This installment of Rich Peters' series on “Delivering Value Through Data” continues with what he calls the keystone of your data strategy: change management.

In the most recent article in this series, "Delivering Value Through Data, Part 6A," we introduced what I consider to be the keystone for your data strategy. We call it change management, but it addresses the people component of your strategy. Why is it the keystone? Because people are the key for each of the other components of your data strategy.

  • People choose and implement your technology.
  • People create, document and follow (or don't) your processes.
  • People create, modify, integrate, analyze and use your data.
  • People set your organization's strategy and correlating data strategy.

In article 6A we discussed the first three “E’s” of change management, which are Engagement, Education and Empowerment. These “E’s” are the framework for helping the people in your organization through change. In this edition, part 6B, we are looking at the last two of the five E’s: Experience and Empathy. These address helping people absorb, accept and embrace the changes. We also have some tips on how to be successful at integrating change management throughout your data strategy process.

Be Proactive About Change

4. Experience

Experience refers to how people learn and absorb information and change. There are two main ways to foster experience. For the organization, it is through the quick wins and the implementation of the roadmap. However, for a smaller set of power users and key influencers, there is a proactive way to create experience. Build temporary data discovery solutions targeted at integrating data to solve some of your current challenges. These solutions can be precursors to quick wins or other items on your roadmap. The great news is that you already have data all around you, and you can quickly create "new" data experiences for your people.

One of the first ways to start building a new data experience for your people is with a straightforward question – "What data do you need to make a decision?" or for some people, "What data would help in your daily activities?" These are also some of the key questions during the Assessment phase where we are gathering the demands for different types of data.

  • Data hoarders – want all the data they can get in case they might need it someday.
  • Data assumers – want little data other than a few key facts they assume will answer the question.
  • Data analytics – want breadth and depth of data specific to the question where they can try different scenarios to see how it plays out over time.

For each of these groups of people, give them a sample of your current data (and, if possible, the future data) in the manner they originally asked for and then show how they use the data to decide on or run their daily operations. If it is the current data, are there still additional needs and why? If it is the future data – does it meet their needs?

For each group – how much of the data are they using? Do they need more data? Do they require less? Part of this proactive experience effort is to help break down the fear around data. Is having too much or too little data creating analysis paralysis? Working with these critical users can help you build out a better education and training plan for your implementation. The data owners for each of the data domains must be involved in this process. If the owners don't understand the demand and usage of the data, then it will be hard to make good decisions around data standards and data access.

During your stakeholder analysis, you may identify some key influencers who are resistant or may be seen as roadblocks. While their needs may not rise to a level of investment for a quick win, it may be worth investing in temporary solutions that help turn them from a skeptic to a supporter or even an evangelist. I cannot overstate the positive impact of having key influencers who can demonstrate the value of the strategy. This is even more powerful if the influencer was originally a skeptic. Given the quality and abundance of modern tools, there are many ways to provide these solutions. I can be helpful to create a data discovery environment where you periodically bring in raw data and clean/fix the master data attributes or create new hierarchies so the users see a "preview" of the future. It can also benefit the IT organization to see how key users will use the future state data. It can be as simple as giving access to data via a simple database or, for some users or organizations, even a spreadsheet. These are meant to be pretty quick to give the users experience and value without distracting from the primary efforts.

One of the most common fears people have about data is the speed of getting access to it, a well-founded fear in many organizations. Many organizations struggle with questions around data ownership, granting access between business groups and IT groups, outdated technology and security breaches. Getting some of your power users and critical influencers hands-on with the "new" data can give the data owners insight into who should have access to the data, while providing the IT and security teams with insight into how the data is used and ways to store and properly grant access. This will probably reinforce the planning already in place, but the hands-on experience may catch some gaps before rolling out the full implementation. It can also benefit you to test out changes to data access through your quick wins.

Help People Become Comfortable with Change

5. Empathy

In your regular communications, empathy is important. However, when dealing with change and stressful situations, it is critical. Using empathy can increase comfort with the change and help build community, ownership, and commitment. A data strategy can change someone's role or even create new organizational structures. The fear of these types of change can be paralyzing. Showing empathy during this process can be incredibly impactful if there is more than one change or stressor that people are enduring.

Listen and make sure your people know that they are heard. However, be clear that hearing them does not mean that everything they want will come true. Having empathy does not mean overcommitting to changes that may not come to fruition. Frankly, not all requests for technology, process, data, or security changes benefit individuals or organizations. People often request to solve current pain points with a band-aid that does not address the true root causes. The assessment will point out many of those issues. However, it is vital that the individuals feel heard and acknowledged and believe that their input will be taken seriously.


Other articles in this series, by Rich Peters:

1. Delivering Value Through Data

2. How to Write Your Data Vision and Mission Statements

3. How to Build a Data Strategy - Part 1: Key objectives and capabilities

4. How to Build a Data Strategy - Part 2: The assessment

5. How to Build a Data Strategy - Part 3: The roadmap 

6. Change Management - Part A

There will be errors as you do the assessment, road mapping, implementation(s), and roll out the new processes. It is important to allow for these errors and build in safeguards so that they can be used as teaching tools. When people err but feel supported, they can focus on why it happened and how to correct it. Consequently, they will become supportive of the process and the strategy. Some of these errors are due to a lack of understanding of the change(s). Leaders need to take responsibility for these gaps and ascertain why they happened. Taking responsibility allows people to focus on how to improve while trusting that the leadership will get them the knowledge they need in the future. In these cases, empathy and education are closely aligned.

The roadmap can also establish empathy. You can enhance the Data Strategy roadmap to show all other changes or commitments that people need to make in that timeframe. By being upfront and showing the obligations, you also acknowledge the resources and time it will take to succeed. If there are questions about delivering or absorbing the changes, you have a framework everyone can align with for the conversations.

Clear priorities and leveraging the roadmap can be beneficial. Most organizations have multiple initiatives going on at one time. Bringing these facts forward and acknowledging the additional burden it may impose is essential. Having a clear plan for resources and leadership commitments is critical. When people in an organization see something as "another unfunded mandate," it quickly loses credibility and support. Some organizations have fallen into this trap more than others. If that is true for your organization, you will have a higher bar to clear and may need to put more upfront resources and commitments together to change the expectations.

Another powerful part of personal communication is leveraging quick wins. People like to feel success. The participants in the quick wins can have that "we did it!" feeling of success, and help you spread it. Building in time for the quick-win teams to become resources or evangelists can be extremely valuable long-term. There is nothing quite like being able to reach out to a peer in your organization who is successful and is willing to share the "secrets" of that success with you.

The last part of empathy is to make your communications personal. Leverage the stakeholder matrix to segment the groups and personalize the messages. Many of your organization's leaders worked their way up through the organization or similar organizations. Personal anecdotes about struggles and their expectations for the strategy can be compelling. Humans like to feel connected to other humans, so take advantage of this by humanizing your communications.

Some closing thoughts on Change Management:


  • Understand that people absorb change at different rates and in different ways.
  • Promote questions and concerns – engagement and interaction are critical.
  • Use your vision, mission and especially the assessment phases as change management efforts.
  • Get help if you need it – don't waste your resources on process changes and technology if the people won't use them. 


  • Be heavy-handed with top-down edicts and unfunded mandates.
  • Use generic messaging that is meaningless to your people.
  • Excuse bad behavior – mistakes and learning will happen, but there is a difference between a mistake or learning and purposefully making bad choices. 

We find that most of our clients need help in change management more than in any other area.

The change management process starts when you are defining your vision and mission. Having experienced people guide you through these processes is invaluable. Clear vision and mission statements create ownership and pride.

The change management support is vital during the assessment phase where organizations struggle with how to do an objective assessment of all the domains, including the tough questions around talent and organizational structure. These topics are sensitive, and many organizations find that having outside help can ease the stress and get people to open up more.

Change management is an effort to ensure your organization is prepared for implementing the strategy by genuinely changing the culture, so that once implemented, it becomes part of the fabric of the organization.

Investing in your people and change management will drive better decisions earlier in the process. This will enable better methods, better technology choices, better data ownership while minimizing stress and rework.

In the next article, we will address how to tie all the work you have done so far –your vision and mission statements, assessment, roadmap and change management efforts – to deliver your strategy.

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