I work as a business intelligence consultant within my company, and though I’m highly technical, I always talk about the colleagues I work with as people, not as staff. We’re all individuals, and bring our own stories and experiences that shape who we are and how we handle professional situations.

As part of my data leadership role, I provide my colleagues not only with data tools, but with the mechanisms to understand and use those tools that will empower people in their own positions. I like to think that people see me as someone who can help them enrich their current career path to make it more exciting, more appealing, and more interesting. When it comes to improving employee retention, incentives like personal growth are remarkably effective.

Data mentorship is about helping people who feel unsteady or uncertain about what they're doing, what they’re working on, or where they want to go. As data leaders we often say, “Yes, I’m giving you technology, I’m giving you tools and best practices and policies to put data and insights at the heart of everything you do.” But we also need to focus on how we’re helping to make people’s day-to-day lives more efficient, focused, and innovative. That’s a function of true mentorship and working person to person. Yet that human element is often missing a lot in business.

From Great Resignation to Great Reengagement
Although journalists claim that The Great Resignation is slowing, it’s very much an ongoing phenomenon. I see evidence of this every day on LinkedIn and other job sites. I go to the Jobs page and see positions that were posted only three hours ago, but already have five, ten or 20 candidates applying for them. Many are director level and up, with a vast array of degrees. Obviously, a lot of employees are not engaged or happy in their current jobs.

Yet for all this churn, I also notice more ads specifically asking for data skills: database design, business intelligence, reporting, or insights generation. Companies are becoming more aware of data literacy because the way we talk to our customer bases is more reliant on data. We capture more data, and data is now more accessible. We use data to better understand our employees. Organizations are clearly hungry to leverage data but many don’t know how to improve employee happiness or engagement even with all of their available data. For me, data skills are key to reengaging people before they might consider resigning. It’s also why I’m passionate about my job.

Be your own growth consultant
Any data leader can act as a career growth consultant to build new levels of employee engagement, happiness, and ultimately retention. How? Here are five practices I’ve found to be powerful and effective.

  1. Encourage use of new data tools and visualization techniques. 

Historically, businesses rarely have invested in adding skills to employees’ existing talents. Part of your role as a data leader is to drive change and make it clear: We’re encouraging you to learn and adopt new technology. We’re encouraging you to adopt new ways of working that will enable you to grow. Even better, you’ll also become more engaged in your job by reinvesting that knowledge, skill, and talent back into the business and into your department. 

  1. Enrich career paths with technical and soft skills.

I’m all about providing the tools and knowledge for people to use data in a business intelligence context to further their business units and departments. But while we often focus on technical skills, we also should concentrate on expanding people’s soft skills in the process: teamwork, persuasion, adaptability, and openness to criticism, for example. Paired with BI and data skills, these are the talents that set the course for a rich career in any organization. 

  1. Make yourself redundant.

Each year I make it a goal to make myself redundant. I learn as much as I can, and then as quickly as I can I disseminate that information to everybody. I'm all about data democratization, but I'm also about knowledge democratization. I want everybody to learn what I learn, because every skill I've learned on my journey has been valuable. It’s especially satisfying to me when I see someone taking on the role of business analyst and asking a colleague to tell them their challenges and where they’re struggling. True empowerment lies in sharing what you have to those around you. 

  1. Connect people’s actions to organizational outcomes. 

You can almost see a little light go on when someone realizes that their new skills empower them to do more. So encourage your employees to see the value they’re delivering, even if it’s in a seemingly small way. For example, there are areas within many organizations that spend 50 percent of their time preparing data for end-of-month reporting, with report development taking even more time on top of that. Even by automating the data gathering, your team members will realize they’ve done something that has advanced their careers but also helped the lives of the people on their team. That’s the start of a virtuous circle.  

  1. Foster a mindset where people can ask big, challenging questions.

How would you react if your team members came to a meeting and asked, “Why are we following this process like this? Can we do it a better way? Should we do it a better way?” As a manager and data leader, once you’ve provided people with the tools to follow their curiosity, innovate, and challenge, this is exactly what you should be encouraging, even welcoming. 

The rise of the citizen data scientist
A component of my strategy is to help people understand that by completing these training sessions and going through the weekly challenges that we put forward for them, by encouraging them to be data curious and explore their data and organically uncover the insights they can glean from it, they are becoming citizen data scientists.

Any data leader should encourage this love of the data aspect of a job, because it will carry through people’s careers and lives. These skills not only go on their résumés, but improve the employee’s happiness and engagement. Someone might already have served 20 years at their company, but that doesn’t make them obsolete. Organizations (including your own, first and foremost) are looking for more data fluid and data literate people. By empowering your people you empower your business. Both grow as a result.