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Whole-Brain Data Management – Building Data Leaders

Whole-Brain Data Management

Are you guilty of managing data with only half your brain?

When we talk with Data Management Professionals, it’s pretty clear that most know what they should be doing.

Ask questions such as:

  1. Should Executive Management formally sponsor Data Governance?
  2. Do you need to appoint Data Owners to be accountable for your data? or;
  3. Is it a good idea to create a Business Glossary or Data Catalog?

And you’ll get a resounding “Yes”, from a large portion of the audience. 

Unfortunately, despite knowing all the right things to do, in many instances these teams still don’t end up doing things right.

Data Governance requires Data Leadership

The missing piece in many companies is Data Governance. 

Lots of the same Data Management Professionals see Data Governance as “a thing you do to data”. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Data Governance is a thing you do to people. The people need to be governed, we need to adjust behaviours and processes that people perform, and yes, we need to change the tools and technology those people are asked to use too.

“So what?”, I hear you ask. This is all stuff we already know. We’ve appointed Data Owners and Data Stewards, and we have a Data Governance Council, so “we get it”.

Where is the Data Leadership?

The problem comes when the People you’ve appointed into key data governance roles fail to perform those roles. For example, have you heard these statements from your team?

  • “I’m too busy”
  • “We don’t have enough resources to do that right now”
  • “I thought you only needed my team for the first 6 months of this project”
  • “Why can’t you manage the data for us? Aren’t you in I.T.?
  • “There’s no budget to do that”

If you’re banging your head against a brick wall trying to get the business to care about data, you lack Data Leadership.

What is Data Leadership?

Anthony Algmin has written a book about this, but I think his definition takes the concept too far into the weeds. Let’s look at what Leadership means:

Leadership is the ability of an individual or a group of individuals to influence and guide followers or other members of an organisation

As such, Data Leadership is the ability of an individual or group to influence and guide other members of the organisation in their data behaviours.

Take a look at the typical responses Data Owners and Stewards make:

  • “I’m too busy”
  • “We don’t have enough resources to do that right now”
  • “I thought you only needed my team for the first 6 months of this project”
  • “Why can’t you manage the data for us? Aren’t you in I.T.?
  • “There’s no budget to do that”

Now ask yourself, do those sound like the statements of a group of people that are Leading or a group of people that are Being Led?

Stop Managing, Start Leading

Just because you’ve filled in a Data Glossary, bought a new Data Catalog, and written a Data Governance Policy does not mean you’re doing the right things.

Unless you’re leading your team and they willingly and enthusiastically follow, you are part of the problem.

Has your Data Management practice forced business teams to produce or consume documentation about data without Data Leadership? In essence, you’re demanding they “do things right” with data. 

Demands like this create more frustration and friction that will ultimately grind your program to a halt and prevent you from ever doing the right things with data.

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things

Peter Drucker

Developing Data Leadership Skills

One of the challenges in creating data leaders is that we have the wrong people in the wrong roles.

Many Data Management Professionals have come from an I.T. background. This makes sense – they understand the data and see the impact it has across business silos. But it also means you get a lot of “left-brain dominant” people.

Brain Lateralization
Wikipedia says this is an oversimplification, but it will suit our purposes

Data Management teams are great at analytical thought. They want to dive into the weeds, and use logic to bamboozle the business and make the case for change.

The problem with this is that you’re neglecting “the big picture”. The right brain dominant people are able to create a vision, build emotion and motivate people to follow their dreams and achieve their goals.

Manage from the left, lead from the right

Stephen Covey

If you want the business to follow you and adopt your new behaviours, you’ve got to give them a vision for the future where they get more value than they have today.

The difference between management and leadership

So how do you know where you sit?

  • Managers: you set goals, with measurable outcomes and timeframes to complete, and ensure the work is delivered on time and at a decent level of quality
  • Leaders: you create visions for the future, preach and live behaviours that inspire others to want to follow, using emotional intelligence and empathy to ensure your message resonates with others

How does this marry against Data Management:

  • Data Managers write policies stating what the business should do with data, and manage reluctant business teams to perform these data governance tasks and activities
  • Data Leaders understand their organisation’s goals and objectives, are in-tune with key management ambitions, and create a vision for the companies’ future where data drives ambitious outcomes, increasing revenues, cutting costs and eliminating risks that the business cares about

If you’re unsure whether you lead with the right or manage from the left, here’s an online personality test (no email needed) to check.

Using your whole brain to improve data management

Effective data management demands that we both Lead and Manage our data. They are two sides of the same coin.

You need to create a compelling vision, aligned with your business goals and ambitions, if you want to lead your business and change behaviours.

Once you’ve adopted that vision, you need motivated data management teams to make it a reality. They’ll chase down targets, ensure people perform their role, and report back on the progress you’re making toward your data vision.

Are you a Leader or a Follower?

If you’re struggling to get your business peers to follow your direction, it might be time to train your right brain a bit more.

We are rolling out Data Management Effectiveness training this year. The aim is to help you take the lead with data, and transform the business from the inside-out.

Data Leadership is at the core of this skill set. If you’re interested in finding out more, drop us a line using the form below:

Want to become a more effective data management professional? Talk to Cognopia:

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