Is anyone really surprised to learn that apparently “data” is now a people issue? According to Forbes, "84% of digital transformations fail largely due to people not knowing what the problem really is or how to effectively allocate their time to solving it."
Digital transformation starts with self awareness, acceptance and ownership of the problem not with buzzwords, solutions with funny names or unicorn talent. It takes a village, with complimentary skills working towards a clear solution that solves an exact problem.
Let's be upfront and honest with one another. Isn’t there a chasm in your organization between your data analytics teams and the rest of the business? It's often a quiet conflict. People seem to mostly work well together but the results are less than inspiring. More time and energy is spent talking about what could and should be versus execution; and execution can come with high expectations and less than stellar results.
Savvy business professionals, on the one hand, are quickly moving from Excel & Pivot Tables to SQL & Python to drive innovation and improve productivity, to be called "shadow IT" by technologists. On the other hand, savvy technologists are leaving their teams for companies where technology teams work in concert with the business because of frustration with the level of impact they are having. This tension is both unproductive and unnecessary. What’s needed from both parties is leadership.
One of my all-time favorite leadership books is The Leadership Challenge, which I was first introduced to as an undergraduate student at Santa Clara University. Authored by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, it offers an operating system for leadership based upon their extensive research on what people are doing when at their personal-best as leaders. Allow me to apply, what they refer to as The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership, to how business leaders and data teams can work together more effectively, achieve greater results with data in leading successful digital transformations.
- Model the Way: Whether you're a business professional or a data professional, you can model the way by being clear about your values and priorities but endeavoring to achieve a consensus on shared values. People follow those with genuine passion and enthusiasm, and if you can’t get excited about an idea, how can you expect anyone else to. It’s essential that you don’t make promises you can’t keep, and your personal credibility in this regard is your brand reputation. Roll up your sleeves and be part of the solution. Learn about the issues that others care about because they are unlikely to care much about, or for, you if they don’t feel that you care about them and their needs.
- Inspire a Shared Vision: No one likes to be told what to do. If you find yourself barking at the data team because they aren't doing exactly what you want, or conversely the data team is telling the business that this is what they're getting and tough – well, either is a losing strategy. It's very easy to forget that a member of the data team is quite capable and could be limited by a bigger problem such as legacy technologies. Take the time to build consensus and document a shared vision that other people can get excited about. Black box, skunkworks projects will be met with years of resistance to adoption if teams don't feel included or have visibility to the intended purpose and benefits. Otherwise the day-to-day tug of war about today's fire yields less than desired results.
- Challenge the Process: This leadership practice doesn’t mean that you throw people under the bus or hold them accountable for business failures. Usually the people closest to the problems are the ones trying to solve it and subsequently face the largest consequences. Take the time to understand why things are the way they are, and conversely if it's a familiar problem to you then be open-minded to what might be an ill-informed opinion, or a possibly brilliant alternative. People need to be supported if you are asking them to something they have never done before. Sometimes a fresh perspective can get you out rut. All too often technologists get defensive of solutions, and business folks think inflexibly in terms of process. Be willing to learn because that’s what “experiments” are intended to initially produce. There is common ground, so be more than okay with challenging the way you think and be open to new possibilities.
- Enable Others to Act: Digital transformations start with a few key people but won't ever get momentum unless many other people get invested just as much as you are. No, this doesn't mean scheduling mandatory online training that offers little guidance beyond the obvious. Help others be the leader that you have become in this digital transformation by showing how building the bridge between X teams drove Y results and how this relationship and process can achieve similar transformations. No one, including the CEO, influences everyone in the company. To make a digital transformation viral, you need to enable others to be able to do exactly what you have done for your particular use case. Be of good spirit and trust that you can find and build upon common ground, as in “all for one, and one for all.”
- Encourage the Heart: Babies may be the only ones who like to be changed. Asking people to do things outside their comfort zone is hard on many levels. In order to know what makes the people you work with tick; you have got to get to know them. Armed with this knowledge you can creatively recognize them for what they accomplish and who they are. Recognition is not a one-size fits all process. Find a balance between recognizing individual achievements and showing appreciation for the proverbial village it takes to achieve anything extraordinary. People perform best under stress when they feel connected and supported by others, so make sure you’ve created that foundation. When you can demonstrate that people can realize their individual aspirations by achieving collective objectives, then they will jump on the opportunity to be on that team.
So, where are you in your data journey and digital transformation? Are you finding conversations going in circles and the needle is just not moving forward fast enough? Ask yourself, whether on the business or technology side of the organization is you are spending enough time understanding one another's pain points and goals? If not, that's a good place to start and you can take advantage of these five leadership practices to put some momentum into that change.
To make a digital transformation viral, others need to be enabled to do exactly what you have done for your particular use case.
Digital transformation starts with self-awareness, acceptance and ownership of the problem not with buzzwords, solutions with funny names or unicorn talent. It takes a village, with complementary skills working towards a clear solution that solves an exact problem.