The Surprise Relationship Between Data Professionals and Business Leaders

By Executive coaching News
Data professional and business leaders find purpose

Big Data professionals, such as data scientists and data analysts, are skilled with many advanced analytics tools and methodologies. Coding, programming, modeling, and mining are a few. But why do these highly technical individuals leverage vast amounts of data to help business leaders?

One of these reasons is to contribute to an organization and team in a way few others can. They help make the invisible — visible. However, if they’re lucky, society also benefits. This is the key detail that separates a good employer from one that is most desirable among top technology talent. It’s the opportunity to work on projects for businesses and members of society.

Data Professionals

Data professionals are prideful about their craft, but not because few people match their technical ability. In this context, the word craft symbolize the skill that data professionals must develop to complete projects successfully. Additionally, it represents the time and learning that a person dedicates to personal development — in the pursuit of data mastery.

Finding passion in this field isn’t about the “inner calling”; it’s about demonstrating expertise and creating significant value for the organization. For example, data professionals with the following skills earn top compensation packages from employers in today’s competitive market. And regardless of current industry trends for competitive technology professionals, those in data-specific roles find purpose through skilling-up.

In-demand skills for data professionals

  • Apache Hadoop
  • Apache Spark
  • Data Mining
  • Machine Learning
  • NoSQL
  • Data Visualization
  • General Purpose Programming (C, Java, Scala, Python)
  • R, SAS, Matlab

In-demand roles to apply data skills

  • Data Analyst
  • Data Scientist
  • Data Architect
  • Data Engineer
  • Database Administrator
  • Database Manager

Especially relevant for data professionals and technology leaders, the learning environment (where constant improvement is encouraged), drives performance and increases engagement within an organization. Now more than ever, employees want to stand for something meaningful and feel justified that time spent away from friends and family adds value to the life experience.

The Harvard Business Review article, To Find Meaning in Your Work, Change How You Think About It, reiterates the importance of meaning and purpose in the workplace. The article states: ‘Why is it that some people can be extraordinarily well-paid and work in pampered settings but feel empty, while others can work in the sewers of New York City and feel fulfilled? Part of the answer is purpose.

In the most basic terms, this means choosing a job that aligns with a respectable mission. Something to rally behind and feel good about, even if it’s not glamorous. Fortunately, organizations can grant this luxury. When they do, talent (internal or external to the company) notices. The scenario plays out every single day in IT: data, computers, and information don’t comprise the most adventurous working environment, but these tools enable people to work on impactful projects that affect people’s lives, both inside and outside the organization. A proven concept among forward-thinking organizations, the mission-first mindset develops passion and breeds purpose.

One such organization is Philips Health Systems, a pioneer of precision medicine for clinicians.  Here, data and machine learning fuels research programs intended to revolutionize the caregiver experience for both doctors and patients. As the Principal Scientist for the project, Minnan Xu explains how her team’s data analysis work transforms clinicians to be anticipatory rather than reactive, a process not imaginable before the manipulation of large data sets. From cleaning data to packaging it up for algorithm development, her team produces groundbreaking work for Philips, which enriches the lives of many people.

The partnership between DataKind and Lava Mae (the non-profit that makes showering possible for homeless communities in Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco) is another example of how data professionals find purpose in their work. For the project, DataKind appointed data ambassadors (Seward Lee and Yulia Yukina) and a team of remote volunteer data scientists to analyze data gathered from the organization’s mobile-shower trailer. The findings helped Lava Mae see the composition of local homeless populations in detail.

Released in 2016, LinkedIn’s Purpose at Work report revealed that 58% of companies with a clear purpose experienced 10% more growth than those without, over three years. Similarly, 82% of purpose-led companies experienced positive growth during this time. Even more striking, 40% of the U.S. workforce is considered purpose-driven. By 2020, we believe this number will reach 50%, thanks in part to IT organizations.

Let’s Talk Business Leadership

In 2017, we wrote an article titled “Doing Good With Big Data Projects.” This article describes some of the data projects that inspired the current purpose-driven mindset embraced by technology professionals. From environmental sustainability initiatives to transportation system re-designs and digital business innovation, it’s clear that data professionals perform impactful work, both for the organization and society.

However, leadership must also receive acknowledgment; they are the facilitators of purpose-driven work within the organizational structure. Directors, Vice Presidents, Presidents, and C-suite members must see and believe in the value of ‘purpose’ for the organization. It’s not enough to talk about having a purpose; business decisions must reflect the optimism and positivity that leaders share for purposeful decision making.

A recent study by PwC concluded:

79% of business leaders believe purpose is central to business success; however, only 34% use organizational purpose to guide their decision making.

The explanation for this is that employees and business leaders value purpose differently. According to employees, it’s about understanding the contribution of their work, while leadership tends to place more value on the bottom-line impact of such programs.

The report also shows that 83% of employee participants value purpose for the meaning it brings to daily work, while 72% of leadership values purpose because it has a reputation for impacting growth and innovation.

The gap between these percentages highlights a glaring opportunity for organizations: create alignment between employees and leaders on why work matters, essentially integrating cultural beliefs with commercial decisions. Only then will leadership truly unleash the power of an engaged workforce. In the words of Jim Loehr:

“To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.”

Tie it Together With Talent Management

It’s no secret that LinkedIn is a useful tool for both talent and organizations. The platform enables both audiences to communicate and collaborate effectively, a requirement for a cohesive experience. With over 575 million members, LinkedIn is a “treasure trove” of professionals, and it’s available to every business. Of course, each one of these members shares valuable data with LinkedIn, who then translates information into insights for a consumer audience.

Current insights from LinkedIn present an apparent demand for purpose and meaning in the workplace:

71% of professionals say they would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a company with a mission they believe in. Nearly half (47%) of professionals who are proud of the company they work for say it’s because their company has a positive culture where they can be themselves.

Let that sink in for a moment. The findings explain why LinkedIn advocates for the mission-first mindset:

“As the economy evolves, purpose and hiring purpose-oriented talent will be a competitive differentiator. Companies of all sizes and industries are realizing the power of inspiring employees with a strong social mission, and creating an environment that fosters purpose.”


Many leaders believe in the benefits that high engagement rates bring to the organization. However, those that prioritize this mindset and apply it to decision making will experience greater success with talent management.

As a boutique talent management firm, we get to personally know consultants. And this interaction reveals the inner motivations of people, beyond compensation and location.

Stated simply, people want to work with good companies composed of good people that work on useful projects. This aligns with the notion that meaning and impact go hand-in-hand within every organization. As a person positively impacts business outcomes with their work, the more happiness they derive, a direct result of identifying their why.

Gartner, Inc., a global research and advisory firm, believes that data and analytics leaders are in a unique position to build programs that enable people and organizations to transcend boundaries and use data to improve society — Data for Good.

According to a global survey conducted by Fujitsu, 60% of organizational leaders admit difficulties in balancing the demands of employees, customers, and society. Additionally, 78% believe success is influenced by ‘creativity, innovation, and knowledge, supported by digital and an evolved people-led approach.’

IT organizations can bridge the gap between purpose and performance and attract top talent in the process. However, “Data and analytics leaders must cross traditional boundaries to use data for good, to better compete for limited talent and to foster an ethical culture,” says Cindi Howson, research vice president at Gartner.

“If you are a chief data officer or responsible for setting forth data strategies for your organization, you are in a unique position to restore some of the decline in trust in businesses by proactively pursuing use cases of ‘data for good.’”

Cindy Howson

The integration of data, employees, leadership, and society is the logical next step for creating purpose-driven work. There’s no denying that data can benefit society, even if it’s first used for business functions. But when it’s collected on a massive scale, with purpose, data takes on a much more significant title: Big Data. As this end product becomes more widely available to the public, its use for social goodwill positively impact communities across the globe.

Whether a project contributes to reducing the homeless population in a city or provides doctors with tools for patient care, it’s a source of purpose for data professionals.

Leaders, let’s create more opportunities for good people and good data to produce good work.