Live Q & A Transcript: How to Hire and Keep Top Data Talent

by   |   December 18, 2014 3:00 pm   |   0 Comments

The following is a transcript of the Live Q and A that Data Informed hosted with Jeff Hoffman, entrepreneur, former executive, and author of the book, “Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back” on December 17, 2014.

Scott Etkin: Thanks to everyone for joining us today! I’m pleased to have Jeff Hoffman here for today’s Q&A on how to hire and keep top data talent. Jeff is an entrepreneur and former executive at He also is the author of the book, “Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back.”

Jeff Hoffman

Jeff Hoffman

Thank you for joining us Jeff!

Jeff Hoffman: Thanks Scott! Happy to be here today!

Scott Etkin: Jeff will make an opening comment before we dive into your questions.

Jeff Hoffman: Let’s start by taking a top-down view of talent acquisition and retention. We will talk about acquiring talent first.

So often the employee/employer relationship is a one-way street. Employers tell employees what they want the employee to do for them. And then offer them a paycheck in return. This is the old-fashioned traditional relationship, and it is NOT the solution to building great teams. Employment is a two-way street. Your job as a leader or employer is to ask employees what YOU can do for THEM that’s bigger than a paycheck. I always ask potential new hires to tell me their dreams and long-range goals. What accomplishments would they like to look back and see that they have achieved in their lives? Education? Travel? Giving back? Knowledge acquisition? New skills? Experiences?

Ask each employee or potential new employee to share their long-range goals and dreams. Then write them down and make it part of your job to help them achieve those goals. My employees knew that I wanted to help them lead well-balanced and fulfilling lives, and this was just as important to them, if not more, than their paycheck.

So how about some questions or comments about how we attract new talent to our companies?

Question from Lian: How do you define top data talent?

Jeff Hoffman: It is very important to drive your company by business goals, not people. What I mean is we don’t look at our people and figure out something for them to do. We don’t adapt our work to fit our people. It’s the other way around. We list our goals for the year. Then we list the strategies we need to implement to achieve those goals. Then we list the tactics need to achieve the strategy. Then we list the tasks needed to complete the tactics. Then we list the skills needed to complete the tasks.

Everyone on your team now has to walk up to that list and circle the tasks they have the skills to complete. If they don’t have those specific skills for the work your company needs done, DON’T find something for them to do. Replace them. So, Lian, we define top talent as the people who do the most work off that list.

Question from Kate: How do you guide a new employee with a business background to make a career change into data analytics?

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Jeff Hoffman: Kate, I’m not sure why we would want a business person to make that career change into data analytics. It’s important to play to people’s strengths. What would drive that person to want to make that change? We need to be goal oriented and understand what goal this career change would achieve for that person. If they still want to go forward, then we map out an education plan and find them an internal mentor.

Question from Guest: If you haven’t hired them yet (still in the attracting phase), how do you define by “doing the most work?”

Jeff Hoffman: It’s important for you to set the tone on what accomplishments are most important to the company at any given time. So I guess I shouldn’t have said “most” work, I should have said “most valuable.”

Question from Jerry Gaertner: Hiring data talent is one part of the problem. Training (both internally within the organization and at the university level) is another. What are your views of the effectiveness, cost, and time frame of training internally, and what do you think of university-level training in analytics at this point in time?

Jeff Hoffman: Jerry, I think a good mix of internal and external training is best. External training such as universities provides some fresh thinking from outside the organization that sometimes brings a fresh perspective. But make all training very goal specific. What did we set out to learn, and did the employee learn that?

Question from Kathryn Magrane, Denihan Hospitality: As an employee, how does one get the attention of superiors to showcase their talents?

Jeff Hoffman: The best way to get attention in a company is through work, not words. First, you need to build a leg to stand on. Go above and beyond the requirements of a project. Bring an internal or external customer unexpected delight and joy. Do something more than everyone else does. And then just point at it. Let your work speak for you.

Question from Erin Reily: In the small Biopharm world, we need people who can perform multiple functions with multiple skills (broad vs. deep). How do you attract and identify talent that has the ability to do both the analytics and the higher-level strategy or communication to leadership?

Jeff Hoffman: Erin, the first step is not defining what you need and what these employees can do for you. It’s figuring out why anyone would want this job. Think about the skills and experiences and growth opportunities that a person in this job would receive, and then look for people who are seeking out those benefits.

Question from Oscar D: Are your concepts and tools feasible to implement as they are to any culture/ country, or do they need to be adapted, for example to Latin American countries?

Jeff Hoffman: Oscar, we do a lot of work in Latin American countries. I think that every personnel policy and approach needs to be calibrated for local cultures. I just left Peru recently, and a local Peruvian employee has different needs and desires that a local NYC employee. I do indeed believe that you have to account for cultural differences, but here’s an important note: VALUES are more important than job descriptions and employee policy manuals. And the foundation of solid human values is far more universal than local cultures anyway.

Question from Guest: What are the skills to look for and how do you measure if somebody is sufficiently equipped with those skills required to be in a data-centric role?

Jeff Hoffman: The best thing to do to measure someone’s skills for a specific area is to use a best-practices approach. Figure out who is your best performer in that role. Of all the people with data-centric jobs, whom would you consider to be your top performer? Your MVP? Do a skills profile on that best performer and use that as a measuring stick to set a benchmark by which to determine if other employees are adequately skilled.

Question from Isabel Ferreira: What are the soft and technical skills required for a data team member working on a multicultural team who are all abroad?

Jeff Hoffman: The technical skills of course depend on the specific job requirements. But the soft skills are really important here. In order to work on a multicultural team spread out geographically, you need to learn and use today’s group communication technology tools. Whether that’s Yammer or Google Hangouts or Basecamp, etc., there are collaboration tools today designed specifically to solve this problem. It’s worth taking the time to study and test these tools for that team.

Question from Guest: In your experience, what is the best way to help top talent further develop their skills?

Jeff Hoffman: Once again, it’s most important to be specifically goal oriented. What do they want those skills for? What career path are they trying to follow? What skills do they need for that career path? Once you align skills to career goals, then you can align the skills they should develop with their long-range goals. In the past, employee education and skills development was expensive because we sent employees out to classes or paid to teach them internally. Today, the first stop should be the Internet. There are so many FREE education sources out there. Free university-level courses on Coursera. Domain-specific knowledge on TED’s website. Smaller learning presentations on SlideShare. Use the web to try to educate your employees and develop skills there first. Another great skill-development technique is internal mentorship programs. Does your company have one?

Question from JWA: Hey Jeff, What is the most common mistake managers make that discourages talented employees? How do I avoid doing it?

Jeff Hoffman: Two things. The first is micro-management. Talented people need room to grow and to show their skills. Back off and let them. If fact, let them fail if that happens. They need to know you trust them. They need to know you believe in them. The second mistake that discourages talented employees is your inability to remove nonperformers. When someone isn’t making the grade, GET RID OF THEM. This is, of course, after counseling and trying to help them. But when management allows nonperformers to keep their jobs, it drags down everyone who is working hard.

Question from Dave Lombardo: How do you avoid promoting an employee out of a role she is great at – without making her feel overlooked for advancement?

Jeff Hoffman: Dave, I might have misunderstood. Do you not want to promote her?

Scott Etkin: I think, and correct me if I am wrong, the concern is sort of a Peter Principle thing. This employee is great at her job. Why ask her to stop doing it?

Dave Lombardo: Thanks, Scott interpreted my meaning.

Jeff Hoffman: Ah, I see. And you will NOT keep talented people if you don’t allow them to grow. What I always ask those employees is to make their own replacement plan first. They have to help find and train someone to replace them before they can move up. That way they are incented to help us fill the hole they are about to leave.

Dave Lombardo: Thanks for the great insights!

Jeff Hoffman: You’re most welcome!

Scott Etkin: We are out of time for today. On behalf of everyone at Data Informed, thank you for participating in today’s chat, and for the great questions! Jeff Hoffman, author of “Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back,” thank you for sharing your insights with us today!

Comment from Lian: Thank you Jeff (and Scott)!

Jeff Hoffman: You’re welcome! Thanks for joining us.

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