The Carrot and Stick Are Must-Haves in the Data Governance Toolbox

The next facet of our Data Governance Framework recognizes the key dependency any data governance-related effort has on change management.  No matter how compelling the vision and business case, making data a trusted corporate asset on par with your financial and people assets is a major culture shift for most organizations.

Data Governance

To accomplish this move from current to a desired future state, significant behavioral change will likely be required across the workforce, your partner/supplier ecosystems, and maybe even in your interactions with customers. Support for these organizational, business process, and policy changes will require significant training, communication, and education with a “carrot and stick” performance management program to incentivize good data practices while discouraging damaging behaviors from the past. 

Start with the Carrot.  

Change is difficult, but there are various incentives you can offer to employees, partners and even customers to improve potential negative sentiment associated with the change and increase the likelihood of success.  Some examples of incentives to consider:

  • Introduce gaming techniques to encourage friendly competition.  Many sales organization’s use the incentive of “making President’s Club” – often an all-expense paid trip to some exotic, sunny location – to ultimately encourage sales reps to significantly exceed their targeted sales goals.  A customer-facing example in the data space is’s service (formerly Jigsaw) which uses a points system to keep track of its crowd sourced community contributors to see who is adding or updating the most contact and/or company records into its database.  Winners each month receive a nominal cash reward with attached bragging rights. 
  • Provide discounts, services or information to B2B partners.  As an example, I met with a large, global technology manufacturer who does the vast majority of its business through indirect channels (via 1-tier value added resellers and two-tier Distributors).  To get visibility into the ultimate end user of its products, it needed its channel partners to provide back Point of Sale (POS) data with significantly more information about the ultimate recipient of the products.  To encourage partners to provide this additional customer data, this manufacturer offered greater discounts to those who met its minimum required data standards, which resulted in POS data with significantly higher levels of quality and completeness.
  • Provide discounts, features or services to customers.   Common examples here are supermarkets or other retailers offering “rewards cards” of some kind.  In exchange for attractive discounts only available to card-holders, customers pretty much agree to allow the retailer to track the customer’s name, address, purchase habits, and potentially other market and demographic data – providing extremely valuable customer intelligence.

But don’t be afraid to use the Stick

  • Link quality of data capture and maintenance to performance management objectives.  This should be both a carrot and a stick used for employees who play a significant role in the capture, maintenance or consumption of critical enterprise data.  Employees that exceed expectations in how well they manage this data should be rewarded, but there should be repercussions for those who refuse to adapt to new data management policies and processes – specifically impacts to their bonus, raises, promotions, etc.  This may sound harsh, but few would question holding a Financial Controller responsible for mismanaging your organization’s cash, so why wouldn’t you protect your data assets in the same way with those equally responsible for that asset?
  • Add data quality requirements to contract language for partner service level agreements.  Similar to the incentive above, this “stick” makes clear to both suppliers and distribution partners they will not receive full payment (for suppliers) and negotiated discounts (for distributors) unless required data is delivered with predetermined formats and consistent agreed-upon levels of quality.

There are various ways to help encourage a positive and effective change to existing behaviors, these are just a few examples to consider and potentially inspire your organization. But don’t assume your average IT manager or data governance driver has the necessary skills and expertise to do this alone.  Change management requires a project plan in and of itself, with defined roles and responsibilities, a focus on education, training, communication, measurement, and resource requirements.  There are many consulting firms that specialize in change management, facilitation and process improvement and this would be the right time to consider budgeting for such expertise.  Why? Well, no matter how brilliant your policies, how comprehensive your rules, how talented your stewards, and how robust your technology and architecture – if you can’t change the behaviors that created your data problems in the first place, you’re destined to repeat them.