How can you (and data) make an impact right from the start? #CDOSummerSchool

Photo by Rebrand Cities from Pexels Woman Standing on the Center Table With Four People on the Side

Are you setting yourself up to succeed as a Chief Data Officer? Does your leadership style help or hinder? What will set the tone for your tenure? Join me for a recap of #CDOSummerSchool #DataLiteracy.

Once again I joined Carruthers and Jackson in collaboration with Collibra for the third week of Chief Data Officer Summer School. Week 3 focused on the first 100 days, the next 300 days, and how to build the foundations of a successful tenure with authentic leadership. Our hosts Caroline Carruthers and Peter Jackson were joined by Executive Coach Hilary McLellan. Let’s dive right in.

We learned why the first 100 days are a critical time for the Chief Data Officer. You’re likely new to the role, you have the benefit of fresh eyes, and an opportunity to quickly show the organisation the promise and benefits of data. It’s a blank slate, which can be scary, but also a blessing.

I found the heart of week three to be emotional intelligence. As a new leader in an organisation, your emotional intelligence will help you navigate the first 100 days so you can:

  1. Build the relationships that pay off in the long term: From finding allies, converting advocates to cheerleaders, to identifying naysayers, this period is crucial. Take the time to get to know people and resist the urge to speed up. You’ll be working with these folks, so build rapport beforehand. Have a coffee (and some cake!) with key people in the organisation. Keep the conversation focused on them — what they do, what their aims are, what they want to deliver. You can build rapport remotely, so don’t put it off.
  2. Engage early to raise the profile of data: This is the time to get people’s attention and set the tone for your tenure. Use the opportunity to engage and educate especially about the art of the possible. Some folks might resist change and the reasons vary but a common one is that they don’t understand what data is or what’s in it for them. Make sure they can see data delivering benefits for them and use language they recognise.
  3. Build the case for change: You’ll need to win hearts, minds and pockets to make effective changes around data. In your first 100 days, begin to understand, document and verify the business case for change. I found the emphasis on the business case useful after years of advocating for data from a technical perspective of “good data is good for everyone”. Examples of how to build the case and some early value made this session really valuable. We touched on improving spreadsheets and making the best use of vendors as good ways to find early value without building legacy debt.
  4. Build your mental model of the organisation: What’s the business strategy? Who are the key players? How does the business work? How does finance and procurement work? Where is money being spent vs being saved? Where is money being spent on data that might not be delivering? Understanding the organisation better will help you identify early value (or quick wins) and with getting the basics right.
  5. Get the basics right: You need to deliver in your first 100 days to demonstrate your value and the value of data. You also need to make a start on getting the basics right. Data governance, information architecture and engagement are strong foundations for the rest of the journey. You won’t have everything sorted out in the first 100 days! Use this opportunity to engage people about governance, start drawing them in to support governance and decisions. Understand what data is used, where it’s coming from, where it goes, how valued it is. This is the time to find the gaps in your team so you can start the next 300 days on a strong footing.

Summing up the first 100 days? Stop! Collaborate and Listen!

Now let’s take a break here to focus on emotional intelligence. Executive Coach Hilary McLellan tied success as a Chief Data Officer to success as a leader. You’ll need both authentic leadership and emotional intelligence to bring people along on the journey.

Bill George’s Authentic Leadership Model

Touching on Bill George’s authentic leadership model, Hilary coached us through the characteristics and components of an authentic leader. This model centres on knowing and working on yourself so you can be a grounded, compassionate leader. A leader who is able to listen to all arguments without responding with an emotional knee-jerk when you feel threatened or encounter resistance. At this point, I’ll also recommend reading Bill George’s seminal work in this area or picking up an emotional intelligence for leadership work that speaks to you. I’ve had Dare to Lead by Bene Brown for a while — good time to start that journey.

Taking a break and a breath before you begin the journey of the next 300 days was Peter’s advice. The next 300 days means a change of pace and focus, so time to look back, review and refresh yourself. We’ll be building on everything we learned in the first 100 days, so we can:

  • Review and reflect: Draw a breath and think about what you know now. What did you learn about the organisation? How is it running? How you’ll get to where you’re going?
  • Write a compelling story: One that takes the organisation from now to where they want to get be and how you’ll help them get there. Get your story nailed and written down — you’ll need to tell it in different ways to different audiences in the next 300 days.
  • Lean back, make a plan: Now’s the time to start thinking and planning how you’ll deliver the value that makes a difference. Your plan will be developing and emerging — it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • Lean on our teams: Thanks to the engagement in the first 100 days, your team can start to do some of the legwork. By now, if they get what you’re aiming for, they can cheerlead and test your ideas with the rest of the business. You can’t deliver by yourself, so get a team in place and working at pace as soon as possible.
  • Deliver the immediate data strategy: You’ll be creating a target data strategy for the long haul, now is the time to deliver the immediate or tactical data strategy. This will help enormously when talking about the big vision — the emerging strategy that might take 3–5 years to deliver.
  • Develop the target data strategy: Start by building a strategy that’s agile and flexible. Take a portfolio view by working out where money is being spent or could be spent on data in better ways. These areas could be rich targets for your quick wins that will help you justify asking for big ticket items later on.

Week 3 was rich with lessons and detail. What I’ve summarised here doesn’t do justice to the wisdom shared by Caroline and Peter, as well as rich responses to questions in chat.

I can’t recommend summer school enough. This session alone was a masterclass in getting things done as a Chief Data Officer and a well-rounded leader. There’s a ton of lessons here even if you’re already in post and want to regain that momentum.

I missed the live session and caught up with a recording, so I didn’t see Caroline and Peter’s animated expressions but the banter more than made up for it.

Till next week (which incidentally is tomorrow!)

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