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The Business Case for Analytic Translator Training:
Is it worth it?

Sep 02, 2022

How do you make investment decisions when it comes to your human capital?

Do you hope that your workers arrive fully trained and require no further skill development?

Or do you think of ways to help them become even more valuable?

Which new skills are worth the investment?

These questions have been on my mind lately. 

In the past month I’ve had interesting conversations with three VP-level business leaders, two at health plans and one at a service provider.  The discussions went something like this:  

Business person: My highly-paid consultants don’t seem to really connect with our clients. 

Me: Oh, what seems to be happening?

Business person: I think they don’t listen, don’t really focus on what’s important to the client, and don’t know how to explain data in a way they resonates.

Me: I see. So they aren’t as effective as you want them to be.

Business person:  Exactly. If only they could have meaningful interactions, like I’ve seen you do.

Me: Well, that’s why I created an online course.  So people could learn these skills that have helped me so much.  

Business person: Oh, right. My budget could cover a book for each member of my team. And maybe you could do an hour seminar?  Is that enough time? Or maybe 90 minutes?

Me: Um. The course is 35 mini-lessons. Helping people understand and then practice their skills. Plus, I can coach them along the way. Less than $1,000 per person for a group. Much less than having me do in-person coaching.

Business person:  Oh, that kind of training isn’t in my budget. Plus, our employees can access communication training on Platform X for $29.99. 

Me: I see. So, how much are you paying these professionals? 

Business person:  Including benefits?  About 150 to 200K each. So, how do I order books?

I’ve worked with and for enough companies to understand how budgets get compartmentalized and how expense management creates rules about spending.

So, I empathize with department heads who feel their hands are tied regarding unplanned expenditures. 

However, for those who feel their teams might benefit from training, but need a justification, I provide some reasoning below.

What poor communication is costing you

I’ve written and presented information about the cost of miscommunication before.

In brief, those costs fall in three categories. 

  1. Wasted time and effort.
    Reviews of big data analytic projects suggest that as many as 85% of analytic results do not produce business value because the results either answer the wrong question or are delivered in a way that business professionals don’t understand. If we assume that only 50% of projects need to be redone, and only half of those are caused by miscommunication, it still adds up to approximately $33,000 per analyst per year.

  2. Opportunity cost.
    When data scientists don’t fully understand the business priorities, or business leaders can’t grasp what is possible to do with data, companies miss out on potential opportunities for growth.  Perhaps analytics can provide new product ideas, or refresh marketing messages, or optimize operations. Any of these areas can boost revenue or profitability. Even if the amount is only one to three percent of revenue, that equates to $10,000 to $30,000 per million in revenue.

  3. Improved productivity and retention. 
    Turnover rates for data professionals are high, and their reasons for quitting center on lack of engagement and a perception that their skills aren’t being used. For those who stay, low engagement results in lower productivity (estimated at 30% to 40%).  Combined, productivity and turnover may cost upwards of $60,000 per analyst per year. 

In all, we estimated that a company with ten analysts and ten million dollars in revenue would be risking as much as two million dollars in avoidable costs and missed opportunity due to miscommunication between data science and business professionals.

How Analytic Translators make a difference

In most companies there is no one officially assigned to the task of understanding each other.

Simply because of structure and specialization, most organizations operate in silos, which causes frequent disconnection between any two groups, whether it is operations, sales, HR, or any other. 

What makes the disconnect between data scientists and business leaders especially harmful is that they do not speak the same language, often have misaligned objectives, and find themselves misunderstood by the other. 

For more detail, listen to the webinar: Six reasons business and analytic professionals are destined to clash.

 

Complex analytics—which get even more complex every year—are completely foreign to most business leaders, and few data scientists are trained in communication.

It’s a recipe for dysfunction.

Talented analytic translators work at the interface of business and analytics, facilitating conversations that build trust and understanding.

This is not limited to the conversion of statistical output into English, although that is one role.

Translators also help crystalize business needs into clear objectives that can be converted into analytic design. 

In every conversation where I have used my analytic translation skills, the original business request has evolved, morphed, or completely changed into a more relevant, clearly defined question.

As such, the work product improved, while reducing the likelihood of rework, and more adequately meeting the requestor’s needs. 

This happens using learned skills to listen well, prompt clarification, elicit deeper thinking, ask exploratory questions, and reinforce appreciation between and among teams.

Such communication skills remain rare in business and analytical settings, which is why they make such a profound difference.

What is effective collaboration worth?

Every leader must make trade-offs about how to spend resources.

  • Do we fill a new position?
  • Do we invest in new equipment or software?
  • Do we expand office space?

Every choice matters. 

I find that leaders often discount so-called “soft skills” in favor of more technical skills, or more tangible, visible investments like equipment or headcount.

An investment in something abstract like communication skills feels more difficult to justify.

As I quantify the costs of miscommunication and the potential value of translation, I know some audiences have begun to grasp just what a difference these skills can make for both internal teams and clients. 

For others, I have a few questions about trade-offs: 

  • Would you consider an investment of less than one percent of your consultants' annual pay if it can reduce rework, increase productivity, and improve collaboration for the rest of their career?
  • Would you invest 10 to 15 more minutes in your initial conversations with clients if it doubles the likelihood that the project will meet the clients’ needs? 

If your answers are yes, maybe it’s time to train some of your people in analytic translation.

Download the first section of my book or experience a sample lesson from the course for free here

Wendy D. Lynch's headshot photo.

Wendy D. Lynch, PhD

Wendy Lynch is an experienced sense-maker and data scientist with over 35 years of research experience, primarily in business settings. She has played the role of Analytic Translator for hundreds of companies, from start-ups to Fortune 100 corporations. Her expertise is both in data analytics and effective communication, combining the two into a framework for optimizing the value of analytics in a business setting.  Connect with her through LinkedIn or email.

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