Gaining Executive-Level Buy-In for Data Governance Strategy

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07/11/2016 | Data and Analytics | Thought Leadership

Data governance initiatives are inherently complex because they affect one of the organization’s most critical assets: information. In addition, at their core lies a mandate for company-wide change. As a result, buy-in and enthusiasm is needed across the organization, starting with executive leadership.

Unfortunately, it is common for data governance programs to fail. One of the biggest contributors to failure is when data governance initiatives are driven by IT without strong business support. Sometimes this is because the business asks IT to take on data quality as IT already manages data-related systems and tools. Sometimes IT asks to drive the initiative because they are closest to problems that result from poor data quality and see the need. However, at the end of the day, the business has to own its data and drive its own transformation. IT cannot be effective without the involvement of the people in charge of all affected aspects of the business.

The benefits of obtaining executive sponsorship for data governance are significant and felt at all levels in the organization. Resources will be easier to obtain and dedicated to the effort. Processes will be better documented, with increased consistency. Funding for data-related programs will be easier to secure. A complex level of teamwork is needed and must span the entire organization, eliminating silos of data and data processes, but the result, ultimately, is business information represented in “one version of truth” that is more reliable, more accessible, and drastically more useful to the entire organization.

How to Gain Executive Sponsorship

Persuading executives that your data governance initiative deserves their support can be accomplished in much the same way you get agreement on any course of action. Think of your audience and find the best way to connect around a shared goal. Executives’ candles burn at both ends and they focus on the bottom line, so it’s important to drive home how your initiative is relevant to their objectives and can improve business outcomes.

Secure a half-hour meeting with every executive who might be impacted by the data governance initiative and excite them with a one-on-one conversation that highlights the benefits of a data governance program. Executives respond to facts and figures, so prepare a small PowerPoint deck and share it with each executive. If possible, tailor it to the specific pain-points in their respective departments.

Schedule a meeting with all executives for the purpose of explaining the risks of NOT participating in the initiative. The risks alone will bring them together in a room. Acknowledge the challenge and explain how not having a data governance program is hurting the organization through:

  • Data corruption and inconsistencies
  • Repeated negative business impact due to inaccuracy
  • Duplicate data records across the enterprise, causing duplication in reporting
  • Complex integration efforts and error-prone data transfer across systems
  • Inconsistent taxonomies across various departments

Explain how these risks flow through all areas of the organization. Once you’ve discussed and suggested mitigation for these risks, expound on the benefits of a data governance program that applies to each of them and to the organization as a whole. Identify how the program will solve an organizational challenge or provide opportunity. This gets them excited about the outcome and creates positive energy and commitment.

You’ve Got Buy-In—Now What?

Let’s assume you’re successful and executive leadership is on board. How do you get them to actively participate in the program? It is one thing for an executive team to agree that a data governance program is generally a good idea, and even to verbally acknowledge their ownership of it, but another thing entirely to make it happen.

Throughout the process, you must continue to drive home the individual and organizational benefits of the initiative. Here are some tips:

  • Acknowledge that it will be hard – Data governance is not easy and it is important to acknowledge that up front. People who have been through it before, especially if they have seen it fail, will be leery to show enthusiasm and do their part if they don’t feel that everyone is going to pull their weight. As with any challenge, sizing up the difficulty of the journey and agreeing to work together as a team will do wonders.
  • Start small and focus on long-term value – Data governance programs take time to grow. When results aren’t seen for a long time, enthusiasm and commitment can wane. Therefore, the short-term wins are extremely important. Focus on a few data initiatives at first with quick wins and data fixes that build credibility. Set milestones and communicate when you pass them. Plan for short-term projects along the way that can show quick return on the investment made toward data governance.
  • Continually ask for input and be flexible – A big part of leading is listening, especially when such an important asset as the business’s information is at stake. Be mindful of the time you are asking from your executive sponsors and be flexible when it comes to competing priorities.
  • Minimize unnecessary change – If there are processes in place that are working, keep them. Change is hard. Don’t rebuild the wheel for the sake of it.
  • Set expectations – From the beginning, make sure everyone is aware of the time commitment involved and the communication requirements. Spell out clearly what is needed from the team in order for the program to be a success.

By following the above steps, the rate of success for data governance increases dramatically. At AIM Consulting, we have helped clients of all types and sizes with data governance and strategy initiatives. Tell us about your challenge to learn about our flexible engagement model and the approach we would take with your organization.

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