Change is never easy. As the adage goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it”. The same applies to data. Most organisations have made significant data investments, but that often hasn’t led to their people actually using the data and generating the potential value from it.

In the third blog of our five-part series that looks at the skills you need to succeed and excel as a data leader I want to examine the process of how to gain buy-in to your data vision

Becoming data-driven requires an organisational focus on cultural change. In the latest Data and AI Executive Survey 2022 released by NewVantage Partners, for the 4th consecutive year, over 90% of executives point to culture as the greatest impediment to achieving this data-driven organisation outcome. Only 8.1% cite technology limitations as the primary impediment.

Unless you secure buy-in and gain support for your ideas from people at all levels of your organisation, big ideas never seem to take hold or have the impact you want. Driving this cultural change can be a long and gradual process, but it needs to happen if the full business rewards are to be reaped.

Here are 7 tips to help you on that journey:

1. Formulate a clear, but “draft” vision

The first step is to formulate your idea as clearly as possible, starting with the problem you’re trying to solve. As Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter stated ‘before you can get buy-in, people need to feel the problem’. 

Once you’ve articulated the issue, aligning your vision to the organisation’s bigger strategic plan is more likely to generate the support you need for your idea. This is where it’s vitally important to explain your vision and ideas in terms of business benefits, using concrete examples to demonstrate how you came to your solution, and if possible, highlighting other organisations who have successfully achieved something comparable to what you propose. 

It’s also important that you convey the risks in your plan, and how you propose to mitigate those. Any senior executive will have heard many great claims from new ideas that have failed to materialise. They will want to see how far you’ve thought about what could derail your assumptions, and your mitigation strategy…“If at first you don’t succeed – you haven’t planned properly!” – John Lock

2. Meet the key stakeholders one-on-one and gain their input

Real buy-in involves at least some element of co-creation. It invites discussion, debate, and allows everyone to take some personal ownership in the outcome. If people just feel sold to, they are more likely to resist or ignore our requests. We may get compliance, but we won’t get the kind of buy-in that motivates others to deeply support our ideas and get behind them.

The stakeholders are also probably experts in their field, and it’s the potential impact on their part of the business that they understand. Taking the time to understand their ideas and goals and explaining how your activities can benefit them, will help you refine your thinking and positioning. By making the process more collaborative and consultative, you are more likely to get senior leaders to buy-in to your data vision.  Keep it high level, avoid too many details and drop any jargon.

When they are on their own, they’re also more likely to ask the basic questions they’d be reluctant to voice in a group situation, that will underpin a lot of their concerns. It’s important to make sure you can answer these, so they don’t rear their heads later in the process, and derail things, plus they may be valid concerns you haven’t considered yet.  Addressing any concerns early on is a win-win, not only does it help to develop your vision further, it also instils confidence amongst key stakeholders who are more likely to become advocates of your vision. 

Now that you’ve made the other people know their opinions are being heard and respected, you can use their feedback to improve upon your initial idea and include them as players in the process, taking them on the journey with you.

3. Find your C-suite data champion.

On the board, you ideally need your champion to fight your corner. According to change management firm Prosci, the most important success factor in driving change is an effective executive sponsor.

There will be concerns, misinformation and a lack of understanding of the benefits. These are all things that need to be managed if you are to get an organisation to fully realise the value of their data. You probably won’t be in the room when a lot of these discussions are going on, or you may need support in making progress happen. 

Identifying and nurturing your data champion will make the way forward a lot more productive and successful. And if it’s the CEO, that’s even better.

4. Offer data literacy training.

For many business managers and employees, data can still be very intimidating. To increase people’s comfort level with how to use and communicate data insights, providing data literacy training that is tailored to an individual’s competency level will start to open people’s minds to the possibilities. 

If your employees lack the right data skills, your data initiatives will continue to struggle to get off the ground.

5. Deliver data-driven quick wins.

To build momentum with your data initiatives, it’s important to deliver quick wins. Businesses don’t just want to wait years for long-term payoffs, so delivering some quick wins along the way allows people to get a taste of what’s possible through real-world improvements. It then becomes easier for them to envision what the future state with data looks like and support the changes.

6. Build your team of Data Advocates. “No individual can win a game by himself.” – Pele.

Organisational change is a large task, so you need to build a core team who shares your passion, that will help you drive the required organisational change. Having more feet on the ground means you can cover more ground by supporting a greater number of business teams and delivering more of those quick wins. 

It also visibly demonstrates this is not just one person’s idea, others share the belief and passion in it. 

None of this is new thinking, just take a look at what religions have been doing for centuries

7. Communicate to build and inspire.

In order to gain buy-in, it’s important to set a clear vision and communicate it well. Communication is a critical component of any successful change management strategy. Having a communication plan for the key audiences, with messaging to educate, engage and excite is key. Shout about successes, create dashboards for the key datasets to focus the business on data quality, use your network of data advocates to work with the specific business teams to help them achieve their goals more effectively and share insights so that they can inform decision-making. 

Once again, as we discussed in our first blog in this series, data storytelling becomes a core skill to employ here to add impact to the messaging and drive action.



We hope this article has given you some insight into how to gain buy-in for your data vision. Remember, the difference between successful data leaders and those who fail is their ability to gain buy-in from key stakeholders. It’s not enough to just have an idea; you need buy-in from the right people for your ideas to come into fruition and to have impact. 

This means taking time to understand their needs and priorities so that when you present your ideas, they will be more likely to get behind and support them. This consultative approach helps to bring stakeholders on the journey with you. It’s critical that everyone understands what your vision is and how it will impact and benefit them personally. It also makes them feel heard and part of the process, gaining commitment early on and energising teams along the way. 

Our next blog in this series will look at the role of giving feedback in building high performing data teams.

 

If you found this article useful, and you’d like to help your best people and teams excel through data leadership coaching, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you. To find out more email: tony@nuatraining.co.uk

 

About Tony Lamb
Tony Lamb is a Director of Nua Training and Lamb Direct Consulting Ltd.  He has over 30 years’ experience of launching and running data businesses and building high performing teams. His last inhouse role was as Head of Data Strategy at Royal Mail.

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

 

Share This