Changing the Way We Do Things Around Here

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In Data Management, designing the required controls and processes are not enough.  There has to be an absolute focus on bringing people along with you from day one!  Setting up this capability has to be about transforming ‘the way we do things around here’.  This article suggests a short term and longer term approach to address the ‘people factor’.

Jacqueline Harrison, Data & Information Manager, National Grid

Jacqueline will be presenting the following session:  Establishing Data Management within a Large Regulated Utility at our Data Governance Conference Europe 2017, 15-18 May 2017


We traditionally talk about Data Management in terms of the governance structures we need to setup, the roles and responsibilities we need to allocate and the processes and controls we need to design to be deployed within the business.  These are very important but are not enough!  These alone will not give us the capability we need to create a sustained and embedded approach to controlling our data.  We need to address the people factor.  We need to create new beliefs, behaviours and attitudes around data.  We need to create new habits around data.  Eventually we will no longer be driving change.  We will have simply developed ‘the way we do things around here.’  And the ‘way we do things around here’ is to bake in the right controls and practices into our everyday work and routines.

So how do we go about making this happen in the short and longer term?

Firstly, we need to create an engagement campaign.  

  • This is ‘engagement’ and not just simply ‘communications’ because we need to trigger the right conversations to happen so that our people understand why data is important to our organisation and how controlled data can make the day job easierfor our people.
  • We need to outline some very simple, straightforward, actionable things that can start to make the change we need.
  • The tone of these engagements needs to be right.  Show empathy with the manager trying to make sense of conflicting figures.  Demonstrate an understanding for the individual struggling to understand how to report a regular data quality problem.
  • It’s important to strike the right balance around making the case for change.  We can talk about the benefits for the organisation but it’s also about equipping individuals to do their job in a more satisfactory way.
  • And we need an engagement ‘campaign’ because people won’t understand this straight away.  They need a series of interactions to gradually build.  Over time, some of the messages will  Over time, some will be remembered.  Over time, some will be actioned.

Secondly, does this all need to be executed in one large programme?


We need to think about the individual little ‘nudges’ to be encouraged top-down and bottom-up in the organisation.

What do we mean by ‘nudges’?

They are the small incremental sets of changes we can encourage to be actioned from executive level downwards and from staff upwards.  These are the small things that can collectively snowball to become the new ‘way we do things around here’.

What do examples of these look like?

  • Top-down, the leadership can start to create challenge on data being used to make decisions.  They might start to challenge authors of governance documents to automatically provide quality ratings and provenance of data used.  This should trigger a cascade effect to reflect similar on all supporting input materials.
  • The ‘nudges’ staff can make centre around the data that’s in their own domain and influence.  Do they action the appropriate leaver processes to manage user access to data and systems?  Have they updated their own records with contact details, job titles and location etc.? Are they regularly reworking and correcting data rather than getting root causes fixed?  Do they know how to report a data issue and who to go to?

Thirdly, we need to think about the more strategic path to embedding the right approach to data and Data Management.  The little ‘nudges’ need to be executed in the context of a bigger picture, so what might this more strategic approach involve?

  • Induction processes enhanced to outline the criticality of data to the organisation and explain the consequences of getting it wrong.  Let’s make sure all new joiners understand this and have the key points established as part of their introduction to the organisation.
  • Training and development approaches created to establish the right skills base for those tasked with delivering in Data Management roles.  These will not just concern the ‘technical data management’ competencies but must also encompass the softer communication and engagement skills necessary for these roles.  We don’t have to simply concentrate on sending people on courses or pushing lots of e-learning at them.  There are creative ways of developing people e.g. we can establish mentoring programmes, we can establish job shadowing and we can form communities of practice.
  • Management and leadership engaged to reinforce what good data management looks like, how they can role model the right behaviours around data and how data management can be embedded into their everyday business management.
  • Ongoing communications developed to reinforce early engagement messages and just keep the data agenda at the front of minds.

In conclusion, setting up an effective Data Management capability must centre around our people.  They are key to making our journey a success.  Let’s help create new beliefs, behaviours and attitudes around data.  Let’s create new habits around data. Let’s help people create the new ‘way we do things around here!’

Note that the opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of National Grid.

Jacqueline Harrison has worked to deliver data focused business change in several sectors including telecoms, finance, pensions, and fuel charge cards before joining National Grid in 2008.  In all of these, the same challenge exists: to establish sufficiently controlled and managed data to achieve a target business outcome.  As Data and Information Manager at National Grid, Jacqueline has been core to leading the case for change to establish improved data management in National Grid.  More recently, she has developed corporate wide Data Management principles, developed a suite of minimum standards and authored supporting guidelines to support business implementations.

Copyright Jacqueline Harrison

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