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?”
This post is also published on GovLoop.
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.
This post is also published on GovLoop.
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.