As a leader today, both Technical Intelligence (often referred to as Technical Quotient, Technical Intelligence Quotient or TQ) and Emotional Intelligence (often referred to as Emotional Quotient, Emotional Intelligence Quotient or EQ) are essential skills for long-term career success.
In the computer industry, leaders are often selected from the ranks of the best technical talent, which ensures that they have high TQ.
Unfortunately, the soft skills, EQ, and management savvy that it takes to be an effective leader often needs improvement for a lot of new leaders.
EQ refers to one’s ability to recognize your own internal emotional state, to differentiate your state from the emotional state of others, to discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, and then to use all that emotional information to guide the behaviour and thinking of your team (and yourself) to positively execute your mission and or goals.
How does high EQ manifest itself in the everyday work lives’ of contemporary leaders?
Let’s walk through four traits of high EQ leaders.
Remain Calm and Composed
In the middle of a crisis, the responsibility of an effective leader with high EQ is to calm themself, survey the emotional landscape, and share that calm with their team and organization. The best leaders go a step forward and find ways to harness the upside of stress.
High EQ leaders should not be losing their temper and berating their team publicly. They should not be sending abusive, impulsive, or belittling electronic communicae. In fact, this is the exact opposite of what it means to be a high EQ leader.
However, being calm, cool, and collected, does not mean that you are an emotionless droid or a doormat. You are going through the same negative experience as everyone else. Your superpower is that you can recognize your feelings in real time and you can express them constructively in service of creating a positive outcome.
This also means that you have developed or uncovered ways to handle stress and anxiety, that you can empathize with people when their stress surfaces in unproductive ways, that you forgive them and try to turn each of these non-positive interactions into teachable moments, and that you are able to find grounding ways to protect yourself. High EQ leaders empathize and don’t hold grudges.
Find The Rainbow
We have all heard the phrase “fail fast, fail often” or some version of it. Unfortunately, few organizations have the necessary processes and systems in place that encourage and support failure. Far fewer people, in your office, have the ability to not take failure personally and negatively.
As a high EQ leader, it is your job to help your team learn from failures, see the bright side of bad news, and continue moving toward the team’s goals; armed with this valuable new insight. All experiments are valuable. However, not all experiments will be successful. It is a natural part of life.
Earlier, I mentioned using difficult and stressful situation as teachable moments. This implies that you, as a leader, must be comfortable, ready, and willing to see the rainbow beyond the surrounding dark clouds. This also implies that you are skillful at having a difficult conversation when one is required.
High EQ leaders to not shy away from conflicts. They use conflicts to teach, to build more trust, to strengthen work relationships, and to find common ground.
Smart Hiring And Nurturing
High EQ leaders must ensure that every single hire has the appropriate level of soft skills and empathy required for them to be successful in their role. Thus, you need to look beyond the resume and screen for cultural add and long-term success dimensions based on what you know of the environment.
Once you bring new team members on board, it is your duty to provide the conditions for new teammates to be as happy and engaged as you are. This means helping them with their learning and career plans, and knowing when someone is stressed or struggling. A high EQ leader does not pile work on a taxed team member.
It is also your duty to create an environment where anyone on the team is comfortable sharing new ideas. Your job is to listen, measure it carefully, don’t be biased by your own thoughts and ideas, and provide honest feedback (even if it means that you shelf your own idea for something better).
A high EQ leader gives their colleagues your undivided attention. They listen to their viewpoints. They seek to understand their point of view. They give them the time and space they need to present their thoughts. High EQ leaders are patient and do not constantly interrupt their colleagues when they are expressing themselves.
Set and Maintain Clear Boundaries
Being a high EQ leader doesn’t mean you are a people pleaser or a Yes person. On the contrary, you have clearly defined boundaries. You understand your strengths and weaknesses. You know what you are good at and what you need help with. You own your No. You hold your ground in debates. This builds trust with others; because they know you are an independent and self-aware team player that is focused on achieving the mission.
The importance of EQ for the modern day leader cannot be underestimated. It is one of the fundamental pillars upon which your leadership is built on.
If you recognize that a higher EQ would be beneficial for you, your team, and your organization, then today is the day to take those critical first steps in improving it.
Enjoy the journey. The destination is far less exciting.
This posts also been published on GovLoop.
Innovation is a difficult topic to grasp. Everyone wants to be innovative. Everyone kinda sorta knows what the term “innovation” means. Most project management professionals have no idea how to systematically foster innovation or make it an integral part of the DNA of their projects.
Let’s start with the fundamentals.
Setting The Scene
Innovation refers to the successful conversion of concepts and knowledge into new products, services, or processes that delivers new value to society or the marketplace.
Innovation may arise when a project manager is creatively guiding the team through the solution process or when they are mitigating risks or removing constraints.
To get to an innovative solution, a project manager must embed creativity as a natural part of user and team interaction and or find creative pathways around obstacles and roadblocks.
When faced with a risk that must be avoided or mitigated, a project manager should facilitate the generation of ideas that add value; in order to determine the appropriate risk response strategy, and its associated contingency plan.
Though some project managers instinctively understand and incorporate innovation thinking into their execution, others need a framework to help maximize the likelihood of delivering an innovative solution.
The common thread that runs through all the innovative initiatives, which I have been a part of, are the following four pillars:
In this stage, your only concern is with working with your users to get a very clear picture of the problem and its root cause. You are also documenting a profile of the intended users, which includes their current way of doing things and your theory of change. Your goal is to know the dimensions of the problem space so well that you live and breathe the issue.
Once you have a firm grasp of the problem, determine the skills that are needed to create a solution. Be sure to include team members that are new to the domain that will need to learn the space and thus will not be shackled by established and long-held assumptions and norms in the space.
When you are co-creating possible solutions with your users, encourage everyone to take the time and space to share creative possibilities. The final step in this phase is to have your team, which includes your users, prioritize possible solutions for implementation.
With your prioritized solution pathways, perform a sanity check to ensure that each of them match the workflow of your users and that there is a natural insertion point. You should also examine the business, legal and societal ecosystem that the solution will exist in. This helps you to determine if there is policy work to be done, if there are business model or legal constraints to be factored in, and if there are any obvious unintended consequences that you should be sensitive to.
It is implementation time. Develop features in short time periods. Present “the thing” to your users regularly, learn from their feedback, and incorporate their input to improve the solution.
As a project manager, who have to actively solicit ideas that add value throughout the project lifecycle in order to ensure that the desired innovative result is achieved.
Wherever possible, you should utilize tools that encourage your team to be creative and view all aspects of the solution space from multiple perspectives.
Not every project will be innovative.
However, if you follow the advice here then your chances of delivering a innovative project will increase.
This was also posted on GovLoop.
What is strategy? If you ask ten different leaders, you will most likely get ten different answers.
Most leaders use the term easily and freely.
Most leaders assume that the term is universally understood and that everyone is using the word in the same way as they are intending it to be understood.
A lot of leaders assume that business strategy is similar to game strategy. Sadly, your tactical approach to playing Monopoly is not a good foundation for positioning your team or organization for success.
A lot of leaders are often confused about what a strategy is.
A lot of leaders confuse strategy with objectives and goals.
A lot of leaders internally struggle with creating and crafting solid strategy.
Let’s demystify strategy.
A good “strategy” addresses your organization’s positioning with regards to the (strategic) factors that are important and relevant to each of your key stakeholder group. For example, Costco’s strategy for its members probably involves “providing the best value for bulk products”.
Strategic factors are those things that your organization needs to get right in order to succeed with your key stakeholders, which may include customers, suppliers, employees, owners, board members, shareholders, or anyone that depends on your organization’s success.
An “objective” is the thing that you are trying to achieve. It is the marker of success for your organization.
An “action” is a tangible thing that people do in their everyday business life and that gets them closer to their objective being achieved.
Actions and objectives tend to be closer to what most leaders and team members act on and see each day and thus it is what they interpret strategy to be.
Unfortunately, focusing on what one needs to do is not focusing on strategy.
Strategy occurs at the organizational level. One needs a comprehensive view of the inputs, outputs, actors, and competitive landscape of the organization in order to create a solid strategy.
Your organization is a part of an ecosystem that consists of interactions with your key stakeholders.
Each organization has its own level of complexity, based on industry constraints, and has different key stakeholder groups; each with potentially differing characteristics.
Strategy is abstract. However, it will help get everyone in your organization on the same page and aligned on the what you do, why you are different, and how you create value.
Given that your organization is a systems of systems within a system of systems, the process of creating strategy is an exercise in systems design.
Systems design is the application of systems theory to organizational development.
Every system has its own set of defined boundaries, has an environment that it exists in and that it impacts, and has a identifiable structure, mission, and operating model.
The aim of systems theory is to methodically discover a system's dynamics, constraints, conditions and clarifying principles, i.e. its purpose, metrics, methods, tools, etc., which can then be applied to constituent systems, and for each of the organization’s sub-divisions in order to achieve optimal equifinality.
Equifinality is the principle that in open systems a given end state can be reached by many potential means.
The process of creating strategy is entirely about producing positions on your organization’s strategic factors that can create value for your organization’s key stakeholder groups.
When the leaders of your organization go to a retreat to create your strategy, utilize the following game plan to maximize your chances of crafting good strategy:
For example, if your team views “price” as a strategic factor for your customers, then a sample strategy may be “We guarantee the lowest price. If a customer finds a lower price, we will match it.”
It is important to remember that your discussion on the key stakeholder groups must be guided by customer research.
After performing your strategy creation process, you have to start the coalition building, fit analysis, and change management needed to ensure that employee relations, customer relations, supplier relations, and other groups are aligned.
Putting Strategy To Work
From the strategy creation process, you have discussed what each key stakeholder group wants from your organization (strategic factors) and what your organization wants from its key stakeholders (strategic objectives).
To ensure that your strategy is implemented, you have to translate your strategy, and its related objectives, into project and or program level actions.
For example, if you know that your customers want effective performance on the strategic factors of price and customer service, then you have to define programs and projects that promote your strategy on these factors for the everyday activities of your team members.
Too many leadership teams fail to approach strategic planning from a systems design mindset.
This is normally because leaders tackle the task of strategy creation from their own functional viewpoint. Thus, they default to “action” when they are aiming to think about “strategy”.
Employing a stakeholder approach to strategy encourages leaders to elevate their thought processes to the organization level.
Strategy is living and dynamic. It must be regularly re-evaluated and updated to reflect the changing dimensions of the world around us all.
Go forth and create better strategy.
This post was also published on GovLoop.
I have struggled with whether I should pen this article for a few weeks now. Fortunately, I concluded that the benefit of putting this topic in front of the public far outweighs the negatives. Building inclusive and diverse teams is not just about increased profitability and better efficiencies. It is simply the right thing to do. It is the decent thing to do. It is the human thing to do. It is the humane thing to do. It is worth it in the long run.
As a leader, of African descent that is working in the United States, I am exhausted by 10am most days. Building mental models for employees, bosses, peer managers, and random people who I have interacted with that day is exhausting. Constantly analyzing and over-analyzing every interaction, business and otherwise, consumes energy that could be better used to successfully drive towards business and or personal goals.
Imagine what the minority members of your team have to go through each and every minute of every day.
It is my strong belief that it is my duty to ensure that my team is inclusive and diverse. My peers and bosses have the same responsibility. Here is how we get there.
INCREASE YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE PROBLEM
The problem is you. The problem is the system you are in. The problem is the set of (flawed) beliefs that you have, consciously and subconsciously, accepted.
The legislature, the market, and governance structure are steeped in racism. Let that sink in. Don’t resist it. Be comfortable in your discomfort. Brush up on your history and verify the truth for yourself. Recognize the privilege and advantages that you are receiving from this rigged system.
Now appreciate that the system benefits some and oppresses everyone else.
As someone who benefits from this system, it is your job to understand the problem, know the historical context, and shine a light on the inequity and inequality generated from this system.
Start with this blog to deepen your knowledge in the space.
CREATE AND NURTURE THE RIGHT CULTURE
It is your job to foster a culture of inclusion. This may include performing blind screenings in the resume review process (to minimize unconscious bias), banning “culture fit” as a reason for rejecting a candidate, starting or sponsoring affinity or employee resource groups for under-represented collectives, or uncovering your biases, and those of your team, by having everyone take the Implicit Assumption Test.
Jennifer Kim’s post provides a lot of ideas on tangible steps that you can take in order to cultivate this environment. It is definitely worth reading.
Nurturing this culture involves introspection – for you and your team.
It has taken decades to ingrain your current values and behavior. It will take time to realize that they are false and to replace them with beliefs that foster inclusivity and diversity.
Self-awareness and vigilance will be key for you as a leader. Honesty and willingness to have (potentially) difficult conversations with your team has to become second nature.
MAKE IT A WAY OF LIFE
Cultural change sticks when you embed the changes into the processes and procedures that are an integral part of your team’s business life.
Examine the systems that your team uses for performance evaluations, for onboarding, for assigning and evaluating work, etc. Through the eyes of a black woman, critically think about how these mechanisms can be modified to be supportive and democratized.
Before long, it will just be the way we do things around here.
We are all humans. We all make mistakes. We all have our own biases. Creating great teams is not easy. Creating great, diverse, and inclusive teams is an order of magnitude more difficult.
However, it is rewarding and it is what your organization needs you to do.
In your lifetime, you will go through dozens of transitions. Whether you relocate for a job, get a promotion, move to a different team or organization, or get a new boss, we all have to navigate transitions. As a leader, how well you navigate a transaction can make or break your career and will most definitely influence how happy you are.
During a transition, you have throw out the notion that you can hustle your way through it, that you can employ the same skills and know-how from the past to be successful going forward, that you have to be in action-mode all the time, and that you know how to fix all the problems before you.
In a transition, these are traps. Traps that many of us have fallen into and seen the negative effects on our psyche and career.
From first hand experience and lots of reading, successfully leading through transitions boils down to doing three things really well in the first few months of the transition.
Your first, and most important, responsibility during a transition is to learn. Whether you got a promotion or a new job, you must spend your initial time in the transition preparing yourself. You should never ever skip this step. Many a career has been derailed by skipping the Learn step and going straight into execution mode.
Focus your learning on the new environment. If the business or mission is foreign to you, then delve into. Understand the nuances of its operation and the levers available to you to impact it. Identify and connect with the employees that have been in the organization the longest in order to get a true sense of the culture and the historical context of the organization. Be hyper aware of the team’s critical stakeholders and how they interact with each other and your team. Establish your own positive connections with them. Be clear with your boss and employees on expectations; checking in regularly and adjusting with their feedback.
Focused learning increases the chances that you will make good initial decisions. This, in turn, will, increase the trust that people have in you and your judgement.
Our second duty is to build your team. I don’t just mean your direct reports. The higher you go as a leader, the more you realize that your team is your peer leaders. Build relationships with your peers and your boss to ensure that they are aware of your learning plan, the insights that you are gaining, and the strategy that it is informing.
Whatever the transition, your peers and boss are also experiencing it with you. Your job is to take them on this journey safely and quickly.
As time permits, you should try to perform the Learn and Build phases together.
Effective relationship building and a comprehensive learning agenda produces an informed strategy and vision that will be supported by your peers, boss, and direct reports.
Early wins bolsters your credibility and create the momentum that you need to exit the transition and enter into a period of trust and stability, which is what we all want.
Rank the opportunities that you find in the “Learn” phase by complexity, value to the business, and effort. Create a sequence of initiatives where the high business value, low complexity and low effort ones are implemented first.
This is an easier way to increase your credibility and gain institutional capital.
As a leader, transitions are difficult. They are even worse if you don’t realize that they are happening.
It is your responsibility, to have the flexibility, curiosity, inclination, and presence of mind to ensure that you and your team go through a transition unscathed, victorious, and with a string of successes under your belt.
As a leader, one of my main responsibilities is to define reality for my team.
It is one of the hardest things for new team leads to grasp. It is also one of the most fundamental functions that one must perform to make the team successful.
It is a leader’s duty to know and communicate the reality of a project’s goals, assumptions, constraints, and expectations.
It is even more important for a leader to know the reality of the people landscape in their organization. Are there relationships, which include your team members, that have soured and need to be considered? What are the unconscious biases of the people involved in a project; both on your team and outside of it? Are people going through trauma in their non-work lives?
These questions inform the actions and the hurdles that a team will have to handle on the path to successful project execution.
A great leader knows the significance of getting the lay of the emotional land and incorporating it into the team’s action plan.
Understanding the people landscape and knowing the appropriate coaching and mentoring strategies that one needs to mitigate those concerns is the difference between being a great leader and an okay leader, who is most likely ignorant of the societal forces at play.
I can easily count the number of times in my professional career that I have had the pleasure of working for a great leader. Unfortunately, having a great leader is the exception and not the rule in today’s world. This is how we change that.
Be An Ally
Everyone has unconscious bias. Whether you believe it or not, that is the state of the world.
People’s background, experiences, and the stereotypes that they learned from their parents, their community and the media have an impact on their actions and decisions. Being aware of this fact, knowing your own bias, and seeking to understand the biases of the key stakeholders and project participants is a natural part of great leadership.
A great leader not only has to know this landscape, but has to know the ramifications of those social dynamics on the team. A great leader creates their own personal tasks that enable the reduction of the frictions that arise from these dynamics.
A great leader is the biggest ally and supporter for their team and its members - ensuring that everyone is heard, trusted, valued and treated fairly.
Be An Unblocker
It is likely that there will be instances where team members face a blocker that they have not been able to resolve; despite multiple attempts.
A great leader is aware enough of the reality of organization to know when a blocker is one that they need to actively work on for their team.
Having a team member try, more than twice, to unblock an issue that is holding back progress on a project is counter-productive to team confidence and success.
A successful strategy for a great leader is to ensure that the team member with the issue is coached on how the leader resolved the concern. In the process, the team member learns about the realities behind the issue and will hopefully able to handle similar blockers more productively in the future.
Great leaders are great proactive unblockers and coaches.
Be A Model
Great leaders live the values and virtues that they want their team to exhibit. They also serve as the example of accepted and acceptable behavior. Whether you believe it or not, you are a role model and you set the tone for your team.
For example, if you preach openness and transparency to your team, but are guarded with information, then you are reducing your team’s trust in you and anything you say. They will learn to adopt techniques that account for your inconsistency and eventually you will have a team that is not cohesive, not trusting and not effective.
Great leaders understand that their behavior is a part of the social landscape that they must navigate and they use their behavior to positively impact the environment. They also understand that they provide critical signals that create a dynamic that will contribute to the team’s success or failure.
Each of us have it in us to be great leaders. For some, it will take more time than others. Nevertheless, we can all reach there.
Leading is not about having a grand title or immense power. It is about serving and enabling a higher mission to be achieved.
Irrespective of your level of introversion, your training, and your perception of your management and or technical abilities, you can lead.
Better yet, you can be a great leader.
The question before each of us is always “Do you want to put in the effort and self-work that it requires to be a great leader?”
The only constant is change and change is difficult for most of us - humans and organizations alike. However, change is necessary for growth and, when harnessed properly, leads us to being more efficient and maximizing our potential.
Having spent several years as an Organizational Change Management (OCM) consultant and even more time as a change agent, I have seen firsthand the difficulty that people and institutions have with change. Even those that recognize the need for change and that cerebrally want to take the change journey have great difficulty with actually doing it.
Let’s define some core terms so that we are all talking about the same things in the same way.
Formally, change management refers to a systematic approach to handling the transition or transformation of a set of (institutional) goals, processes or technologies. Organizational Change Management (OCM) normally refers to a framework for managing the impact of new (business or technology) processes, updates to organizational structure, or cultural shifts within an institution.
John Kotter’s 1996 book on “Leading Change” outlines one of the more widely-used Organizational Change Management models in use today. If this topic intrigues you, then Kotter’s 8-step change model is worth examining.
The purpose of change management is to implement strategies for effecting change, controlling change and helping people to adapt to change.
A change agent is a person or group that facilitates the change process in an organization. The change agent is viewed as that entity that motivates, inspires, catalyzes, and potentially leads the change process; in hopes of a positive outcome.
If you are the change agent for your group, team or organization, then there are five things you have to do to be effective.
1. Embrace The Resistance
The source of most of the angst when it comes to change management is people. People will be resistant. Know this. Appreciate this. Be comfortable with this. Then determine ways that you can slowly chip away at this resistance. First step is to identify your allies.
Find the long-standing employees who have some degree of influence in the organization and partner with them. When colleagues recognize that a long-standing team member is on Team Change, they will be more willing to accept the changes rather than oppose them.
2. Co-Create the Vision
Most change management books will highlight the importance of creating a powerful vision. This emphasis is warranted and the advice is sage. However, it is more effective to have leadership and other influencers collaboratively working with you to craft your desired end-state. The vision needs to be a co-creation; with everyone feeling like they contributed and own the end result. Your vision needs to be easily understandable, to inspire action and to focus attention.
Frequent and consistent communication of the vision is one of the key strategies that will help you further erode the resistance that you will face. You and your allies can never talk about the vision too much.
3. Get Buy-In
Getting people bought into the idea of changing is vital. Steps 1 and 2 would have helped you get your allies and leadership co-creators bought in. However, you not only have to launch an awareness and feedback campaign for all affected, you have to ensure that the most senior leader is on Team Change and spreading the same good news.
Change management initiatives have a very high probability of failure when the top leader is not on board. They have to be bought in, actively communicating the vision, and demonstrating with their actions that they are supportive and enabling the change.
Also colleagues that feel outside of the sphere of this cool, new change are more likely to exhibit even more steadfast resistance. This is why it is crucial for them to be heard and provide feedback on the path forward.
4. Create a Track Record
Once you have the vision in a solid state and there are enough people bought in, then it is time to create your execution plan.
Be mindful of time and deliverables in your action plan. People will not wait for nine months to see the effect of your plan. You need to produce, demonstrate and constantly share tangible products to the organization every one to three months.
This process will build the momentum, support and excitement for change that you will need to fuel the successful execution of your plan. It also reduces the resistance you will face as you move forward.
5. Make Change Normal
Not only do you have to embed the changes made on the path to the vision, but you have to take steps to make change management a normal part of work life. Identify and utilize the levers available to you and your allies that can gently nudge people to continuously question and improve.
For example, when doing efficiency evaluations of your HR team, a useful lever to ensure continuous improvement would be to have a mandatory step that forces the HR team to do a re-examination of current policies and procedures in order to determine current relevancy and potential optimizations.
In the end, change is not easy for most. Being a change agent means that you will force those around you to think more critically and hopefully re-evaluate their existing behavior and ways of doing things. Given that most people become set in their ways after a certain period of time, this will be extremely difficult (and near impossible) for some. As a change agent, you have to be okay with this.
If you are brought into an organization as a change agent, be honest with yourself and know that the probability of you being in that organization to see the effects of your fully executed plan is pretty low.
If you are change agent with a long track record within an organization and a good reputation, recognize that steady and deliberate progress towards the end goal is the approach that will likely yield the most successful outcome.
Whatever your situation as a change agent, know that it is hard and important work and that the world needs you to keep going.
No one will argue against the statement “data is important”. The proper use of data can make you and your organization very successful. Being aware of the areas that need to be improved and the areas that your customers love is a good thing. If you ignore the signal in your data, you risk seeing your operations and your products wither away before your eyes.
Data can be your ally and it is now widely recognized as the most important asset that any organization, public or private, possesses. However, we need more leaders with the ability to shepherd the good and virtuous process of executing on a data mission.
So, how do you become a Data Leader?
When I say Data Leader, I am not referring to having the title of Chief Data Officer, Chief Data Scientist, Chief Data Evangelist, Chief Data Strategist, etc. I am talking about cultivating and developing the traits that enable you to function in that capacity for your team.
As someone who had the honor of being amongst the first wave of Chief Data executives in the Federal government, and who achieved success in the role, I want to share the lessons learned that will get you on the path to being a Data Leader.
Current expectations are that a Chief Data Executive should be a technologist, a developer (scoping, implementing, and transitioning data products and services), a steward (for improving data quality), an evangelist (for data sharing and novel data business model generation), and a strategic visionary (for the organization’s data assets).
It is impossible for a single person to be all these things and accomplish them all in a standard work week. Thus, it becomes critically important that as a leader you are excellent at “managing by influence” . This means that you have developed relationships, where you can guide and work with other teams to execute on a common data mission - even though some team members do not report to you.
Influence is the cornerstone of the collaborations that are necessary to achieve escape velocity, i.e. the rapid stream of quick wins needed to build excitement and buy-in, and then to have long-term success and sustain it.
Building alliances is key to successful executing on your data mission. Generally, you cannot do it alone and your team cannot do it alone. You have to develop connections with the other parties that play a part in the mission’s execution.
In order for these alliances to be meaningful, your colleagues must have trust in you with regards to your word, and with regards to your moral compass and values. A Data Leader whose actions and or words are not grounded in integrity and cannot be relied upon will have a hard time achieving and maintaining the relationships necessary for any sort of success.
It is time to start demonstrating those values and building your reputation.
In this context, competence refers to “having sufficient skill, knowledge, and experience to perform the job”, i.e. being properly qualified. The common set of skills that are required to be a Data Leader include knowledge of the business and mission, knowledge of computer science, data science, or both, and knowledge of product definition and delivery. A competent Data Leader is a rare mix of technical guru, businessperson, marketer, and adept executive — someone able to communicate in all spheres and that can easily translate between each.
For some, it may be time to adjust your personal learning plans to include a few competence requirements for Data Leadership.
Even though many speak of the rise of the Chief Data Officer and the new damn of the suite of Chief Data Executives, many organizations and employees are still struggling to understand what these Chief Data Executives do, where they fit into the organization, what their essential skills should be, what these executives are responsible for, who they should report into, and how to measure their impact. I am confident that this will get sorted in due time.
However, the untapped and unrecognized gem in this entire scenario is the realization that these Chief Data Executives are harbingers of what is the come - a future where every team has at least one Data Leader who is performing the duties of a Chief Data Executive at the local level.
This post was also posted on GovLoop.
“Data is the new black.”
“Data is the currency of the future.”
“Data is the most valuable asset your organization has.”
“Is your organization data-driven?”
If you have heard any of these statements or questions, then you have probably wrestled with the issue of creating a data-driven culture.
Having a data-driven culture means that data is the fundamental building block of your team. It means that every team member has a data-driven mindset. It means that every single decision maker uses data as their main evaluation asset. It means that every project uses, generates and pivots on data. It means that your team is constantly leveraging data as a strategic asset.
But how do you get there?
Creating a data-driven culture depends on cultivating a mindset of experimentation, having the right infrastructure in place and developing the skills to interpret the signal from the data, while ignoring the noise in it.
For each team member, there are four steps that they must take on the path to becoming data-driven.
Step 1: Do You Know Where You're Going to?
The first step is to know the questions that you are trying to answer with data.
With unlimited resources, you and your team could monitor and store every single bit of data that you generate, that you use for your mission, or that you think may be relevant in executing your strategic objectives. Unfortunately, this is a very expensive proposition and you are not guaranteed that the data you have in your possession will be helpful.
Similar to other activities that must function under constraints and within resource budgets, defining the end state is extremely important.
The questions you want to answer with data provide the needed focus for data-driven success. Do you want to make a process more efficient? Do you want to decrease the time taken to successfully complete a transaction? Do you want to increase the number of customers that you can serve?
In your context, the questions that you want to ask of the data determine the data that needs to be collected. Yes, this is an obvious statement. However, it needs to be explicitly stated.
Know what you want to get answered from the data, then figure out the specific data items that needs to be collected and stored.
Be firm in clearly defining the data items, the units used and the meanings of each data point. Standardization and consistency will be essential when it comes to implementation and scaling your data infrastructure.
Step 2: Do You Know Whom You're Going to?
Once you know how you will interrogate the data, which helps you define what you should collect, you now need to understand the audience that this data will be presented to. Will the decision maker be yourself, a data scientist, an executive or your grandmother? This knowledge will help you determine both the transformations that need to happen to your source data and the correct visualization to use for maximum impact.
Knowing your intended audience also forces you start thinking about the actions that you want them to take when you present the data to them. When they see the visualized data, should they take out steps from a process? Should they increase the number of staff members on a particular task? Should they start more closely monitoring a specific business area?
Step 3: Do You Know How You're Getting There?
The hard part is mostly over. Now it is time to design and implement your ETL (Extract-Transform-Load) pipeline. Essentially, this is where you create the process and supporting mechanisms (technical or otherwise) that allow you to get data from the desired data source, cleanse and massage it into the right form with the right semantics, and then store it in the data management system of your choosing.
Start small. Pilot your ETL with your simplest use case. When you have it working satisfactorily, expand the scope of scenarios that your ETL pipeline can handle until it covers all of your needs.
Step 4: Do They Know What They're Looking at?
In the end, the presentation and the interpretation of the data is what decision makers interact with and what facilitates the creation of a data-driven organization. A choropleth map with multiple data variables on it may mean nothing to your boss if they don’t intuitively understand both the visualization type and the message that is trying to be conveyed.
For this reason, it is critical to use information you gathered in Step 2 to create the right visualization for your audience, which should lead them to interpret the data in the right way and make the right decisions.
A word to the wise. Data is a reflection of the world around us. Unfortunately, the world around us is flawed and has deep systemic problems. So, be careful in your quest to be data-driven. Be careful in your exclusive use and trust of data.
It is better to be informed by data rather than only data-driven.
This was also posted on GovLoop.
How do I scale my work? I hear this question in many different ways, in many different venues and many different times a day. I hear it from startups that are trying to figure out how to become a “real business." I hear it from government employees that want to figure out how to turn their homegrown innovation into an agency-wide asset. I hear it from companies trying to get their product to support a significantly larger number of clients. I hear it from hobbyists trying to maintain the spirit of their side project, while trying to evolve and grow its functionality and not upset its early adopters. I hear it a lot. However, at the core, it is the same question. How do I increase the impact of my work?
Everyone that talks about scaling should understand that they are referring to the ability of their work – whether a system, a tool or some other innovation – to cope and perform under an increased or expanded workload.
Something that scales well will be able to maintain, or even increase, its performance or efficiency when tested by larger operational demands. If I am a patent reviewer and I created software that helps get synonyms for my patent search in a tenth of the time it normally takes, then scaling could mean how I extend this software to cover more patent areas and be able to handle more than one person using it.
This particular topic is not addressing “operating at scale,” “scaling a business,” or “scaling a team." However, elements from this discussion can be applied to those topics as well.
In my experience, there are typically five steps needed to scale one’s work.
Warning to all the non-techie types, a lot of this comes from my experience as a software engineer, software development manager and product manager. The good news is that despite this warning, the insight is applicable to you and your field:
STEP 1: KNOW THYSELF
The first thing that you must do is to be clear about your work. Articulate its purpose and its main contribution. Define the core competency of your innovation. Specify the attributes that make it valuable. Specify, from the perspective of someone using or consuming your work, the things that differentiate it from other contemporary solutions. This is the starting point for discussions with your advocates, champions, approvers and those that will help you with this scaling effort. Needless to say, it is also the starting point for creating a scalable version of your work.
STEP 2: BREAK DOWN AND STANDARDIZE
Now that you have put in the work to get to the core of what your innovation does, break down the entire system into a set of simple and logical components. Identify all the interactions between your components, eliminate as many manual elements as possible and automate all the logical elements that are repeatable tasks. There is a lot of value in the church of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).
For scale, you have to ensure that your work performs consistently, irrespective of workload. Thus, standardizing and defining workflows and operations is critical. The last task in this step is to document the way your system works, the way it is deployed and the way it should be used. This documentation is a useful blueprint that will help when it comes to getting traction.
STEP 3: BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR GOAL
I have seen too many people who recognize that they need to scale, but don’t refine the goal any further. Do you want to increase your number of users by a factor of 10 or 100? Do you want to increase the services your product offers? Do you want to increase the coverage of your tool? Do you want to increase your revenue tenfold? Getting clear on the dimension that you are optimizing on, on the metric being used, and on the target value for your metric(s) will provide the focus needed to guide you to a successful strategy, and associated tactical actions.
STEP 4: KNOW YOUR TARGET AUDIENCEYour audience, both users and stakeholders, is first and foremost the feedback mechanism that tells you if you’re heading in the right direction or not. Understanding your users’ behavior and their interactions with your work will be pivotal in determining the successful approaches to take to the land of scale.
STEP 5: EXPERIMENT, TEST, ITERATE
A lot of founders tend to believe that they can achieve scale by doing more of “the same." Their rationale is that the actions that got me here made me successful, so more of the same should be good enough.
Unfortunately, a solution built for a few thousand people will not be the same solution that is needed for a few million people, even if the core function remains the same. This is why we go through steps 1 through 4 first. They help us to figure out the essential aspects of our work and the aspects that may need to evolve.
Once you realize that what got you here won’t get you there (to your goal), you can start to appreciate the need to experiment with all the assumptions, components and processes that underpin your solution.
View this as a growth hacking experience. A growth hacker conducts multiple experiments across marketing channels, product development, sales segments and other areas of a business to identify the most efficient ways to grow a business.
This should be your mindset, working with your users and (potential) advocates to determine the best way your work can accommodate the needs of your agency, community or organization. This involves creating experiments, testing them and using the feedback to improve your work.
At the end of the day, the core function of your work will remain the same. However, expect a lot of change as you scale it to handle more, and also fit within a new environment. It is nothing to be afraid of. Embrace it. You got here because you were successful.
This post was also published on GovLoop.
Dr Tyrone Grandison
Executive. Technologist. Change Agent. Computer Scientist. Data Nerd. Privacy and Security Geek.