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It’s that time of year again where the old year ends and the new year begins. It’s been a tough 2008 for many people, and 2009 holds the promise of both excitement and uncertainty. Are you optimistic or pessimistic? It’s been said that optimists stay up on New Year’s Eve to welcome in the new year; pessimists stay up on New Year’s Eve to make sure the old year goes away. There’s a bit of truth in both perspectives, and they are not mutually exclusive. Regardless of your situation, this is an opportunity to look both backward and forward to determine what you want to do differently in the new year.
What are your New Year’s resolutions? Some of the most popular, traditional resolutions seem to be centered on fitness, learning and balance. For the purpose of this article, those themes apply to the world of business intelligence (BI) managers and leaders.
In a traditional sense, this resolution typically focuses on eating, exercise, strength and flexibility. What about your BI team? Are they “feeding” on negativity and uncertainty, or do they have a healthy diet of optimism and focus? Are team members stuck in the rut of their current roles, or are they building skills for the future that will require them to stretch beyond their comfort zones? Is your organization as flexible as it can be? Is it the right size with the right skills? Do people feel challenged and engaged? Depending on your company, this year you may be asked to do more with less. Especially in big companies, there could be a tendency to get too comfortable and complacent – “fat and happy” so to speak. As a manager, consider ways to raise the bar on performance so that you have a highly productive, lean machine of a team. How can you leverage all the skills of your team and still retain the ability to deliver?
One technique that can help to reevaluate the skills on your team is to perform a skills inventory. Make a list of the business, technical, functional and interpersonal skills that are required in your environment. Business skills include industry knowledge and business area knowledge such as finance, sales or human resources. Functional skills include areas such as data modeling, information architecture, data quality, data migration and so on. Technical skills describe the various products required in your organization such as Informatica, Business Objects, Oracle or Microsoft. Have each person evaluate themselves on each skill on a scale of 1-4 where 1 is “novice” and 4 is “expert.” Emphasize that the inventory exercise is not a performance evaluation, but a method for understanding the depth and breadth of each person’s skills so that roles can be changed or enhanced for professional growth. In “lean” economic times, roles may even become larger to accommodate smaller resource budgets. As a manager, it’s not uncommon to lose track of all the skills present in the team because once people settle into a role, it’s easy to forget all that they may be capable of doing. This is an opportunity to think beyond current roles and evaluate alternatives for doing more with less. Use this tool as a way to analyze gaps, create career development plans and facilitate mentoring relationships.
In the traditional sense, this resolution is about expanding our knowledge and setting self-improvement goals around education. Some might enroll in an advanced degree program; others might make plans to attend a conference. From a business intelligence perspective, those options might still be available. There are advanced degrees in business intelligence, statistics, analytics, finance, marketing, information technology and more. There are conferences you could attend in 2009, including The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI), DAMA International, Wilshire Conferences and the International Data Quality Conference. With the state of the economy, what if training budgets and/or education benefits are decreased? Does it mean that you will be precluded from expanding your knowledge? Absolutely not! Take advantage of Web content, books, white papers and vendor presentations. TDWI has a number of local chapter meetings around the country that host free presentations provided by authors, trainers and peers. If you still want to take advanced courses, consider paying for them yourself instead of being constrained by your company’s policies and/or economic situation. You might even be able to negotiate a “split” where you pay for the course and the company pays for travel. When you create the skills inventory mentioned previously, take into account not just current skills, but also which skills you/others need to learn or improve upon. If there are gaps in your team, it may help you make the case for formal training and/or mentoring relationships from inside or outside the organization.
The current economic “crisis” might actually be a time to reevaluate your intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. How well do you know yourself? What characteristics of your particular personality type might be useful to know as you deal with stressful situations? Do you understand the personality types in your team and how they will likely react to change? How are you helping your team cope with uncertainty? Don’t confuse “learning” with “training.” There are limitless opportunities to learn that may or may not include a classroom. Invest in yourself and your future.
Many New Year’s resolutions tackle the issue of work/life balance. People sometimes change jobs, change careers, take pay cuts and/or change their family situation to achieve this goal. For many BI professionals, this might mean setting better boundaries around the number of hours spent at the office, the commute or the number of issues that invade personal time. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. As the economy changes and business priorities shift, work demands may increase. It would be easy to succumb to those pressures, but it is imperative to take a longer term view and look at the bigger context. Rather than making “work” a priority or “family” a priority, consider prioritizing on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis. It may seem heretical to say that either one is a priority. If you say work is a priority, then there’s a perception that family is diminished. If you say family is a priority, then there’s a perception that you are not serious about your career. Realistically, it’s more of a question of whether you can make good decisions about the most important issue at any given moment in time.
There are patterns in these resolutions that seem to appear every year. Most resolutions are “broken” within two weeks. Statistics indicate that the chances for success largely depend on setting realistic goals. Best wishes for 2009 in setting those realistic and achievable goals. I hope that your New Year's resolutions this year are not just something that “goes in one Year and out the other.”