Wanted: weirdos with good communication skills

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Dominic Cummings’ now infamous job advertisement at the beginning of this new decade asked for “data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos” to apply for a position in government.  Like many organisations today, Cummings is looking to put data at the heart of UK civil service decision making and is looking for the right people to drive this more scientific decision making.

But it was the ‘assorted weirdos’ mention that struck me.  Why weirdos?

Today’s workplace is changing: people are living and working for longer creating a more age-diverse workforce, and as it becomes easier to interconnect, we are increasingly working with people from across the globe, often from different cultures speaking different languages.  So, it’s little wonder that Cummings is highlighting the need for an “unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds.”  The more diverse the workforce, the more informed decisions will become with such a melting pot of viewpoints and perspectives.

Technology is a key enabling factor in this changing workplace, and there’s no doubt that data is driving better decision making, so I applaud Cummings’ innovative job description on one level, but on another, you can’t just invest in the tech tools and hire the data scientists and expect the decisions to be better.

Being data-driven is not about the technology, but about what makes the technology work: the people, the processes, the culture and the mindset.  I cannot stress highly enough the importance of getting this right in order to achieve a data-first approach.  too many organisations fail to understand that successful data-driven transformation is about instigating a cultural change that requires organisations to truly redefine how their people operate internally and what their processes need to be to support transformation.

Part of the pleasure of my job is going to visit different organisations and learning about their individual challenges and how they propose using data to help.  Unfortunately, in too many cases, they have been dazzled by shiny new tools, products or platforms that vendors are selling, they throw money at the problem and expect things to change.  Sadly, not all that shines is gold.   People and processes will produce better results than products.

Let’s look at the people for a moment.  The role of the data scientist has changed.  No longer can the “weirdos” be brought in to sit in the corner, speak a mysterious language to one another and remain completely disconnected from the business producing occasional sparks of genius.  Success comes from communication with the rest of the business to ensure everyone understands why they are putting data at the heart of every business decision and to ensure everyone is rowing in the same direction.

It’s no coincidence that most consultants have cited Emotional Intelligence as one of the top 10 skills required for the workplace in 2020, and this is something that is particularly close to my heart.  I love helping data science teams put aside for a moment their (usually impressive) data skills and focus more instead on how they communicate and engage with the business and break down barriers across the organisation.  Understanding the needs of others and communicating what you are trying to achieve and how that can help others achieve their goals is not always easy and many individuals and teams struggle to develop the necessary skills

It’s for this reason that I’m particularly proud of the Trusted Consultant Programme that Mango has launched.  Increasingly, data scientists and analysts are being asked to run or contribute to complex, multi-departmental projects and expectations of success are high. The programme is designed to help data science and advanced analytics teams with a proven framework and tools they need to engage with stakeholders within their organisations in a positive, success-led manner.  By the end of the course attendees will have developed the essential skills required to work with business stakeholders, work as part of a team to manage the project, and present analytic results to non-technical audiences.

So, like Mr Cummings, Mango is calling for data scientists, assorted weirdos and unusual sets of people to learn how to communicate with the world the ways in which their unique skills and backgrounds can help others make better decisions.  Perhaps we could also invite a few politicians to apply as well!

If you want to find out more about our Trusted Consultant Programme contact training@mango-solutions.com