Sunday, October 16, 2011

Big Data = Big Talent Needs


A recent McKinsey article drew my attention. Titled "Are You Ready for the Era of "Big Data"?, it details a current environment where people can mine and leverage data to develop new business models and become more agile and adaptable to evolving business conditions. This story at the front of the article resonates this approach...

The top marketing executive at a sizable US retailer recently found herself perplexed by the sales reports she was getting. A major competitor was steadily gaining market share across a range of profitable segments. Despite a counterpunch that combined online promotions with merchandizing improvements, her company kept losing ground. When the executive convened a group of senior leaders to dig into the competitor’s practices, they found that the challenge ran deeper than they had imagined. The competitor had made massive investments in its ability to collect, integrate, and analyze data from each store and every sales unit and had used this ability to run myriad real-world experiments. At the same time, it had linked this information to suppliers’ databases, making it possible to adjust prices in real time, to reorder hot-selling items automatically, and to shift items from store to store easily. By constantly testing, bundling, synthesizing, and making information instantly available across the organization—from the store floor to the CFO’s office—the rival company had become a different, far nimbler type of business.

The article lays out five key questions that organizations need to ask about their use and investment in "big data" to transform their business and/or maintain competitive advantage as the story above indicates. At a deeper level the article briefly touches on the talent and human capital needs required to make "big data" a reality. The research by McKinsey even insinuates the possibility of "big data" taking the place of management. Now...I am not interested in tackling the issue that last question raises by McKinsey, but I am interested in tackling what the talent and human capital implications are of such an approach.

If organizations are going to leverage the "big data" environment, they will need people with different skills and not just technical skills. Just the leadership skills required to leverage this new environment (Regardless of it taking the place of management...) are not necessarily new...but potentially new combinations. Some of these include the following:

Pattern Recognition - Ability to see the data and make decisions based on the data...White space management...

Creativity - Ability to recognize those patterns and identify creative solutions and products to mine the opportunity...

Innovation Management - Ability to see creative solutions developed and gotten to market quickly...

High Emotional Intelligence - Ability to leverage the skills of your people...

Dealing with Ambiguity - Ability to make decisions within high levels of volatility, ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty...

Strength Seer - Ability to see what strengths and skills are needed to exploit new business models and mobilize teams with the right skills and strengths...

So while companies look to leverage these new capabilities across their organizations to develop new and sustainable business models, you have to think of what the talent needs are to create this capability. You may even want to read this article from on hiring based upon data...7 "Moneyball" Hiring Tips.

Good luck...


J. Keith Dunbar is a Global Talent Management Leader...Creator of Talent, Leadership Capability, and Culture Change...He can be found connecting and sharing knowledge on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Twitter: JKeithDunbar
LinkedIn: J. Keith Dunbar
Google+: J. Keith Dunbar
Blog: DNA of Human Capital

The opinions or views expressed here are mine alone and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the Defense Intelligence Agency.


  1. This is very interesting to consider the people skills element of "Big Data". My Treasury Cafe blog ( has a post about this titled "big Data in the House". I will add a reference to this post in the comments. Thanks!

  2. Thanks David...much appreciated...


  3. Yes it is true, innovation is a powerful tool to help retain and attract the best talent. This has become a huge issue in fast growing economies.
    Enterprise Innovation Management

  4. Thanks Adam...Like your blog you attached...

    Greatly appreciate the comments...