5 Daily Practices on How to Solve the "People"​ Problem for Digital Transformation
Taylor Culver

Taylor Culver

May 2020

5 Daily Practices on How to Solve the "People"​ Problem for Digital Transformation

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.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.

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Organizations We Have Helped

We pride ourselves on driving tangible business value out of data for our clients. Whether it's starting with you on the ground floor, or jumping into the deep end of your initiative we help clients through developing and honing meaningful data strategies with business impact, along with the implementation of forward thinking data products & data analytics solutions.

Innovative Insurance Brokerage

Our client was facing issues with scale and innovation. They had a core business that was growing and a team of key players but sought incremental growth opportunities.

Seeing a need to drive innovation and technology enabled scale within their services business. Our client set out to build a data-driven platform to automate and align all parties involved in their process to a common platform.

Client built and designed data centric platform and began the process of taking to market with their existing customer base.

World's Largest Brewer of Beer

When it came to data strategy, management, and execution, our client was looking for a second set of eyes. Although the client was aware of the problem, they couldn’t close the gap with technology alone. They lacked an actionable playbook and strategy to operationalize their data ambitions.

Build out executive level playbook to address data opportunities and risks, while aligning to organizational data governance committee to drive forward cross-functional data initiatives.

Data silos were broken down leading to operational changes in enhancing business systems and requesting reports. Projects came with significant P&L impact driving incremental inertia into their data strategy plan.

Technology Enabled Services Firm

With disparate data sources for operational, financial, and customer data, all with different structures and content, executives, team leaders and individual contributors were all operating on different systems and completely misaligned.

Our goal was to ensure we developed a customized, unique solution to improve their services, business intelligence, and their value for internal and external customers.

After taking the time to understand the core data problems of the client beneath the technology and developing the customized solutions to meet their complex challenges, they began to notice results. As a result of our partnership, they saw improved information access, streamlined reporting and an increase in the overall quality of the data of the organization.

Largest US-based Beauty Retailer

Our client was working to offset the risks associated with CCPA & GDPR by documenting and storing all organizational knowledge.

Design business oriented data definitions and map to data in physical systems.

Single repository for all data definitions along with accompanying playbook to drive greater engagement.

What Our Customer's Internal Stakeholders Really Care About

Every company has data. Not every company has a Chief Data Officer. Data oftentimes is a part time job for many. We oftentimes see this manifest differently depending on the role we're working with. You are heard, and we want to hear from you!

Executive Leaders

Drive Competitive Advantage With Data

Allow your data to give you the brilliant insights to need to get ahead of the competition. How you handle your daily operations to your marketing efforts – every piece of data gives you the ultimate competitive advantage.


Clear Organizational Data Strategy

As an executive leader, it’s all about the big picture. Your data strategy must be consistent across the organization to ensure every department is aligned, working towards the same goal and accessing unified data.


Capture Real Data Opportunities

All to often do projects get escalated with high costs and purposeless urgency. "Didn't we just do something like this?" Cut through the noise, get to the facts.


Integrate Data into Every Part of Customer Journey

As you put yourself in your customers’ shoes, how is their experience? Are you sending them outdated, stale, and clunky information without personalization or relevance? Can they consume your data in new or interesting ways?


Direct Data Revenue Attribution

Your data can provide deep insights to better understanding your current and unseen future streams of revenue.

Data Leaders

Culivate Single Source of Truth

Aside from it being incredibly inefficient, sifting through multiple datasets trying to uncover which data is accurate, real, and true causes confusion and frustration, with the potential to have serious internal and external consequences.


Drive Business Ownership of Data

The question is simple – who owns your data? If you don't know, it's probably you. This is a problem.


Improve Data Governance


How you organize your data is much more than just a classification system – it’s the ability to provide quick, timely across to make for happier customers, leaders and fellow colleagues.

Have Exceptional Data Quality

Every piece of data you collect starts to tell a story. Perhaps it’s about a customer’s unique preferences, or maybe it’s related to product performance.


Minimize Data Related Redundancy

How many tools, teams and databases contain or process the same information for the same customer?

Department Heads

Have Powerful Business Insights

As you uncover each piece of information and patterns emerge, it starts to tell a story. Every department has the ability to rapidly transform and innovate – and it begins with the intelligence and analysis of your data.


Increased Team Efficiency

Instead of having haphazard departmental analyses throughout your organization, take ownership for the data you truly need and want.


Data Availability and Transparency

Each company has their own objectives and key results for success – and they often require multiple datasets to get there. This will help to create a culture where data-informed decision making is the norm.


Better User Experience

Depending on the specific function of your department, it’s all about the user experience (both internal and external). To keep your employees and retain your clients, you must think about offering the best user experience possible – starting with your data.


Remove Perceived Roadblocks

As a department leader,it can feel incredibly burdensome to get even the simplest of tasks done. From sending out a marketing email to generating a customer report, sometimes what seems like it should take a few minutes turns into a few months.

Dozens of customers have trusted us to identify and capture millions of dollars of waste due to poorly managed data.

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