| Dec 5, 2016 | | 6 min read

Five Things Good Leaders Do in Data Driven Organizations


This is all observation…

Are there leadership tips to be learned in organizations dealing with big data? Data driven organizations win, kick ass and take names. This fact is becoming a reality in multiple industries. My main question is: what does this mean for the organizations' leaders? How does leadership change with big data?

As it turns out, I am a very lucky guy. I spend most of my time in two very data driven organizations. The first is a rapidly growing tech company. The other is a political party. Not only are these organizations very data driven, but they are also very successful. The tech company I’m a part of is the 49th fastest growing tech company in our country, and is rated the best place to work in our city. The political party I spend time with not only won the election, but won a majority, and had the largest seat change during one election cycle in history.

During the time I’ve spent with both of these organizations, I’ve observed five similarities on how the leaders I work with act and lead. Despite these companies being in different industries, both are data driven. I've turned those observations into the following five leadership tips for you to consider.

Good data leaders build strong systems, create a culture of trust, stay humble, focus on the big picture and are results driven.

Leadership tip 1: Build strong systems

If a Data Driven Organization (DDO) has a multi-million dollar data storage facility that is state of the art, but the data it’s storing is entered manually by a human, the storage facility is not worth one million dollars. The system is only as strong as the method that data is put into the system.

You want your data to be rich and powerful, but you don’t need rich and expensive tools to mine and examine that data. Most of the time, you just need an open sourced CSV program.

Robust & accessible

Equally as important, the system in place needs to be robust. An easy way to make the system robust is to make it cloud based. Adding in data needs to be simple, and accessible from anywhere. This makes it possible for every employee of the DDO to contribute, no matter what type of hardware they have.

Educational materials

Another thing is that educational tools must be available to all. In both organizations, I have access to reports, key performance indicators and access to further training materials on how to use the system better. These materials are also on the cloud, available whenever I want them. This lets me contribute correct data, and also helps me be better at my job. I can understanding how our clients operate in our digital platform on daily basis, or what a certain age demographic in our riding thinks about a candidate’s stance on a federal issue.

Leadership tip 2: Establish a culture of trust

A DDO is not opinion driven. Opinions of employees or volunteers are important, but if their opinions are not supported by data, they cannot be valid. I often hear the leaders of the DDOs themselves say this exact thing about their own opinions. When someone gives an opinion or suggestion we feel has value, we then go out into the data to see if the opinion is “right” or “wrong.”

This is difficult because the leader needs to walk the fine line of encouraging the employee/volunteer to continue to make suggestions, but not publicly discourage them by saying that their suggestion is not worth mentioning. The individual needs to feel included because, in order for a DDO to be successful, you need full acceptance by everyone.

Trust the data

Employees need to believe in and trust the data. The easiest way for individuals in the group to trust the data is to let them take part in it, be that by organizing the data, adding to the data or even analyzing the data.

This type of culture creates a sense of meaning because individuals are trusted. This means that employees will come to work early, stay late and tell their friends about their experience. Not to mention, turnover will decrease as well.

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Leadership tip 3: Be humble and transparent

The leader of a DDO needs to have a vocal voice of humility. Having the power of data can give people a sense of arrogance, which is bad for collaborative work environments. If the leader is not humble or transparent with their data or themselves, a collaborative environment will be squashed from the top down.

If you want a culture to form, the values of the culture need to be followed by the executive. If the leaders are not humble or transparent, that collaborative culture will not flourish, and in turn, neither will the organization.

Leadership tip 4: Focus and be aware of the big picture

My father told me that I have a “leafy mind.” By that, he meant that I have a tendency to jump from one idea to another and make a quick connection. He said it’s like “jumping from leaf to leaf on a tree.” This is useful, because at times the “different leaves” are connected on the same branch. Other times, the leaves are on two separate trees, and therefore not connected at all. It is the classic issue of causation & correlation.

Focus on the forest

I’m not saying that good leaders can’t see the forest from the trees. What DDO leaders do is stay focused and aware of the entire forest as well as the trees. They are deliberate, methodical and patient. They’re not as quick as I am to jump from “leaf to leaf.” They are hesitant to jump from conclusion to conclusion.

The leader is extremely disciplined to not get ahead of themselves. They are determined from the beginning to have a clear definition of what the big picture is. That “big picture” is created by all of the data the organization is collecting.

Whether that’s monitoring changes in our website with the use of A-B testing in order to generate more inbound leads, or creating an economic plan based on the consolidated data of conversations from every door-knocking volunteer in the country (at the end of the election it approached 12,000,000 conversations). Being focused on the big picture, and creating that picture with data keeps you on course to success. It is easy to get lost and sidetracked in this fast moving world with short term distractions.

Leadership tip 5: Be driven by results

If an organization is driven by data, the success metrics must have numbers associated with it. Otherwise, there is no way to break down the system to see if it’s as efficient as it can be. Having your results be data driven enables an organization to scale rapidly, and fix mistakes if the success metrics haven’t been hit. This can be sales targets, or a number of votes needed to win specific polling stations in a riding.

This can be easy for some, and extremely difficult for others. How can this be difficult? Take school systems for example. School systems need to be results driven, however, standardized testing may not be the best way to access success, or even assess the success of an individual. Good data driven leaders need to be creative, lateral thinkers in the measuring of results. Why? Because value and success mean different things to different people in different industries.

Pro tip: fall in love

If results are measured with mediocre metrics, then it puts the whole system into a spiral death spin. Good leaders are aware of this. A shortcut solution for this issue is to fall in love with your customers’/citizens’ problems. Do not fall in love with the solution that you have readily accessible, or solutions you have made up in your head before you look at the data. That is the trick to finding and creating good quality metrics to gauge results.

In the end, plan for multiple iterations…

These are five leadership tips that I have learned in my short time being a part of two data driven organizations. If there was anything that I missed upon reflection, it is probably the importance of iterations. Good leaders don’t expect their system, their solution or their plan to be the best one immediately. That is why you need to plan on having multiple iterations to improve the process. If you are planning on leading your own data driven organization, be prepared to fail multiple times before you get it right. Nothing is going to be perfect, but it is not perfection that matters. It’s the drive for perfection that will lead to success.

Have more leadership tips to share? Let me know in the comments below!

About the Author

Michael Tastad is a former Partner Development Manager at Vendasta, who drinks an obscene amount of green tea and absorbs political information as fast as he closes deals (super fast).

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