As Harvard Business Review has reported, only about a third of workers, at least in America, are interested in becoming managers. Most are perfectly happy remaining in their professional domain expertise. Even among those who aspire to management, I’m sure that many are hesitant about the HR, fiscal and budgetary responsibilities that come with this role. 

Yet what we are seeing coming to life in the middle management zone of organizations is that there is yet another new responsibility that managers must adopt – a data responsibility. Another way to look at it is that we’re rapidly approaching a time when we don’t have data leaders anymore, we simply have leaders. Data leadership is just part of a leader’s remit, whether that’s explicit or just a way of operating. 

I see data responsibility playing out in three ways. In brief, managers must

  1. Be aware of how data is moving through the enterprise. Managers have a responsibility to learn because this is a new era for many. For a long time, many have been able to get away with the phrase, “Oh data’s not part of my world.” Yet what we’re seeing is a recognition that organizations can’t simply repeat a mantra about becoming data driven but not really understand what that means in practice. In practice, of course, this means that every person in the organization is aware of how they personally connect into the data ecosystem, and how data moves through it.
  2. Surface how teams can use data to do their jobs better. Change does not need be earth-shaking and transformative in every instance. As leaders, we also need to be on the lookout for small practices that may feel very foreign and forced in the first instance. This includes practices like asking “Where did this data come from?” Or “How does that number compare to the number provided by XYZ department?” If I’m a leader responsible for the call center, for example, and recognize that this is truly a frontline and a phenomenal data capture point, how do I draw attention to data quality, to data capture practices, and make sure that my section of the organization is being rewarded? At the very least, how do I ensure this team is acknowledged for the contribution that it's making in capturing the data that other teams are surfacing and using data to do their jobs better?
  3. Adopt a continuous learning mindset that fosters a sense of curiosity
    For the executive, this means building their confidence to ask questions. They do not have to become data experts or fluent in R, but they do need to be curious and to enable a culture of curiosity.
    Think about culture for a moment, outside of data. Why do we travel the world to experience different cultures? What is it that makes different pockets within our geographic regions more, or less, interesting than others? Culture is the unintended consequence of rituals, of practices, of beliefs, of shared celebrations, and of shared history. And so if we then reinsert the word “data” and talk about data culture, what rituals, what practices, what celebrations, what sort of shared history do we have around data? And what rituals, practices, celebrations, and history do we want to create around data? This is part of what being a manager means today. 

Dissecting data practices. Creating new data rituals. It may all sound a bit weird to someone who has come up through the ranks of an organization and has not been in a leadership position before. But remember, human resource and financial management responsibilities weren’t always part of the manager equation either. In the beginning management was all about maximizing economic productivity of each worker. But we’ve evolved, and as organizations bring people up through the ranks, they invest a lot of time and resources building the HR and the financial management capacity of these new leaders. 

But this equation is incomplete on its own. Organizations must recognize that there is also a responsibility to build data leadership capabilities within all of their managers in the same way that we develop people leadership, and budget management. Data leadership will become just another part of being a leader. Done well, I predict it will make the role of manager far more enjoyable and meaningful.