Leading Through Uncertainty — Path to the Next Normal

Virtual Town Hall Insights
Minneapolis CDO Community

Nancy Garrett

VP, Provider Digitalization



Heidi Westfall

Global IT Director Information Management Services



Pat Brickson

Director, Enterprise Data Systems



Tim Brands

Chief Data Officer, Protein & Salt Division


MARCH 2022

The overall business response to the pandemic put a spotlight on the growing value attributed to data-driven insights as businesses of all sizes accelerated their digital journeys. The role of a CDO in such situations is critical. Data and analytics leaders are tasked with driving initiatives forward to improve data governance, promote data literacy and create new data operating models. But at the same time, CDOs are managing issues of culture, employee engagement, and uncertainty about returning to the office after a prolonged stretch of remote work.

CDOs in the Minneapolis community gathered recently to discuss strategies for improving employee well-being, creating connected teams, and teaching self-service across the organization in a hybrid environment. Nancy Garrett, vice president of provider digitalization at Aetna, kicked off the discussion with a poll question for the group: What is the greatest challenge to retaining or recruiting talent? 

Data leaders in the discussion indicated that the current market is a challenge with a lot of movement, opportunities and competitive salaries. Data skills are also in demand with senior-level roles being particularly hard to fill. Remote work, while providing benefits to recruiting, can also be challenging, as one CDO noted that their company was competing with national or global employers for the same talent.

Global Issues Impacting Data Teams

The CDOs agreed that for the last couple of years, global events, such as the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and the Great Resignation, have impacted companies and their data strategies. These issues have caused a persistent state of “crisis mode” and have required data leaders and their teams to be more nimble. Teams have to respond to how fast things are happening and remain agile in how they can continue to support the business.

One favorable outcome for data and analytics leaders is that recent events have fast-tracked many organizations’ journeys with data and transformation. One CDO noted the “strong recognition of the need for data” as another positive outcome. Another said that his organization is starting to move past “gut decision making” into a more data-driven process.

But while data journeys were accelerated, leaders also recognized the need now to find more data stewards, move beyond reporting, pull their sources together and generally drive toward a more advanced state in their data use.

Increasing Data Skills and Training

To help advance data use, CDOs shared a variety of tactics, including their ability to provide critical experiences that engage their current employees’ career interests. One data leader shared that they are “upskilling employees so that we don’t lose them – which is providing better skills and retention.” Some are cross training between analysts and technical staff, and other leaders in the discussion were offering more tools and strengthening their self-service models.

Another idea to improve data usage across the organization included forming communities of practice on a variety of topics to offer some cross-pollination between data and other departments. In addition, some CDOs are employing “bite size” training and shorter overviews of platforms and solutions. Finally, one data leader noted that improving data literacy also has the effect of promoting good data governance practices.

We have an opportunity to use data governance as a training mechanism.”

Engaging Employees in a Hybrid World

Hybrid work environments make it more challenging to help people feel connected, and CDOs discussed the new normal of trying to connect remote employees to the mission of the team and organization. One CDO noted that it’s important to be “intentional about connectivity” since you no longer casually run into people at the office. 

Some data leaders mentioned that they are offering community gatherings with face-to-face interactions with teammates and others outside of their day-to-day work. One low-cost suggestion from a participant was for executives to reach out directly each month to a list of valued employees, which has had a big impact at their company. Other CDOs said they are conducting “stay interviews,” and others are offering no-meeting Fridays or quarterly Fridays off to help prevent burnout. 

All agreed that the virtual environment fosters more of an open-door policy, where employees feel like they can join meetings and speak up more easily than in person, and no one wants to lose that quality of equal participation. There are communications challenges in hybrid environments, and finding solutions for remote and in-person employees will be an ongoing area of focus.


by CDOs, for CDOs

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