Make an Impact: Find the Angry People

COL01x - feature image for algmin 300x300I love angry people. Whenever I’m invited to a new organization to help with data challenges, I look for them. This may sound strange but bear with me.

Here is the reason why angry people are great:

  1. They have opinions, and they aren’t afraid of sharing them. Something isn’t how they want it—because otherwise they wouldn’t be angry. They care enough to be angry about it.

Yes, angry people may be a bit challenging to work with, at least at first. The upside is that if we are able to fix what is making them mad, they’ll likely be our allies forever.

And interestingly enough, angry people often have very good reasons for their frustration. Give us a few good angry people and we can cut down our discovery time (and costs!).

Before we get too far down the angry-parade, these folks need to be upset about something to do with the data situation. If they feel underpaid, or their manager is a jerk, there’s only so much we can do. We’re data leadership advocates, not magicians!

But when people are frustrated as heck that they can’t get numbers that match, or that nobody trusts the data because that one system messes up everything else—now we are on the right track! If we can dig further into these insights, it’s like finding a seam of gold in the data mine!

Angry is a good barometer for passion, as one can’t be angry without some amount of passion. Senior executives often exhibit this trait, as they are passionate, motivated, and perpetually frustrated that the problem hasn’t been fixed already.

What good data leaders do is quickly diagnose the reasons that an organization is unable to make the most of their data. This is typically due to underinvestment in one or more areas of data management. Many organizations lack sufficient data quality practices, metadata management, or overall data governance. Others have built great data systems that are hidden, and people don’t know they exist—or there is awareness, but people have not been adequately trained to make use of the systems.

Every organization’s data journey may mostly fit a pattern but is ultimately unique at a detailed-level. No other organization works exactly the same or has the same data structures or assets. The challenges that result will need a fine-tuned solution to resolve, and angry people can give us the insights we need to help them get on the path to success.

Far worse than angry people are apathetic people. Apathetic people sit in the room, sucking up all the oxygen, simply waiting until they can clock out for the day. Apathy is a cancer to any data leadership or digital transformation effort. When people don’t care, no number of great ideas, tools, or processes will overcome the resistance. Often the best recourse is to quarantine the apathy during the early stages and then during implementation the apathetic folks will put up little fight against the change. Try to find a way to have their lack of motivation help the cause!

It’s important to distinguish those that are truly angry or apathetic from those that are just resistant to change. Frankly, everybody is somewhat resistant to change. Even folks like us who thrive on causing change will find ourselves sitting in the same seat on the train or going to the same restaurant despite other countless options.

Expect normal levels of change-aversion in every circumstance. People are going to default to disagreeing with anything new, because it’s easier to criticize than carefully evaluate the pros and cons to determine whether this new creation will benefit them in the end. We need to collaborate and hear these concerns while pushing towards progress, often in tandem with resource limitations and tight deadlines.

This is where the angry folks face a crossroads decision. They can choose the “leader-path” where they can address the things that make them angry, try to change their organization for the better, and hopefully be a little happier along the way. They also might choose the “hater-path”—where they realize they prefer to remain part of the problem, not the solution. Angry people are angry, after all; we can’t expect them to always make the most rational decisions.

What happens when the angry people in the room also have the most clout? We already noted that executives can fit this profile. Many times, we can get them on the leader-path, and then things will go relatively smoothly. Sometimes, particularly sneaky executives will take the hater-path to avoid personal accountability when things go sideways—and with data governance projects lacking a strong record of success, they are simply playing the numbers. At least it is a data-driven approach!

Unfortunately, if executives are unwilling to demonstrate leadership, then one has to question their commitment or passion to the cause. Chances are they are angry about something else entirely, or their passion for data is just an act. Isolating their direct involvement (like apathy) may be necessary, but this also comes with large risks. Whenever our senior leadership lacks commitment or conviction, we have a tough road ahead.

The angry executive with a willingness to lead is the best of them all. They will clear the road in front of us, and we will get things done! If we can be responsive and resolve their issues, we will make a real difference in the future success of their organization.

Find the angry people and unlock their passion to propel data change. And until next time, go make an impact!

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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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