Selling Data Governance: How To Win Friends And Influence People

In Data Governance, Master Data Management by IRM UK1 Comment

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Over the last ten years I have been lucky to work with a variety of client organisations on Data Governance engagements.   These organisations have ranged greatly in size, complexity and global reach, spanning many industry verticals including government, manufacturing, services, utilities, charities, pharma-technology, insurance and so on.

Nigel Turner, Principal Information Management Consultant EMEA, Global Data Strategy
Nigel will be presenting the two-day course ‘Data Governance: A Practical Guide’ via Live Streaming 18-19 June 2020
. He will also be presenting the course ‘Data Governance: A Practical Guide‘ face-to-face and via live streaming 19-20 November 2020, London.
This article was previously published here.

Although every client engagement throws up unique challenges and opportunities, there are always three questions which arise time and again, and are key to creating and establishing a successful and enduring Data Governance initiative.  These questions are:

  • How do I convince senior executives and key stakeholders in my organisation that Data Governance is worth investing time and resource in?
  • What data domains, types, sources etc. should be within the scope of a formal Data Governance programme and how should this be determined?
  • How should responsibility and accountability for these data domains be allocated?

In my previous January 2020 GDS blog I explored ways of how Data Architecture can help to answer both the ‘What data?’ and ‘How should responsibility?’ questions.   In this blog I will highlight some key tips about how to sell the value of Data Governance to executives and those in your organisation whom you need to get on board to successfully sail (and sell) your Data Governance ship to the new promised land.

For those of us who work with data every day, we recognise its critical importance and the need to leverage it and so increase its value to our organisations.   We also know that to achieve this we need to make people personally responsible for data through data ownership and data stewardship, practices that are at the core of Data Governance.  But to the people we are trying to convince to give us the backing to make this happen, it’s often not as obvious.  They invariably see the world through a different lens, one where day to day priorities and short term deadlines usually dominate their daily working lives.  So Data Governance has to compete with these for attention, and at best can often be seen as a nice to have, but maybe next year… or the year after.

So how can you convince people that Data Governance is something to be invested in today, and not in the future after today’s problems are solved?  Here are a few suggestions that might help you to achieve this if this is a barrier for you in your Governance efforts:

  • Show them how today’s problems are often caused by data issues that Data Governance will start to address and solve.  To do this first link your Data Governance initiative directly to the priorities and goals of your organisation.  Many businesses want to grow revenues, reduce costs, improve productivity, digitise their processes and so on.  All these aspirations have one thing in common – they rely on good data to achieve them.  Growing revenues usually relies on better marketing; better marketing relies on better data.  Low productivity is often associated with the need to rework orders, invoices etc. because the originals contained errors; errors are often the inevitable outcome of bad data.  Whenever I have been challenged about the value of Data Governance, I often say that Data Governance is not a choice between doing it or not.   Every organisation that manages data (and who doesn’t today) is doing Data Governance now, but usually doing it inefficiently and badly, waiting until problems arise, fixing them reactively and doing the same when the problem rears its head again, which it inevitably will.   That constitutes Data Governance, but is doing it inefficiently and expensively.  Formal Data Governance does it better through being more proactive by preventing problems before they occur.  So the choice is really between how you do it, not whether you do it.
  • Don’t try to sell Data Governance by wide ranging arguments around exploiting data assets, optimising the value of data etc.  This is too generic and so meaningless for most people.  Instead be specific.  Talk to a wide range of business and IT people across your organisation about the data problems they encounter every day.  Collect these and create real use cases, for instance a failure of a marketing campaign caused by an inability to target it at the relevant segments of your customer base, or the level of returned packages at the Despatch department because orders could not be delivered because of incorrect or incomplete addresses.  These stories help to bring Data Governance to life by putting real flesh on the bones of your Governance proposition.  It’s a well established scientific fact that people tend to connect with and remember stories far better than broad, sweeping generalities.
  • Link your organisation’s goals and the data dependencies to these specific stories.  Use this to show how badly governed data impacts your company’s ability to achieve its overall aims, and use the stories to highlight the day to day realities of these failures.  Doing this helps to link the overall organisational goals with coal face problems, thereby emphasising both the strategic and tactical benefits of a Governance programme as it works to tackle the failures.
  • Once you’ve gathered this evidence, it’s important to develop a sales pitch for investment (finance, people and time) in Data Governance.  I always suggest preparing three specific pitches:
  1. A 2 minute ‘Elevator Pitch’.  This should simply state what Data Governance is, why your organisation needs it, how are you going to deliver it, and what the expected benefits will be.  It’s best memorised and replayed whenever you need it.  This is useful when asked what your job is and what you are trying to achieve.  It is also valuable when you are part of a Data Governance core team to ensure all members of the team relay the same basic messages.  
    1. A 10 minute ‘Taster Pitch’.  Create a PowerPoint deck to expand on the above which can be delivered by you and others when you get an opportunity to talk to a senior manager or if you can get an invite to scheduled team meetings held across the organisation. Try to use pictures to illustrate your key points – again these are more impactful than text lists and remember to include some of the stories you’ve collected.  Use the ones most relevant to the audience of any particular pitch.
    1. A 30 minute ‘Full Pitch’.  Expand on the Taster Pitch above to provide a more in depth overview of your Governance plan.  This can be used to brief key potential stakeholders and to convince people to become data owners and data stewards.
  • One final tip, as this is often forgotten when we try to sell the value of Data Governance.  When preparing the pitches and talking to others avoid at all costs using jargon and language we often use as data management specialists.  People won’t be inspired to act and support you if you talk in a way that makes it all sound very complicated and difficult.  Using the technical language of data management when talking with non-specialists is a total turn off.  When selling you are trying to connect with people both at an emotional and logical level.  If you want people to be enthusiastic and active participants in your Governance journey, use simple business language that all can understand and relate to.  The great business leaders and orators always use simple language to inspire and motivate others.  You need to do the same.

Keeping it simple can be hard for many people who end up in a Data Governance role as they often come into it from technical data management backgrounds such as database administration, BI analysis, data quality, metadata management and so on.  Having to actively sell new ways of working to a business and persuading others to act does not always come naturally to those of us with these backgrounds.  So it’s well worth investing some of your time in learning how sales people operate.  Like most things in life, Data Governance won’t sell itself. To paraphrase Dale Carnegie’s classic 1936 book title, you need to win friends and influence people.

Nigel Turner is Principal Information Management Consultant EMEA at Global Data Strategy. He is also a long standing Data Management Association (DAMA) UK Committee member. Nigel has worked in information management for over 25 years, both as an in-house implementer of information management solutions at British Telecommunications (BT) plc and subsequently as an external consultant to more than 150 clients, including the Environment Agency, British Gas, HSBC, Intel US and others. Nigel is a well-known thought leader in data management, has published several white papers & articles and is a regular invited speaker at international Information Management conferences and events.

Copyright Nigel Turner, Principal Information Management Consultant EMEA, Global Data Strategy


  1. It’s so true that the hardest part of change is motivating and coordinating people to all move in the same direction, especially when their instinctual reaction is to switch off at the word “governance”. I must admit to spending the early part of my career avoiding anything labelled as “governance”, as it tended towards committee meeting talkfests. But Nigel makes a good point that you’re still doing governance even when it’s just reactive, and those stories can be used to help people understand what problem needs to be solved. Since joining GDS I have seen much better options for putting in place proactive and practical data governance, which has been a great learning experience.

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