Day 0 - as the CDO, you are now the new corporate punch bag.

In commercial land, the axis of power has tended to rest with the CEO/ CFO relationship.   There is always a myriad of other political triangles that lobby and wrestle for power and sway decisions.  Given that decisions are increasingly reliant on evidence which is data, the CDO gets dragged into everyone's battles, which are not always in the best interest of the business, customer, ecosystem or society - such are incentive scheme.

Everyone else in the senior team does not want to recognise is that the data they use as evidence and proof is equally supportive or detrimental to everyone else's cause.  Whilst everyone else on the leadership team gets to pick and bias what they foreground and promote, the CDO has to keep their mind open and judge all data with the same level of critical thinking.  This tends to mean the CDO becomes the punch bag when data either supports or otherwise a decision, which in reality is a political lobby for power which the data may not fully support. However, we are all fallible, and data is not the evidence we want it to be. 

we are all fallible, and data is not the evidence we want it to be. 

Given that even the most highly skilled data scientists, who were incentivised to come to the most accurate results, can create a broad range of conclusions, even when given the same data and hypothesis.  This means that senior leadership teams don’t know if the data they have and the conclusion they have reached is correct. 

A recent and significant published paper gave 73 teams the same data and research question. The answers varied widely, and very little variation was easily explained. What the paper goes on to say is that competencies and potential confirmation biases do not explain the broad variation in outcomes. 

The paper concludes that if any given study had been conducted by a different (set of) researcher(s), perhaps even the same researchers at a different time, its results may well have varied for reasons that cannot be reduced to easily observable analytical choices or biases.  They conclude that steps in the research process remain undisclosed in the standard presentation and consumption of scientific results and have exposed a “hidden universe” of idiosyncratic research and researcher variability. An important takeaway here is that the reality of researcher decisions cannot easily be simulated.

Therefore, there are at least two forces at play in data leading to a recommendation or decision.  One, the bias and foregrounding of data outcomes by a member of the leadership team is for a reason. Two. the same data, same tools, the same team can generate more than one recommendation.  How to determine what is at play is a modern-day skill the CDO must-have. 

As the CDO, you have to gain the trust of all your senior team and work with them to determine what is incentive biased, desired outcome-driven, seeking support or driven from the data set where there is naturally more than one possible conclusion.  In doing this, you have to be capable of assessing the alignment or divergence from others in the team who have come to different conclusions.   This becomes more complex if the data set is public, purchased, or gathered from the ecosystem with partners, as others outside of the organisation can create different conclusions. You have to be prepared to justify your reason, rationale and processes.   The skill you need to demonstrate is one of consistency in finding a route to align any data conclusions to the company's purpose and agreed strategic goals and not to the forces of lobby. Leave those calls to the CEO knowing the CEO has your back or get out, as being the new corporate punch bag is not fun.   

Note to the CEO

Each leadership team member is playing their own game and is looking to the CDO to find and support data for their cause, lobby, decision or budget.  This means that the CDO becomes the corporate punch bag and police, taking over from HR. The CDO has to navigate the path of varying conclusions and desired outcomes from the same data set, which are in conflict as they meet individuals agendas.   As the CEO, you have to be aware of this and the game your CFO will play.  The power axis itself of the CEO/ CFO relationship comes under stress as the CDO can give you more insights into decisions “presented because of incentives and self-interest” than anyone else, but HR will still want to own it.  If you alienate the CDO, you will lose that linkage, which is exactly what others want.  However, first, check that the CDO has this trust of the team and that your CDO has the capability and capacity to manage this modern-day leadership challenge.  If not, it might be time to upgrade your CDO with new skills or find a new version.