Changing Culture through Democratizing Data

Photo by john mcsporran — Creative Commons 2.0

Earlier this year, I met the President and the CIO from Coppin State University at a national CIO conference. The few minutes that I talked with these two positive leaders was incredibly valuable, illuminating, and hopeful.

Maria Thompson became the president of Coppin State two years ago. She had the vision that Coppin State would be a learning organization and that their decisions would be data driven. Under her direction and in partnership with the CIO, every single employee now has access to the most current data on a campus dashboard that shows five years of student success data.

Her leadership team looks at the data in every meeting and makes decisions based on the latest information. The same dashboard that the leadership team looks at is available to every employee from professors to janitors. This allows distributed decision making that is based on the same set of of information.

Ahmed M. El-Haggan, the CIO, provides training across campus that is focused on what the data means so that people can use it to make good decisions. His team purposefully selected a very user-friendly tool so that the technology was not a barrier to using the data.

This democratization of data is helping individual students.

Professors can see whether their students are enrolled and reach out to individuals who may be at risk. This is happening dynamically because the information is easily available. Before the data was democratized, if a professor wanted to get this type of information, a formal request needed to be made with several security signoffs that took weeks.

This effort has helped shift the culture across the campus to one that promotes empowerment, shared leadership, and deep learning. The president said that her job is a lot more fun now that the data is democratized.

I loved this story because it is such a concrete example of the power of transparency, trust, and training in creating a positive culture. So this week, think about how you can democratize data to shift the conversation and culture in your organization.

Getting others to join the ride

Biking in South Island New Zealand

Several weeks ago, I crashed on my bicycle when I slipped on a metal strip while crossing a bridge. I was rather lucky that I didn’t seriously hurt myself. I did earn a trip to the emergency room in an ambulance and got a single stitch in my elbow along with a bunch of bruises from my hip down to my ankle. But I could walk and was back on my bike the next weekend.

When others found out about my accident, many people shared stories about their accidents or near accidents on their bikes. However, the reaction to the accidents were very different. Many people talked about how they stopped biking because it was too dangerous and drivers were too distracted and rude. While others, like me, were back in the saddle as soon as we were able.

I have been thinking a lot about what is motivating me to continue to bike even though I have been hurt and know I could get hurt again. I have posed the question to several of my biking friends. Their answers included seeking a challenge, being addicted to endorphins, biking being easier on joints than running, and loving it. They also talked about what scared them about biking and that it was a constant risk-benefit analysis about how much they push themselves.

For me, I am happy when I am on my bike. I love to be outside, feel my own power, push myself, and be with friends. So, for now, it is worth the risk.

However, I have a lot of things I do when I am biking to reduce the risk of being hurt and increase my enjoyment. I avoid heavily traveled roads, I ride where drivers are expecting and considerate of cyclists. I seek out newly paved and smooth roads. I cycle with friends who are experienced and passionate about cycling. I carry spare tires and tools for when equipment fails. I travel to beautiful and remote places to cycle.

In technology, we are constantly venturing out to implement projects or initiatives that have transformative impact. The journey to success often depends on asking people to manage change. Much of the change that needs to happen has nothing to do with technology. It has to do with how we work together and get along and whether we can get others to join the ride with us. Change is inherently risky.  Like biking, there are some people who enjoy the challenge and risk and are willing to jump right in. I know I am one of those people. However, most people want reassurance and support, because they have scars from previous change initiatives.

Over the last year, I have asked the Temple Tech team to take a change journey with me as we implemented “A Wiser Way” training to develop self-managed leaders at every level. It has been amazing to see the changes that individuals have made and the positive impact that it has had across the university. As individuals have examined their stories and shifted the way they interact with each other, our projects are being successful in unprecedented ways. We are getting things done and having fun.

As we plan our journeys, we can do many things to encourage others to come on the ride with us. Paint a picture of why a change will lead them to a better place ultimately. Make the change enjoyable. Be prepared for the accidents and setbacks that are going to happen. Give people choices. Realize that people have different abilities and speeds, so we need to accommodate training wheels and racing cycles in our plans. Make bike paths and ensure smooth roads on the transition. Develop empathy for others. Do not overwhelm individuals with too much change. My challenge for you this week is to consider how you can make the ride smoother for your colleagues as you work on projects together.