An unsettling truth about data governance


“People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.” I’m certain Ralph Waldo Emerson wasn’t describing the disruptive nature of data governance when he wrote those words. Nonetheless, his words are an apt way to describe the change-adoptive culture that must be embraced for data governance to be successful.

However, it’s essential to understand that embracing a change-adoptive culture does not mean forcing change with a heavy hand. Change is unsettling, but trying to force people to change will be even more unsettling, which is why collaboration should be the only force data governance uses.

People wish to settle for doing things the same ways that they have always done them, even if those well-trod ways haven’t been working out as well recently. And because change is disruptive, people may reflexively look for ways to disrupt a change. I have even witnessed more effort expended resisting a change than the effort that would have been required implementing the change.

So, instead of trying to institute comprehensive changes all at once, which only increases change resistance, data governance should be an exploration of the adjacent possible, a slight change to the existing policies and procedures that will help get the organization moving in new direction.

Though most data governance maturity models start with a chaotic, undisciplined state and end with a state of data governance nirvana, neither the former nor the latter is common. Most organizations oscillate somewhere between those extremes. Every organization follows some policies and procedures (even if they’re not well-documented) that everyone settled on for the simple reason that they proved good enough at the time. Shaking people loose from those habits is never easy.

An unsettling truth about data governance is that it can not be successful without being disruptive, without unsettling people. Yes, as Emerson said, only as far as people are unsettled is there any hope for them; but the only hope for you is making sure people understand why they’re being unsettled, why they’re being asked to change. Which is why, as Carol Newcomb explained, “data governance can be disruptive in a positive way if people recognize the end goal and ultimate business value.”


About Author

Jim Harris

Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality (OCDQ)

Jim Harris is a recognized data quality thought leader with 25 years of enterprise data management industry experience. Jim is an independent consultant, speaker, and freelance writer. Jim is the Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality, an independent blog offering a vendor-neutral perspective on data quality and its related disciplines, including data governance, master data management, and business intelligence.


    • Jim Harris

      Thanks for your comment, Ken.

      Yes, loss aversion, although most often discussed in behavioral economics, is a common obstacle to changes of any kind.

      We even fear losing something that we know we should replace. But, as Shakespeare said, often we would “rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.”

      Thanks for the nudge (sorry for the bad pun) toward an interesting book.

      Best Regards,


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