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Leading the Way in Data Drive

By Mark Hunter, Chief Data Officer, Sainsbury's Bank

In this blog, Mark Hunter, Chief Data Officer at Sainsbury’s Bank, shares his insight on the role of the data leader as a critical enabler to delivering value from data initiatives. Mark will explore this area in further detail as part of a panel at Data Summit with John Akred (CTO Silicon Valley Data Science) and Frances Sneddon (CTO, Simul8).

I was asked to consider the role of leadership in delivering successful data projects in Financial Services. For me, the key to success is the ability to help and motivate your team, no matter what you are delivering.

One quote I’m particularly fond of is from Simon Sinek: “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge”.

Another person I admire is Daniel Pink. His Ted Talk on motivation is highly entertaining and well worth a watch:

This drew on research into motivation, debunking the traditional ‘carrot and stick’ type of motivation. The research showed that ‘carrot and stick’ motivation works for tasks which only involve mechanical skill i.e. the higher the pay the better the performance. However, once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skills, a larger reward led to poorer performance. Daniel Pink explains why this is the case and goes on to introduce a new approach, based around intrinsic motivation. He introduces the ‘new operating system for our businesses’ which revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Let’s start with Purpose – the role of a leader is to create and craft this (and include others in the process). We all want to know that we matter and the work we’re doing matters. It’s important to understand what the company is trying to achieve and how your work contributes to the overall goal.

Autonomy – I’m a big believer in self-organising teams. There is a move in the corporate world away from ‘Command and Control’ styles of management to a more contemporary style of leadership (although some find this quite a challenge). I liked this blog on the Innovative Leader which details some traits like ‘harnesses the abilities of others’, ‘trusts and delegates’ and ‘leads from the side’.

I like the quote from Steve Jobs: “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”.

Data is definitely a team sport – you need lots of people bringing different skills together to successfully deliver a data project. I think this is why so many data projects fail (I’ve seen estimates as high as 80%) - it isn’t because the technology is impossible to implement, it’s usually because companies struggle to bring together the necessary people and skills in a collaborative manner.

This just leaves my personal favourite – Mastery, which to me means ‘getting better at stuff’. Part of my leadership style is the emphasis I place on personal development – I’m amazed at how far people can develop but also how easily it is to get out of this habit. As leaders, it is our responsibility to create the environment for personal development.

In summary, the role of a leader is to bring these strands together – to help provide purpose and to create an environment where the team have autonomy and the opportunity to develop. In my opinion these are the necessary conditions to allow you to do your career’s best work.

At Sainsbury’s Bank we have a really exciting data agenda to deliver and are always looking to hire talent who can make a meaningful contribution to the work ahead. That is why we are delighted to sponsor DataFest17, sharing our experience in leading data initiatives at the Data Summit and accessing the large pool of new talent at Data Talent Scotland.

Having relocated back to Scotland after 10 years overseas I have been really impressed with the quality and breadth of data-related courses on offer across Scotland’s universities. Sandy Scott (our Head of Data Science) and I will be presenting at Data Talent Scotland and we’re really looking forward to meeting lots of Scotland’s finest!

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