Data: The Importance of a Data Leader
WHY IS DATA IMPORTANT TO YOUR BUSINESS?
The world of data is evolving and growing at an incredible pace, and this growth has prompted a wave of digital innovation across sectors and industries. Data can be intimidating, especially if there are no systems or strategy to support it. For those who lean into the world of data, there are many advantages and a wealth of opportunities to grasp. So, what can data offer your business?
- Better decision making – the better the data quality, the more confidence people will have in the outputs and the validity of the decisions. The age-old phrase of “rubbish in, rubbish out” remains true.
- Get the results you want – data can allow businesses to measure the effectiveness of strategies and determine whether the approach has been successful or requires a pivot.
- Find solutions to problems – by tracking and reviewing data from business processes you can start to uncover inefficiencies and breakdowns in processes and understand the steps to fix them.
- Productivity – instead of spending their time fixing data errors, or spending time on manual activities due to poor processes, employees can focus on delivering value-add activities.
- Focused marketing – better data allows you to create more accurate targeting, and better inform your communications.
THE ROLE & IMPORTANCE OF A DATA LEADER
The senior data role in any organisation must position themselves as a cheerleader for data – this is especially important if this is a new position within the organisation. If data is new for your organisation, you may find as a data leader that you are somewhat hindered by siloed ways of thinking about data from the rest of the business.
It is imperative that as you begin this journey to drive change in the way people think about data that you bring people along the journey with you. It is easy to get drawn into complicated jargon and technical terminology, but this can cause misunderstandings and isolate the data leader from the team, particularly if they are not aware of the wider strategy, or the value that good data practices will have in their day-to-day. One of the most important roles that a data leader has to play is sharing and promoting the message about data and its place in the business – explaining the strategy, translating the information into a way the team understands, and maintaining a constant message to the business.
Data, and understanding data, may not be something that your organisation is familiar with, and this is often where education and ‘translation’ is needed.
TAKING THE OFFENSIVE
Taking a more ‘offensive’ role with data rather than a ‘defensive’ role brings data to the forefront of the organisation. This really drives the message that this is not a ‘back office function’ and that the business is making this function a priority. A great way to display this approach is to get your data leader in front of the business – they should be interacting with the different teams to understand their needs, and helping translate the strategy across the organisation, showing how the data strategy is firmly aligned with the business strategy.
Communicating this message out to the rest of the business is essential. To spread the word down through the organisation you need to create data champions across the business so that the right message continues to be spread – remember, as a data leader you are just one person; you can’t be in all places at all times.
BRINGING YOUR TEAM ON THE DATA JOURNEY
Understanding data and deriving value from it isn’t easy, and taking on data programmes can feel like a big mountain to climb. There are no such things as ‘quick wins’ – that would suggest that this is easy and change can happen quickly and offer immediate returns. This is rarely the case with data management programmes. Whilst some organisations go for an ‘all at once’ approach and tip everything on its head, often the best approach is quite the opposite.
Data programmes really lend themselves to agile thinking – striving to deliver early business value can help teams start to see where these data strategies can take them.
Once teams begin to see the value and services that data can offer them directly, there will be a natural shift in the group thinking, and teams will be fighting to get their data needs met rather than resisting the data strategy.
SO, WHAT MAKES A GOOD DATA LEADER?
Leadership skills are essential in a data leader – this is an enabler role. Setting the right goals and creating the data champion community to upskill is essential to changing data behaviours in the organisation. The biggest challenge every data leader will face is culture. Leaders need to be able to change the culture in an organisation, and without support and champions this is an extraordinarily challenging task. Without understanding company culture and human behaviours, any projects in data are likely to fail, if not in the short run, certainly in the long run.
- Show the art of the possible – pick potential champions and show them the ‘art of the possible’. Demonstrate that there are wins to be had.
- Engage with people outside your organisation – see what challenges other organisations are facing, how others are tackling the common challenges and whether there are any learnings you back bring back into your business.
- Remember your audience – change often causes resistance, it’s just human nature. Often people are working hard to be successful in their everyday roles and don’t know how the use of data is going to impact their place in the business. This often leads to disinterest or in some cases resistance.
- Building relationships – take the time to understand why someone is resistant and use this understanding to change the language you use and translate the data strategy in a way they will understand, demonstrating what data can do for them. This is how your will build a data community in your organisation and allow you to thrive as a data leader.