The Value of Relationships

Great analysts do more than crunch numbers--they also build great relationships. It's been 20 years since I landed at Silicon Graphics to help their product divisions analyze data and I still talk to some of the people I worked with back then. Early on, I made it a point to build and maintain great relationships with as many people as I could, and it has served me well both as a data professional and as a consultant.

Good relationships not only help with your personal brand, they also help you get great results. As an analyst, it's easy to stay within the comforts of your team and reach outside your group only when it's necessary. I recommend you go beyond these obligatory, professional interactions and build real connections with the people you work with.

If you're an analyst in Finance, Marketing, or one of the business units, you're best friend should be your counterpart in IT. I've seen Finance professionals build their own spread-marts in Excel, and then freak out when something goes wrong and they can't figure out how to fix it. Situations like this usually spring up from bad relationships with IT and overconfidence in what it takes to manage information. Even with the best tools, information management is not easy. It takes years of education and experience to get it right. So, regardless of your past experiences with IT, it's in your best interest to build a trusting relationship with them.

 

Building Trust

A trusting relationship doesn't come overnight, especially if there's an unpleasant past to deal with; however, it's easier to build once you understand the mechanics of trust. Keep in mind that you're not working with an IT department; you're working with the people in the IT department. I've seen strong personal connections in some of the most siloed organizations. These are the people that get results, even when IT has a reputation for dysfunction.

At the heart of any good relationship is trust, so it's important to look at how trust works. Research suggests that trust is a layered process, so let's peel back the process until we get to the root. Trust is built on loyalty. Loyalty is what makes the connection personal and allows you to work together despite any informal constraints within the organization. Loyalty comes about as a result of integrity. Integrity is a confidence that the system is accurate and working properly. Integrity comes from competency. Of course a lot of this comes from skills and tools, but there are brilliant data professionals that appear incompetent due to communications problems. That's why competency requires openness. You must have open and honest communication between each other, and that won't happen unless results are consistent.

So the key is consistency--everything else is built on this foundation. Many times when I look at an organization's flow of information and I see a breakdown, it's because there's a history of inconsistent outcomes. The data today is saying something different from what it said last week. This makes people nervous and shuts down communication--and the chain reaction that leads to broken trust ensues. If consistency is an issue, start there. Then, continue through the progressions until you have a trusting relationship.

 

Summary

Great analysts don't operate in a vacuum; they realize the importance of great relationships. Trust starts with delivering consistent results. This helps open the lines of communication, which installs competency. Competency brings integrity to the system, which engenders loyalty. Take some time today to identify who you should build a great relationship with, and analyze where trust could be improved. And hopefully twenty years from now, you can reminisce with them about the good old days.