW: I’m trying to start in a good way.

53:17 MH: I think he did sign off now.

53:20 MH: Well, honestly Tim, you’re a mentor to me early in my career, ’cause Tim, back in the day, would write these blog posts about Excel and how to do cool stuff and then have links to all the other gurus out there, and I would be over in Cleveland, Ohio, at the time, like two and half hours away, copying down everything Tim was doing and trying it out and learn Excel. I’m just saying, it goes way back.

53:49 TW: We’ll cut all that out?

53:51 MH: Anyways, I’m just saying Tim…

53:53 TW: I’m selecting.

53:53 MH: Whatever. You wrote it.

53:55 MH: Yeah.

53:58 TW: Do you want Michael to bring it home, because I realize maybe we didn’t have you put your notes.

54:02 MH: Oh, no, absolutely not, Moe. You take it the rest of the way. We are but passengers on the great ship, Moe Kiss.

54:12 MK: Now we’re pausing. I have got nothing. I’m like wait. So, for my two…

[laughter]

54:21 MH: It’s a well-oiled machine.

[laughter]

54:24 MK: You know that shitshow here means like that was a debacle not like literally a shit episode.

54:31 TW: Rack flag and career growth.

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One comment on “#081: The Career Growth Conundrum: Lead People or Crunch Data?

  1. Another nice podcast by the DA Power Hour team! Yes Michael – the title of the book is just that (“You Don’t Need A Title To Be A Leader”). The author (Mark Sanborn) lives in my city of Denver, and I’ve had him speak at my conference before. You should also read his other book, “The Fred Factor”. The book is based on his mailman. Yes, his mailman. It’s a quick, fun and good read….and applicable to everyone on a team.

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