Data Governance Should Not Threaten Work Culture

By Robert Seiner

Published on August 18, 2020

Data Governance Work Culture

This article is the second of a five-part series on data governance from Robert S. Seiner of KIK Consulting &

Your People Already Govern Data

I often start my live presentation by asking the question: “By show of hands, how many of your organizations are governing your data?” I typically see a few hands go up, but no one waves emphatically as if saying, “Whoopee, we govern our data!”

I say, “I am going to ask that question again and I want everybody to raise their hand.” So, I re-ask the question, and everybody raises their hands–many with a puzzled look on their face. The point I make is that every organization governs their data to some degree. If they didn’t govern their data, the organization would never have demonstrated any level of success – at any time.

Every organization governs its data — some in a very informal manner which leads to inefficiency and ineffectiveness resulting from the data. The non-invasive approach to data governance looks to formalize responsibility and accountability for data by recognizing the people in the organization who already define, produce, and use data. The non-invasive approach assists these people, enabling them to perform these actions in a more formal manner. Your people already govern the data.

Formalizing Data Governance

The discipline of data governance must focus on knowing who these people are, helping them to make more actionable decisions, and empowering them to become better stewards. People who define data must know what it means to define data better, and that includes providing meaningful business definitions for data and managing how often data is replicated across the organization. People who produce the data must know what quality data looks like, and they must be evaluated on the quality of the data they produce. And, the no-brainer. People in the organization who use the data, must understand how to use it, and follow the rules associated with using it appropriately. That means data consumers must follow the protection and privacy rules, the business rules, and use the data in the ethical manner spelled out by the organization.

While people already define, produce, and use data, data governance requires that these people consistently follow the rules and standards for the action they take with that data. The rules and the standards are important metadata, data about the data, that must be recorded and made available to the people across the organization to assist in the discipline of data governance. The most effective way to manage this metadata is through a data catalog that engages users, enhances the value of the metadata, and formalizes people’s interaction with the data.

Governance and Government

When organizations think about implementing data governance, their first thoughts are often associated with data government. ‘Government’ means command and control. ‘Government’ tells us what we can and cannot do. ‘Government’ means mandates for behavior. Breaking the rules set by the government means that there are consequences. It is no wonder that people think that data governance means that severe limitations will be put on their access to data. Governing data is immediately thought of as being invasive to the work culture of the organization. But it does not have to be that way – nor should it be.

Organizations must clearly convey that their data governance program isn’t like government for data. The truth is that data governance is a cultural change focused on getting the “right” people to take the “right” actions when it comes to managing the data. The non-invasive approach to governance focuses on providing the path of least resistance and greatest success.

Non-Invasive Data Governance can be summed up in a few quick statements. With Non-Invasive Data Governance:

  • Data Steward responsibilities are identified, recognized, formalized, and engaged with according to their existing responsibility rather than being assigned or handed to people as more work.

  • The governance of information is applied to existing policies, standard operating procedures, practices, and methodologies, rather than being introduced or emphasized as new processes or methods.

  • The governance of information augments and supports all data integration, risk management, business intelligence, and master data management activities rather than imposing inconsistent rigor to these initiatives.

  • Specific attention is paid to assuring senior management’s understanding of a practical and non-threatening, yet effective, approach to governing information. This approach will be taken to mediate ownership and promote stewarding of data as a cross-organization asset, rather than the traditional method of “you will do this.”

  • Best practices and key concepts of this non-threatening approach are communicated effectively, compared to existing practices, to identify, and leverage strengths and enable the ability to address opportunities to improve.

  • Metadata is made actionable by formalizing responsibility of data documentation while making information about the data available to people who will benefit from its use.

The non-invasive approach to data governance dispels the idea that data governance will interfere with people’s “day jobs” and thwart creativity. The non-invasive approach invites productive autonomy that demonstrates business value without worsening the data situation.

Moving from Passive to Active Data Governance

Passive data governance by definition is more submissive than active data governance. Perhaps your data governance program is considered passive because it is reactive, submissive, and even unresponsive to the needs of your organization. If this is the case, you should consider evolving your program from being passive to becoming more active and actionable by following the non-invasive approach to data governance. This approach improves staff engagement with the data by providing them with the information they need (read metadata) to have confidence in the data.

The move from a passive toward  an active program involves making the data more actionable. There are several ways to do that:

  1. Make the information about the data readily available through a data catalog that is easy to access and navigate, and that improves people’s understanding the data that is available and where that data came from.

  2. Improve people’s confidence in the data by providing information that makes the data easier to trust and improves their reliance on the data.

  3. Reduce the amount of data wrangling that needs to be done by the data analysts and scientists to get the data the way it needs to be before they can analyze and apply science to the data’s use.

  4. Improve the care of the data by formalizing people’s accountability for the data and the data about the data. The data will not govern itself.

Take the steps to improve the organization’s reception to data governance by dismissing the impression that data governance has to be complex and difficult by moving from the lifeless manner in which data is presently governed to a higher level of functionality. In order to do this, you must focus on instilling a new culture around data by promoting what you already know and what you already do.

Create a Culture of Data Governance

A new culture of formally governed data requires that it is understood that there are alternatives to the command-and-control and other traditional approaches to governing data. Providing this communication requires that someone in your organization has the responsibility to deliver appropriate messaging to everyone in the organization from the “powers that be” down to the people on the front lines.

Tools can help too. Consider rolling out a data catalog that supports some of the principles of non-invasive governance and leverage the data catalog to help formalize people’s behaviors. Engagement is key and defining the approach for the whole organization to understand, on top of the proper tooling, can go a long way. Riot Games, creator of the world’s most-played PC game and champion of non-invasive data governance, has learned. In a recent article in TechTarget, Chris Kudelka, technical product manager of data governance, said, “It’s important to have a very people-focused approach and make sure that stewardship is really well defined when you introduce a data catalog, because that will help really make the engagement accelerate.”

In many organizations there are already people who are educated and skilled in delivering the appropriate messages to different audiences including management, shareholders, partners, and customers. Consider engaging the communication specialists to assist the people who are administering your data governance program to deliver a culture that is targeted at improving your data situation. Data governance can be implemented in a way that does not threaten the work culture of the organization. The problem is that many people in many organizations do not know this to be a fact.

In the next blog, I will address how to select and adopt an approach to data governance that best suits your organization.

  • Your People Already Govern Data
  • Formalizing Data Governance
  • Governance and Government
  • Moving from Passive to Active Data Governance
  • Create a Culture of Data Governance
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