Data Strengths organisations need to go beyond the CDO

If an organisation wants to become truly data-centric and deliver data-driven growth, a key stepping stone is the hiring of a Chief Data Officer (CDO). A CDO is vital, but their appointment is just the first step. Many other tasks must be completed in order to achieve this goal. 


Organisations need their leaders to work alongside the CDO to put data at the heart of everything they do. The CDO can’t manage this task on their own. They need the organisation’s leaders to help with the implementation of data culture and long term strategy.  


Data can’t begin and end with one person – the CDO must only be the beginning.  


Empowering the CDO 


As the importance of data increases, the importance of the role that a CDO plays in an organisation grows. In order for the positive effects of data to be felt throughout an organisation, management should be focused on enabling the CDO to deliver data-driven growth.  


To achieve this, they must have a skillset (and mindset) that enables them to share the CDO’s burden. Here are some core competencies, both linked directly to data and some that are not, which we believe management must have to effectively help their CDO:  


  • The importance of data literacy   


Whilst the responsibility to understand the opportunities and challenges that data presents must be shared by individuals other than the CDO, this doesn’t mean that an organisation’s C-suite and decision-makers need to be data experts 


A general level of data literacy should be expected of all employees, not just management, given the ever-growing role now that data plays throughout an organisation. Management, though, must have a level of knowledge which can inform decision-making at a strategic level.  


A high level of knowledge also enables management not to blindly ‘follow the science’ of data, taking the opinion of, say, the CDO as gospel. Data literacy allows management to direct the science, setting an agenda that is aligned with the overall needs of the business.  


  • Behaviours lead to culture 


As we’ve previously talked about on the blog, instilling a philosophy throughout an organisation that is open-minded to all of the possibilities that data can bring means instilling a culture 


Data culture sets out how an organisation approaches data lineage, data quality, data management and data strategy. It’s important for all companies to have a robust data culture, as the organisation will gain more value thanks to better data being collected and a workforce driven by data. But it’s not a silver bullet and it’s not easy to implement – new software and data analytics solutions, for example, do not build the behaviours required to make a lasting impact.  


Building data-driven behaviours and embedding data cultures can lead to long term results. Management needs to be able to step back and understand that this approach will take time and steer the ship accordingly. Working alongside the CDO, management can build a long term vision based on behaviour and culture. 


  • Be open. Make progress.  


Some leaders see feedback from team members as a hindrance rather than a help. In an environment like this, team members are also too quick to accept their leader’s suggestions, that they should be followed without question with a “they want it, let’s build it” mentality.  


But strong leaders know ‘no’ can be the best answer to their demands. That’s because all good questions depend on the outcome trying to be achieved. For example, changing the functionality of a dashboard because it did not work one Tuesday could be wasteful. This isn’t fact-based building, and teams must be open enough to counter when bad suggestions are made.  


Leaders must learn to take ‘no’ for an answer, respecting the decision making of their staff as if it were their own. They must also always be conscious that they are measuring the right thing, confident that they’re not just measuring an outcome – i.e. broken dashboard on a Tuesday – but they’re measuring a journey – i.e. what is the dashboard’s purpose?  


Establishing a culture where it is okay to question or be said ‘no’ to is vital to making progress. Conflict forces teams and leaders to make better decisions. It can even be healthy to encourage a Devil’s advocate in team planning, ‘red teaming’ we call it, which is often used to counteract and challenge the plan. Through productive conflict and transparency, progress can be made.  


  • Strategy + vision = long term results 


Management must also understand not what data can do for their organisation today, but what it can do for them over the long term, planning a data strategy that can guide their organisation for years to come. In a fast-evolving sector, it’s hard to know what trends will appear, but by being data literate, welcoming conflict and working alongside a talented data team, management can chart a course for the coming years that ensures the organisation gets the most from their data.  


Management can’t chase the latest, shiniest thing. Rather, they must think long term in a considered manner. In a fast paced sector like data, leaders can struggle with Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) in terms of staying ahead of industry trends, especially if rivals are making progress. But the focus must be what is right for the business over the long term and this must guide which innovation is right to chase and what resources should be allocated to solutions.  


Of course, technology trends do not fit neatly into 5 or 10-year plans, but with a clear vision in mind, an organisation can set itself to move in an assured direction. They can also build an adaptable plan, preparing themselves for inevitable change.  


Sharing the load  


When it comes to data, a CDO is the most important person in the organisation. But being the most important doesn’t mean they should shoulder the burden alone. They need help because without it, the data burden will be too heavy for them to carry and an organisation will end up running a sub-optimal approach to data.  


It’s vital that management support the CDO and that means interacting and strategising with them on their level. Hence it’s vital that management get up to speed so that they can work proficiently with data. As a collective, working alongside the CDO, this group of individuals can help an organisation to optimise its approach to data. And that’s what creates long term business value. 

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