Excerpt from Data Leadership – Stop Talking About Data

ART04x - edited feature imageData Leadership hasn’t really been addressed before in the way I am talking about it in my new book; it is not about data at all — it is all about changing people’s behavior.

We know a few truths about people:

1. People resist change.

2. People are watching out for themselves above all else.

3. Even if doing something would benefit themselves, see point #1.

Does that sound like a party we want to attend? Seems like a recipe for disaster, and that’s exactly what happens when people try to do data by coming in guns-a-blazing with a bunch of meetings alongside grandiose ambitions of changing everything! Of course it is doomed to failure—do we expect fundamental human nature to step aside just because data is important? Do we think we’re going to make a difference by getting some people in a room to argue about who our customer is?

We need to be much more thoughtful on how we engage, especially in the early days. We must operate in the shadows of our organizations, doing good for the sake of doing good, and building capabilities that are useful immediately for people just trying to get their normal stuff done.

To be an effective Data Leader, we should take a page from the Agile world, where they have spent years trying to be more responsive than “traditional” waterfall project management methodologies allow. Though there is a lot of good throughout Agile, the point we want to highlight right now is a management philosophy called servant leadership.

Servant leadership is a term that is actually what it says it is (Data Management folks take note). Servant leaders help their teams succeed by removing anything that blocks them from completing their tasks. Whether reaching out to the business for requirements clarifications, or procuring new technical tools, or jumping in to lend some specific expertise—servant leaders stop at nothing to support their teams. Data Leaders must approach our roles similarly.

MAKE AN IMPACT! Though we might not even have clearly defined teams, Data Leaders do have at least one shared goal with everyone we encounter, whether or not they know it: to create Data Value.

We must remove the blockers and help that value become realized.

It does not even need to be complicated. By leveraging the Simple Virtuous Cycle, it can be as easy as:

  • Wake up.
  • Create Data Value (Measure, Identify Improvements, Improve).
  • Go to sleep, excited to do it again tomorrow!

But doesn’t that oversimplify it a bit? Sure, but not as much as it might initially seem. We as people, especially those of us interested in data and technology, tend to overcomplicate things. The blockers we encounter may come from organizational resistance, a “not my job” mentality, fear of change, lack of technology tools, or good ol’ laziness.

So what? We have already established that the futures of our businesses are on the line, and we are the keys that will unlock Data Value. If there were no blockers, people would have fixed all this already, and we wouldn’t have such awesome opportunities in front of us. When faced with the incredible potential of transforming our businesses, none of the blockers out there should remain for long.

We understand what creates Data Value, how it is measured, and why trying to go too big initially is a recipe for disaster. If we look for the little ways to plug in our ability to create business outcome improvements, we will succeed.

If we are still feeling a little leery about stepping into the spotlight as a Data Leader, think about the worst case scenario: our passion about changing the world (or at least our businesses) with Data Value falls on completely deaf ears, and the rest of our company’s leadership has no interest in improving business outcomes. Beyond not supporting us, they are actually so averse to challenging the status quo that they fire us. What happens then?

First, the chances of that are insanely low, but let’s explore the situation, since it is always a good idea to explore border conditions. There are far too many organizations out there desperately trying to find a way to use data better—do not waste your time with one that you need to convince that data is important. Today, the idea of working for a data-ignorant company is like working for a company that refuses to let people access the internet. Do they still use paper ledgers for accounting too? Slide rules? Horse-drawn carriages?

The bottom line is that creating real Data Value is hard enough to get right in an organization that “gets it” and fully supports our data endeavors. Let’s not waste our time working for those organizations that are already toast—and make no mistake, if they haven’t figured out by now that data is valuable, they are already too far gone.

MAKE AN IMPACT! It is not too late for an organization that realizes data is valuable, wants to do something about it, but has no idea what to do—but there is no time left to waste.

The fact is that most organizations today find truth in the above statement, and there is certainly still hope for them. Especially since they have us.


Learn more about “Data Leadership: Stop Talking About Data and Start Making an Impact” at https://DataLeadershipBook.com. Copyright 2019, DATAVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved.

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About Anthony Algmin

Anthony J. Algmin is the Principal and Founder of Algmin Data Leadership (algmin.com), a company helping organizations improve their competitiveness in a digital world. He created the Data Leadership Framework, an approach to maximizing overall data value by balancing capabilities across the many data management disciplines.

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