Three Powerful Ways Big Data Can Grow Your Leadership Career

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During my short stint in corporate America, I held several cross-functional roles that drew on my expertise in both business analytics and quality assurance. I usually worked alongside or in direct support of one or more project managers on various agile development projects. My primary responsibilities included acting as a liaison between senior leadership and the IT team to elicit, gather, define, document and test business and functional requirements. These experiences provided me with a firsthand account of how important utilizing big data can be to leadership career growth and development.

Big data is used to identify patterns and trends that can yield powerful insights into human interactions, especially consumer behavior. This data can include demographic, geographic and psychographic attributes collected from various sources throughout the consumer life cycle as well as from other areas of each individual’s life.

The idea of big data can seem scary. Data is being collected from everywhere all the time and leaders are expected to know how and when to use it. This newfound responsibility also means requirements to adapt to new technologies and ever-evolving policies and regulations around security and compliance issues.

Despite these concerns, the most successful leaders are learning to embrace big data as a catalyst to up-level their careers in three powerful ways.

1. Become a better decision maker.

Historically, intuition has been a highly favored attribute among leaders. Unfortunately, instinct can only take one so far. Access to big data analytics allows leaders to make fact-based decisions rather than those driven by emotion and belief. It is much better to know something to be true rather than to simply believe it to be true with no other basis for such belief than past experiences. Fact-based decisions have fewer risks, and leaders have an easier time isolating root causes of specific problems.

An executive coaching client, in the role of fund development manager for a local nonprofit organization, used big data analytics to identify trends in giving among high net worth donors. Armed with the compiled information, she was able to launch a new campaign that focused on the specific needs of this elite target market and increase their annual giving by 30%, (a well over seven-figure gain) in the following year. Imagine adding this impressive accomplishment to your curriculum vitae.

2. Stay agile.

Big data helps leaders be agile in their decision making and actions. Agility is a very important trait for leaders. Leaders who can look at the big picture strategy, easily break it down into smaller chunks, then quickly execute are simply more productive than those who don’t share this flexibility. Furthermore, by isolating and implementing smaller portions of the plan, one can easily determine where adjustments should be made to prevent resource drains and develop more efficient business systems.

Coming from a corporate background in IT, we used agile methodology to execute smaller portions of a larger software development plan quickly while quality testing and readjusting as needed along the way. Working in partnership with the project manager for an equipment financing company, we were tasked with developing an updated online sales process that required implementing new compliance rules.

Given the agile nature of the project, we actively tested as each new piece of the process was updated. An analysis of the big data collected identified a trend of customers abandoning a specific point in the updated sales process. A deeper drill-down into the data revealed that the page was considered too long and customers preferred less content on each page even though this would result in more pages. We were able to quickly adjust the process based on this revelation and roll out the new sales process, which resulted in an increase in successful online sales.

3. Positively impact the bottom line.

Employing big data saves companies time and money. Leaders who embrace big data make better decisions and have an easier time improving business operations, but there are many other ways this tool delivers value.

Big data can also result in both increased and new revenue streams. It drives product innovation. Leaders can more accurately tune into consumer behavior and capitalize on this knowledge by responding to market needs with new and improved products and services. Big data can also be organized and manipulated as a product in and of itself. Big data is most useful as compiled information. Leaders who can access, analyze and organize big data in new ways to solve problems may be sitting on their very own cash cow.

Take the case of Facebook and similar social media platforms. Startup companies have taken big data to new heights by turning these platforms into the largest consumer focus groups ever known. Utilizing big data in this way gives companies the ability to receive real-time feedback from customers and respond nearly just as fast. Big data has opened new doors for predictive analysis and for companies to market in ways never seen before.

While tackling big data may seem like a daunting task, it is a worthy cause for any leader desiring to advance his/her career. Not only does big data improve decision making, but navigating the world of analytics will increase your overall value, flexibility and marketability as a leader.

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