Baking it in: Change management as part of data governance


If people are the heartbeat of an organization, data is the blood that moves with each pulse. When everything is flowing smoothly the organization thrives. Unfortunately, it is not hard to imagine instances where something malfunctions. Little by little vital components will slow, break, or shut down.

Is there a way to rejuvenate and revitalize the system? The answer is yes! Half the remedy is change management, and the other half is data governance.

Change management and data governance share similar characteristics, but they are definitely not the same. Change management helps solve business issues by aligning both people and processes to strategic initiatives that will help an organization achieve its business vision. Data governance is the oversight of the enterprise data which drives the business. It encompasses the business framework, the processes and policies surrounding the data, and the day-to-day management of that data.

Let’s say your organization recognizes that it has data quality issues and wants to establish data governance. Often, organizations struggle to kick start the initiative and employees are reluctant to participate. (If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.) Applying the tenets of organizational change management, you can ensure understanding and buy-in of a nascent data governance project.

First, you need to plan: identify the “pain point” or problem area in your organization that is driving the need for data governance. Depending on the scope of that problem, you may carve out a subset—what we call the Small, Controlled Project (SCP)—that serves as your initial data governance initiative.

The SCP is built on achievable, incremental goals. Well-planned SCPs will provide verifiable results and repeatable processes that will help build the momentum necessary to establish and expand data governance within your organization. When planning for your SCP, seek the feedback of stakeholders, outliers, and possible saboteurs. Allowing room for feedback and input will increase employee buy-in.

Second, analyze the environment. Consider which metrics you will report back to executives and assess possible cultural challenges or constraints. From a cultural perspective, is your organization more top-down (executive-driven) or bottom-up (accustomed to more grassroots efforts)? How will this affect the decision making surrounding your SCP? Use the metrics and cultural constraints you identify to draft a delivery model. Make sure to engage business and IT in the process. If possible, empower a data steward to mediate the delivery model conversation.

Third, you need to enlist the people involved or affected by the initiative. Diverse communication channels will keep information circulating in a consistent and appealing manner. Think of alternative ways to reach out to both enthusiastic and hesitant team members.

For example, instead of a standard report based meeting or email chain, you could schedule a lunch-and-learn with business and IT members of the SCP team. Maybe there are skills that both groups need to develop around data quality that will help achieve the goal(s) of the SCP. Bringing the two groups together to focus on learning in an informal way will get everyone working toward a common goal, establish a working dialog, build trust, and promote buy-in. Uncertainty and confusion will breed frustration and disillusionment. A confused mind says NO.

Fourth, you will need to measure progress and success. Evaluate the process and figure out which components succeeded and which did not. Be ready to provide recommendations and next steps to your executives. What other business goals can be achieved data governance initiatives? Don’t forget to spread the word of your success to the rest of the organization and use your win to conquer any remaining naysayers. If your SCP is successful, the stakeholders you enlisted will help you apply the new data governance processes to other business programs.

Think of it this way: change management is like the daily vitamin of your organization. You don’t always want to take it – unless it’s the gummy kind…those are fantastic – but deep down you know it is good for you. Data governance is your daily dose of caffeine. It wakes you up, keeps you going, and without it you will have a major headache. Taken together they can give your organization a longer, healthier life.



About Author

Analise Polsky

Business Solutions Manager

Analise Polsky’s keen understanding of people in diverse cultures gives her depth and insight into data-driven and organizational challenges. As a Thought Leader for SAS Best Practices, she couples her diverse experience as an anthropologist and certified data whiz, to build core assets and deliver dynamic presentations. Her areas of focus include data visualization, organizational culture and change management, as well as data quality and data stewardship. Her multi-lingual background offers a unique ability to help organizations assess strengths and incumbent skills in order to drive strategic shifts in culture, policy and governance, globally. Analise puts the skills she learned while living in the Amazon to use in the corporate jungle – showing organizations how to evolve data practices and principles to meet ever-changing data demands.


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