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Doing No Harm is the Least You Could Do

Paul Boal

As teams begin to execute on a data or information governance strategy they often focus on preventing any harm that might occur through the misuse of data. They’ll limit people's access to data unless they can be sure they aren’t going to be able to do anything harmful with it and they’ll blindly apply the same common, unified, and industry-standard data models to every project.

The data governance structures that put an emphasis on protecting from harm seem to be a logical approach at first glance, but narrowly focusing on that which may be harmful actually hinders growth. This hindrance is an opportunity cost and is rarely factored into the decision making process.

Hippocrates, born around the year of 460 BC and widely considered the “Father of Medicine”, is accredited with writing that a physician must “...have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or, at least, to do no harm.”

Governance teams would do themselves a great benefit if they followed the approach of a physician who, in the course of attempting to do good, would also attempt to do no harm to the patient. This does not mean that the physician's first aim is to prevent all harm but rather she will find an approach that is best fit for the patient with the overall aim to do good. If no good can be done, then, at least, no harm shall be done.

Similarly, governance teams should not make it their primary mission to prevent all harm. Instead, they should focus first on doing good and when they can’t explicitly “do good” then make sure their actions aren’t going to incidentally do harm. They should seek alignment within their organization and a “best fit for purpose” and they can do so by integrating (at least) these three key attributes into their organizations:

1.    Their organizations stand for a set of authentic principles.
The organization’s principles set the tone of behavior. When an organization knows what it stands for, an element of trust reverberates throughout the team members which allows you to empower your people with the difficult decisions, knowing they share these highly valuable principles.

2.    The strategic objectives are set and communicated effectively.
Throughout our day-to-day activities many decisions are made that, when added up, have a large impact on the wellbeing of the organization. If the strategic objectives of the company are not set or are not communicated effectively then these decisions will be made from a much narrower viewpoint which might be a detriment to another group or the organization at large. Without these objectives we also lose out on a key opportunity to create transparency, measure our performance, and adapt accordingly.

3.    The members of the organization know where they fit in.
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins wrote about the importance of getting the “right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats” and then you figure out where to drive it. Before we start to consider what technologies we need to move to the cloud or whether a data lake works best for us, we have to remember that the data is only as valuable as the people who will be collecting, analyzing, and executing against the data.

Do Good
Many organizations focus heavily on their governance policies and processes but they neglect to consider the business value being created from (or destroyed by) the processes they are trying to govern. Proactively getting alignment right will provide tremendous business value.  With the right people, principles, and objectives, your teams can put an emphasis on doing good rather than on preventing harm.  This opportunity to do good is the power of alignment and it should not be overlooked

If you think you could use some help in any of these areas, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’d be happy to engage with you to see how we can help you and your organization to get aligned.