What happens when your employees think they are doing better with Data Governance than they actually are 

25th July 2022

The classic start point in understanding your Data Governance need in an organisation is to assess your data maturity.

Once you have chosen which data maturity assessment to use, this assessment will tell you where you are doing well and not so well.  Then as the theory goes, it will allow you to work out your specific data governance deliverables – for example your data ownership approach, what needs to be in your data quality toolkit and how you ensure there is a common business language for data.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it?

But what happens when you and your data team know your maturity hasn’t got past maturity level one, but the people in the organisation believe they are doing far better.  So why do we need to bother with Data Governance?

Your pain point here is you have a data culture issue whereby the perception is very different from reality.  But how do you fix this?

Before you do anything, you first need to tackle why there is this disconnect?

It will be due to several overlapping factors, but the most obvious suspects will be some or all of the following:-

Have employees misunderstood what data governance is actually about? 

It is worth making sure that employees are not confusing data protection and security with data governance.  It’s a very common problem.  These activities are all interlinked, but some employees see compliance with GDPR and ensuring their data is secure as the key data governance deliverables.

If you are experiencing this, you need to work with your colleagues in Protection and Security to help dispel these myths.  In addition, there will be some communication and education to be done to help your employees understand the differences.

Is there a lack of communication at the Executive level that could lead to employees concluding things are going well  

If your business is not communicating with employees about certain topics, the default position for many people will be to assume everything is going well.  Lack of Executive visibility is a killer for most data governance programmes as employees need to be told that things are not good enough.

An Executive (ideally the CEO) throwing in some “hand grenades” of truth about data governance will soon make people realise that they and the organisation are not in the right place.   This needs to be done regularly and repeatedly to ensure employees, as a minimum, are aware that things need to change to drive improvement.

Has something happened in the past at the organisation to lead them to this conclusion? 

Data Governance is not new; some organisations have been trying to implement it for years.  If there have been failed attempts in the past, just repeating the same messages and approaches will definitely not give you the right cut-through.

Also, if employees are not told that past experiments have not worked, anything new will be less likely to be well received.  So be open and honest about past shortcomings if you are trying to do Data Governance again because it did not work the last time.

Is your voice of Data Governance not being heard?

This is a tricky one as you cannot recruit a large data team overnight (and nor should you) and simultaneously shout about the importance and value of Data Governance.  Usually, you have to grow the team organically and the downside to doing that is small teams of 1 or 2 people will often never get the cut through within the business – even if they have the ear of an Executive or Senior Leader who is championing their cause.

The solution is a combination of getting the key messages right and selling them to the key influencers within the business coupled with joining forces with your friends and allies across the business who do get Data Governance.

The old adage goes perception is reality is definitely a pain point for organisations trying to effectively implement data governance.  The key will be to change that perception, but first, you need to understand what is driving it.  Unless you do this, future attempts at implementing a data governance programme will be bound to fail.