Seven Tools for Effective CDO Leadership

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The position of Chief Data Officer (CDO) is relatively new in the federal government, and emerging regulations are providing leadership opportunities for the CDO. A new law, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, went into effect on January 14, 2019, establishing a set of standards and practices for the United States federal government to modernize its data handling.

Title II of this act is called the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act, which arose out of the 2013 Open Data Policy. The OPEN Government Data Act requires federal agencies to publish a comprehensive inventory of all data assets, made available as machine-readable data in an open format, under open licenses, as well as putting in place a non-politically appointed senior executive (now the CDO) responsible for actively managing data as an asset. “Not just to talk about it, not just try to leverage value for the enterprise, but to treat it like an asset,” said Corlan Budd, Manager of Data, and Analytics, and Technology Strategy with Ernst & Young. He discussed this during his presentation titled The Chief Data Officer as an Effective Leader at the DATAVERSITY® DGVision Conference. He shared seven tools that can help the CDO be a more effective leader, whether in a government agency, or in the private sector.

Key Responsibilities

Budd identified four key responsibilities of the CDO:

  • Managing data as an asset
  • Transforming how the agency interacts with data
  • Value generation
  • Regulatory Compliance

Previously, government agencies treated data like a by-product of the system without much concern about practices around the data. Now that the CDO is responsible for changing the culture and transforming the way the agency interacts with data, compliance with the Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, as well as a number of other data privacy acts, including HIPAA, is within with the CDO’s purview. The CDO is also responsible for value generation, which is measured differently in the government space than it is in the private sector, he said. Rather than valuing the data and trying to monetize it, “we have to support the mission and improve public service,” he said.

Culture and the CDO Challenge

Budd quoted Peter Drucker: “Culture will eat strategy for breakfast.” Building an effective strategy is a waste of time if the culture puts up roadblocks to its success. The key to ensuring strategy is embraced rather than ‘eaten for breakfast,’ Budd said, is leadership, yet, “The culture and the organizational dynamics don’t necessarily line up for success immediately.” Cultural factors are dependent on context, and the organizational structure where the CDO resides, whether that is in finance, or risk, or another part of the organization. Support from the CIO and the dynamics of power above the CDO have an effect on autonomy. Culture issues below the CDO often stem from staff buy-in and stakeholder support.

Funding and Proving Value

The CDO must show the value of the data itself as well as the value of improving the organization’s relationship with data, while managing expectations about how and when this will happen.  Contracts that are project-based, or with more sophisticated capabilities tend to have an easier time getting funding than program-based proposals that could enhance customer value and provide better service company-wide. With some business units, he said, essentially the only value that they get is the ability to operate their program.

Innovation and transformation provide peak value when C-level execs are able to make data-driven decisions, optimize performance, and reduce costs. What often stands in the way of that is culture. The key is to change from a program or business unit focus to an enterprise-wide approach. “Get folks in a room and get them talking,” creating an environment that facilitates conversation among data enthusiasts where they can discuss data issues and leverage data sharing initiatives. This can provide a lot of value and open up possibilities for positive cultural change, he said.

Assessing Culture: Hofstede’s 6 Dimensions of Culture

Budd suggests using three elements of social psychologist Geert Hofstede’s Six Dimensions of Culture as a guide to qualitatively assess the organizational culture: Individualism vs. collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term vs. short-term orientation.

  • Individualism vs. Collectivism: An individualistic culture values individual performance and recognition over playing a role as part of larger extended team or group. Loyalties in an individualistic culture are focused on the individual. Collectivist culture loyalties are focused on groups or departments. When building a team environment, everyone has to understand that in some circumstances they will be recognized for individual accomplishment, but in relationship to data, each person has a role as part of a team. “That helps the overall success of not just the chief data officer, but how effectively we can utilize our data and how much value we can get from our data for the entire organization, not just in that C-suite area.”
  • Short Term vs. Long Term Orientation: Budd was surprised at how prevalent short-term orientation was throughout his organization, with an almost complete lack of interest in any long-term orientation for strategy. The value of a strategy happens over the course of time, so he suggests finding some of the low-hanging fruit without sacrificing longer-term goals. When focusing on moving the needle from short-term orientation toward the long-term orientation side, “The only way I was able to do that was to satisfy some of the short-term need, at least for the moment,” which gave him enough momentum to focus in on some of the longer-term strategy issues.
  • Low vs. High Uncertainty Tolerance: Uncertainty avoidance can be a stumbling block or a wise choice depending on the situation. Concern about investments in new technology is a good idea if the tool is unproven. Stakeholders may have difficulty buying in if there’s a high level of uncertainty about the vision or the likelihood of success, especially if they previously saw a Chief Data Officer who tried something similar and didn’t succeed the first time. With uncertainty avoidance, he considered his efforts a success if there was any move across the halfway point toward risk.

When you come across a situation where you’re on one extreme of the continuum, figure out how you can move that needle culture-wise back to an acceptable area for your strategy to succeed,” he said.

Effective Leadership: Adapt and Connect

Budd found two leadership principles from John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership particularly useful for developing skills needed to adapt to the existing environment and connect with the people in it.

  • The Law of the Lid: Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness. Implementing required changes without buy-in has a negative effect on culture, he said. “There are a lot of things that you just can’t do unless you have consensus.” Understand the importance of developing multiple leadership styles based on the existing culture, such as using a transformative leadership style in some circumstances, and democratic leadership in other circumstances. “When you need to develop consensus, you might have to switch your leadership style to one that’s a little bit more democratic,”
  • The Law of Connection: Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand. A leader needs to develop a personal connectionbefore successfully affecting culture or leading individuals in the organization, said Budd. “Followers don’t necessarily follow a particular thing, but they will follow your vision, and if they connect with your vision, then they will follow you.”

Effective Leadership: Influence and Motivate

Three more of Maxwell’s laws, as well as Jim Collins’ Turning the Flywheel provide guidance for learning how to influence and motivate others:

  • The Law of Explosive Growth: To add growth, lead followers. To multiply, lead leaders. The CDO is in a position to essentially lead the entire agency, because everyone is a consumer of data, he said. Identify a group of data consumers and empower them – enable them to the point where they can become leaders. “Now that you’re leading leaders, your impact for culture change has essentially multiplied.”
  • The Law of Influence: The true measure of leadership is your influence – nothing more, nothing less. Leadership skills build on one another and contribute to a leader’s level of influence.  “If we want to be effective, and the measurement of our effectiveness is our influence, then that’s what we need to make sure we’re honing in on.”
  • The Law of the Big Mo: Momentum is the leader’s best friend. It’s the little things that lead to the big things
  • The Flywheel Concept: Establish momentum early on in the process by getting some wins and providing short-term value. This is similar to riding a bike or turning a flywheel. “The first couple of strides are always really, really difficult, but once you get that momentum going when you’re riding the bike, then the machine does a lot of the work for you.”

Effective Leadership: Sustainability

According to Jim Collins’ Good to Great, effectively leading an organization into greatness entails sustaining a certain level of performance and growth over time. “A leader’s lasting value is measured by how things continue after they’re gone,” said Budd, yet often when a leader leaves, their initiatives fall by the wayside. An effective leader uses Maxwell’s Law of Explosive Growthto build sustainability. “‘It takes a leader to raise a leader,’ so the essential strategy for sustainability is to develop leaders who will support your data initiatives into the future.”

Effective Leadership: First Things First

To manage short-term value expectations, Budd recommends Steven Covey’s concept of ‘first things first.’ With effective prioritizing, a leader is able to focus on values, plan ahead, and have opportunities for networking, relationship-building, and impacting the culture.

Budd uses the Eisenhower Decision Matrix as tool for effectively determining which tasks are important but not urgent, and how to move from reactive to proactive, “Instead of trying to get through the day putting out fires.”

As new activities are added to his plate, Budd uses the chart to ask himself where they fit in the matrix and whether they line up with his priorities and strategy. This process, he said, “provides some pretty good immediate value.” Socializing the Eisenhower matrix can create buy-in and ownership among team members. When all members participate in thinking through where time should be spent and work together to ensure that quadrant one (Important/Urgent) and quadrant two (Important/Not Urgent) are balanced, priorities are shared and value becomes apparent. “The key also is making sure that when you do that, you track the value and you measure it, and you celebrate your win whenever you get one.”

Know Your Leadership Level

John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadershipdefines a cumulative set of qualities for growth as a leader, and Budd suggests focusing on developing leaders in levels three and four. The level three leader has permission from followers and the authority to lead a high-performance team. As they move up to level four or level five, they can multiply their growth, building a sustainable data program and providing value to the organization that will outlast their tenure. Identify one or two leaders for each program, enable them, build them and let them lead, he said. “I don’t have to go and sell my strategy or my implementation to everyone, I’ve got a group of leaders that can help do that.” At level five a leader becomes able to develop leaders that can, in turn, develop leaders. “And now you’ve essentially multiplied your ability to grow.”

Want to learn more about DATAVERSITY’s upcoming events? Check out our current lineup of online and face-to-face conferences here.

Here is the video of the DGVision Presentation:

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

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