The Next Big Question

Episode 23
Hosted by: Liz Ramey

Moin Haque

EVP, Chief Data Officer

Warner Music Group

Moin Haque is currently Executive Vice President and Chief Data Officer at Warner Music Group. He has held senior leadership roles at the intersection of data and analytics and media technology for over twenty years. Moin is passionate about manifesting data "as a verb" within organizations.

How Can Organizations Empower, Transform and Liberate with Data?

AUGUST 21, 2022

This week, Executive Vice President and Chief Data Officer Moin Haque of Warner Music Group joins us on The Next Big Question podcast to talk about how organizations can be empowered through data. Moin shares why it’s important to expand your storytelling abilities beyond reports and dashboards and how to strive to make data so ingrained in the culture that it’s “in the water” at your organization. He also discusses how to set up the foundational part of your data literacy journey for success and how to “liberate the data” from systems and silos.


Liz Ramey (00:13):

Welcome to The Next Big Question, a podcast with senior business leaders sharing their vision for tomorrow, brought to you by Evanta, a Gartner company.

Each episode features a question with C-suite executives about the future of their roles, organizations, and industries. Thanks for listening. I’m your host, Liz Ramey.

Now, let’s hear what today’s Next Big Question is. In today’s podcast, I speak with Moin Haque, the EVP and Chief Data Officer at Warner Music Group.  

In this conversation, Moin and I talk about his philosophy around data and how he’s taking a different approach to supporting the aspirations of a data-informed organization. Let’s find out how Moin answers the question, “How can organizations empower, transform and liberate with data?”

Liz Ramey (01:11)

Moin Haque. Welcome to The Next Big Question. 

Moin Haque (01:13)

Thank you for having me. It's my pleasure to be here. 

Liz Ramey (01:15)

Well, I'm excited to talk with you today about your unique philosophy around data and your unique approach in becoming a data-driven organization. The question that we're going to be trying to answer today is - how can organizations empower, transform and liberate with data? But in order for our audience to really get a clear picture of you and your philosophies, I would love to hear from you about your career journey and how you got to where you are today. 

Moin Haque (01:50)

Sure. Thank you. Well, candidly, a lot of my career journey sort of can best be described as sort of sailing on a sea of serendipity. It's not been very planned out, but I've started my professional career in consulting, initially working in different verticals, like finance and health care, before I sort of pivoted over to the client side. And I'd say for pretty much the past 20 years or so, it's been mostly in the media and entertainment space, most recently in music. 

And I did, interestingly enough, take part in a web 1.0 to a startup in the late nineties. It was music focused, but unfortunately, we were a couple of years too early from the digital revolution. And as with many Web 1.0 startups back then, we sort of faded into the sunset. But it was an amazing experience, and also it was an inspiration for me to go back to business school to kind of understand what happened and what didn't happen. But, since then, for the most part, within the media and entertainment space, I've moved back and forth between engineering, tech, data roles. And somewhere along the way, I sort of got bit by the data bug -- and bit pretty bad. And it was a good thing because for me it was really the bringing together of data and technology that really acts as a multiplier effect. It's kind of like the Wonder Twin powers I use that could help form new kinds of solutions to really help move the needle forward for organizations. 

Liz Ramey (03:24)

I love that. So, we'll have to have another whole episode talking to you just about how it was being a part of this kind of digital revolution within the music industry and how that affected, you know, people on both sides. So that sounds very interesting. So, let's set the stage a little bit more in the context of kind of liberating with data or liberating an organization with data. I'd love to dive into your philosophies around data and culture. Today, you know, in this world of data, there's so many buzzwords around that and around culture and data driven, data informed, so on and so forth. One of the most challenging things within an enterprise, as I've spoken with lots of CDAOs, is this idea of data literacy. So, talk to me about your aspirations for empowering and transforming the organization through data. 

Moin Haque (04:25)

Sure. And so, for the record, I sort of sit in the data-informed camp. To me, data is something that drives machines, but hopefully it's what informs us as humans. And for me from a data literacy, data culture perspective, it's really getting the organization to a point where data is sort of ‘in the water.’ You know, it's not something that's relegated to certain teams or specialists or systems or solutions, but it's really sort of in the water. It's sort of present and prevalent in an independent way. 

And you really get to a point where you can imagine an organization where everyone is a storyteller in and about their respective domains. I mean, how cool would that be, where people are asking and answering questions relevant to the questions for their real world challenges and opportunities, even bringing a sense of creativity to it without all the latencies we sort of observe today, in getting at insights, getting at decisions, navigating systems and solutions, and working with the right specialists. So, to me, that's really an aspirational state where we'd like to get to not having reports and dashboards as the only tool with which to solve these problems and tell these stories.

Liz Ramey (05:41)

That's fantastic. I actually ran a training just yesterday about building a narrative around data. And because our sales team has said to us verbatim, you know, it's great to have all this data, but I don't have the tools to build the narrative around it, to tell that story. So, I think you're right. When it's in the water, when we're all drinking it, and it becomes a part of us, then we all become kind of master storytellers. So, in thinking about that and then thinking about kind of getting it into the water and getting people used to it, do you think that it's more valuable to have structured or unstructured data teams and an unstructured or structured strategy? 

Moin Haque (06:29)

Great, well, candidly, there's structure in everything. For me, the way I sort of understand that question -- and it's really about whether or not the structure is fixed or fluid. And I personally believe it should be more ephemeral, so that it can adapt and be nimble enough to align with strategic objectives as they change across the organization. You know, you sort of want to be at a place where you can marshal all the relevant resources across various teams to try to solve a particular problem together. And in that way, I guess from my perspective, if I understand what you mean by unstructured, then I would sort of lean towards it being unstructured. 

It also kind of helps us prepare to jump into the deep end of the pool right from the start, because as we mature our teams and organizations, they will flourish more in that unstructured context, and they're not going to be limited by the way the physical organization is structured. Sort of borrowing from the old term - you want to think globally, but act locally. So, we want to bring the scale of the enterprise and all the advantages that come with it to these sort of distributed teams that are not as well-defined, not as well structured. The caveat being, we want to make sure we can put in a framework for governance and trust and ultimately focus on empowering these teams where they are. And I think one of the sort of advantages of the shared trauma we've all been through these past couple of years, is that a lot of the framework to drive this collaboration and this distribution is now pretty established. 

Liz Ramey (07:59)

By framework, are you meaning kind of the processes and technologies that we have now to be able to operate in a more fluid way? 

Moin Haque (08:11)

Yes, it's become sort of common practice, right. The bounds of physical location and time, which is good and bad, has sort of been transcended. It's sort of a new operating model, so we sort of have that capability. And that capability, I think, also helps to drive teams remaining distributed and being unstructured and being able to come together when and where they're needed. 

Liz Ramey (08:35)

Fantastic. So, you've really kind of established in this philosophy in my brain at least, thinking about data as being fluid or the organization as being fluid and data in the water. And I'm just picturing movement and a fluidity that just has things continuously moving. We have talked before about this concept of ‘data as a verb.’ And so, I would love you to kind of expand upon that concept, and let our listeners know how you view data in that way. 

Moin Haque (09:18)

So, the idea of data being a verb, for me, it's a pretty sacred concept. And the goal from my perspective is really about making sure that we're present to the what, the why, the how in anything we're investing ourselves in. From a data perspective, it's really ensuring that we're mindful in our practice and sort of the use and application of our skills and having that appropriate lens of purpose through which we navigate our day to day. And there's really I’m sort of borrowing from the mindfulness aspect to this, and that's where I'm driving a lot of the inspiration for this – we want to move away from focusing on what we do with data and how we work with data to not just being ritual alone because that's not sufficient. You don't want your relationship with data to be one of mindless ritual, but rather what it is I’m doing with it and why.

And there's this great quote which I'm going to paraphrase terribly from the late Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, where he talks about when we wash dishes and we're only thinking about what we're going to do when we're done. Then what you're basically doing becomes a nuisance, and you're not washing the dishes to wash the dishes. And so you're not present or alive in that moment. And with data, I think you really want to get to a point where you're aware and present and connected with what it is you're trying to do, not just something to get us to the next thing. That's not sort of living data with context and from my perspective, this is really what we need to hone in on. It helps us hone in on the why. 

Liz Ramey (10:55)

Interesting. I really like that. I really -- it's very interesting to kind of have that approach because often as business leaders, we want to move on to the next project. We kind of see innovation as being stumped if we're not always looking ahead. So, you know, with that, how do you teach internally business leaders to be present in what they're doing with data as opposed to thinking to the next project? 

Moin Haque (11:33)

So I think foundationally, what's really important is sort of going back and making sure that we can start with the why. What are the actual objectives for the organization. And this sort of transcends even getting to the point of talking about data. There are many ways to do this. Many of us have already done this at different levels in the organization or within organizations in some way, shape or form. Out of the many approaches, there's one methodology that's known as the lean canvas exercise. But again, it's not the only one. But what it does, what a lot of these exercises do -- is they sort of help you set the context around the nature of your enterprise or your business, right? 

Who are your actual consumers, what are your real challenges or opportunities, what are your value streams? And it's important to start there because that becomes foundational in helping you sort of think of establishing a real vernacular or lexicon that you can use to define all the priorities downstream…  ultimately relate all your processes, all your data signals into that frame. Almost think of it as a sort of a protogrammar, right? It can ideally be the basis for your business semantics. And ultimately, if done right, that's kind of what helps define even the semantic models that we look to build in the future. And then these semantics become what we should sort of really strive to contextualize our objectives in – that’s how we should write them, how we should define them. And if we do this right, then we can focus on the various areas where literacy can help in achieving them. Because it could be financial literacy, it could be process literacy, it can be other tactical things. In my case, the focus is around data literacy, but it really sort of helps surface also specific domains or areas and personas where we can now focus in to start the literacy journey. And again, when we start this journey -- I'm using the term literacy --- but a key piece of this is about empowerment, autonomy and ultimately accountability because that's what we're trying to deliver.

Liz Ramey (13:36)

Mm. It sounds really familiar to someone, you know, trying to become fluent in a language, right. And it's the semantics of data and this world of really understanding how to tell a story with data. That can be very challenging, especially for those that weren't necessarily born in a world where there was so much data around them. So, you know, you can't really be fluent if you just stay in a classroom. If you're learning another language, you're staying in a classroom, you really have to go out into the world and practice in real time. So, how are you encouraging or how will you kind of encourage your employees to move around the organization and other employees, even outside of your scope, to move around the organization and really increase their proficiency? 

Moin Haque (14:33)

So, for us, candidly, we're sort of at day zero. We're just starting out on the journey. And so a lot of the work is around posturing and better defining what the aspirations or goals are going to be. The first step right now is really to better understand where are all the data signals and how are they being leveraged and by whom -- and also where they're not. To better understand the need, the demand, and where the opportunity is. And having that sort of base setting, that base understanding of the organization and data today is the starting point. And from my perspective, we really don't want it to be a classroom model with a curriculum. 

While there are foundational skills around data that are key, this should really be more about an applied learning or applied literacy approach that's contextualized to that individual's respective function or domain, wherever they are in the organization. And there are certain methods and approaches that work best here. In addition with that, we want to explore some foundational self-assessment frameworks because you want to have some kind of baseline also around people and their competencies, their skills, their understanding of data, and how they work with it today because that's going to be key to measure our success downstream. 

Liz Ramey (15:48)

Fantastic. You can get a baseline. You do a self-assessment. I am assuming there's a kind of a bit of that. And then you look ahead at setting your objectives and the outcomes that you're hoping for. But then, there's that kind of time in between where you really want to get people to buy into this. And you want people to really start learning. And so I love -- Gartner has this kind of model where they talk about as an executive, you really have to teach up, teach down, teach across, but then also teach within. So, what sort of methods are you as a leader doing in order to teach in all different directions, as well as kind of being a continuous learner yourself? 

Moin Haque (16:44)

It's a great question, and I think it really sort of ties in for me – one specific recommendation we're honing in on to start with. It’s this idea of moving away from what we may have done traditionally, which is creating a data council or creating committees or other sort of organizational structure around this, but really moving towards something more organic, something that's akin to communities of practice. And this relates to the earlier point I made about not doing things as ritual, but rather doing them in sort of a more mindful way. And to me, communities of practice really help us be more present. This is also a way that we can make sure that we're setting ourselves up to be able to have data as a verb in the organization. So, it's really about starting with empowerment. And the key focus, as I mentioned before, on empowerment is to ensure we’re driving autonomy and accountability.

There's a method of teaching in the States that's called the Harkness method. It’s this idea of a Harkness table. And I think it's done in grade school and so forth. But the idea is you want to have this sort of virtual Harkness table, and you want to marshal and engage all the groups that we prioritized in that initial exercise and use this as much as we can to start to drive a regular habit or cadence where people start to come together. What we have to do from a leadership perspective to sort of seed that and prioritize that and make room for that. But over time, we sort of establish this forum for engagement, and ultimately, it's the collaboration and the interest that it fuels – that it will take on its own sense of ownership. 

And so we're really trying to connect sort of all these natural affinities across the company that could in many ways have been sort of hindered or blocked because of organizational structures that sort of transcend those, get people to come together, and have this sort of shared sense of focus of interest and build a community of practice around it. And again, prioritize initially on the domains from that canvas exercise that we identified as areas where we think there will be the most success. And then next, sort of pivot from there to transformation. We've heard terms in the past of ‘we need to democratize data,’ ‘we need to push self-service,’ and so forth. But you can't really do that unless you're making sure the teams that you're looking to empower are essentially properly informed. 

And that's going to require specific investments. So, it's not just, like I said, not just foundational data or technical skills, but really starting to develop that applied model to literacy that's tied into how they do their job and their specific domain or their specific functions. And then, as you mentioned, it needs to be a continuous sort of model. The term ‘continuous onboarding’ is really key here because it's not just something you do once a year or when you start in the role, but something that's sort of always there, where we as leaders champion the capacity for you to have this continuous onboarding space, and you start to continue to grow through that and drive that forward. 

Liz Ramey (20:00)

That's great. I love this, and I love the way you – you talk about data and its relationship to the organization from an individual level to a larger level in such an artful way.  You know, just using these terms mindful and organic and fluid and natural, it really pushes the boundaries from a practice that we kind of have originally seen as a science and moves it into this kind of blended -- you know, there's  somewhat of a scientific approach or a structured approach, but really there's this kind of artful way of looking at it where we don't have to be inside of a box. And I think that our listeners will really appreciate that. I'm curious if you can paint the picture a little bit more for me. Oftentimes in this data world, a CDAO will say, ‘Well, you know, I'm setting my North Star, and then we're going to journey to that North Star.’ I'll ask you a similar question, and that is, you know, you're painting a picture here of the organization. Can you talk to me a little bit more about what the ideal state looks like? What does that picture look like as the organization really operates in this continuously fluid manner? 

Moin Haque (21:30)

So the ideal state is sort of having that data-informed culture. And I know that sounds really abstract, but there are nuances that I would want to observe as we move towards that. And that's that in simple conversations, whether it be in meetings or emails or chats, the lexicon, the vernacular is less and less about systems and tools. But you really start to hear the context of the business and the relevance go. And it's sort of a way for us to know that we've freed the data. We've liberated it from systems and silos, and folks are now able to tell stories that are tied to the actual business functions and challenges and domains that they’re focused on.

The communities of practice that we've established – we want them to continue to evolve and adapt, but in a more organic way and stronger autonomy and accountability. So, there's less and less having to seed them and sort of prop them up, whereas they just start to sort of grow and develop organically with the organization. And another sort of tactical measure for me in that North Star is that we reduce or eliminate a lot of what I think are interim approaches to insights. And I want to pick on reports and dashboards again, which for me don't solve that last mile problem, right? I mean, we want to get the insights adjacent to where the opportunity is so people can act upon them without having these in-between layers. So seeing that as a mechanism go down is a key measure, and then continually go back to those self-assessments. We are data folks, we want to drink our own champagne, and do those continuous self-assessments, track and see how the literacy and maturity of the organization is changing and where we may need to make some pivots and adapt. 

Liz Ramey (23:17)

How do you see this as different from other organizations? And I would ask you to maybe even think about, you know, is this a possibility because of the industry that you're in? Are there other industries that may struggle with this kind of approach? You know, how do you really see, I guess, this opportunity as different in another organization? 

Moin Haque (23:43)

I think the way it's manifested would have to be different at every organization. And that's one of the reasons it needs to be an applied literacy model and not curriculum based because you can't really just take a curriculum and apply it in every organization because every organization is going to be in their own sort of different, respective level of maturity. There are combinations of cultural differences, organizational transformations, how an organization has come together, whether it's through M&A, whether it's through natural growth or responding to market forces. So, we should…. the measure of success and what's going to be successful is going to be respective to each organization. And that's why it needs to be different. 

This is a key -- a key way to look at this is through the idea of acculturation. You don't want to sort of bring a framework and say ‘this is how it should work.’ But really acculturate the approaches and frameworks to where the organization is, where the people are. That's why those upfront assessments are so key, both from a business canvas, but also from individual assessments. And it's the sort of – if you're going to write this out as an approach, it's going to be very autobiographical for each company, even for each team. And that's something you want to be very cognizant of from day one, because it's not always going to work the same way. And so, that's why acculturation is key, because ultimately what we're really building and programing this for is the human operating system. And you mentioned science before, and science is a key part of it. The communities of practice concept that comes from cognitive anthropology, because what's going to make this work is to know that you're making this work for people, for humans. And so, that's why I think it needs to be catered, and it's going to be different in every organization. 

Liz Ramey (25:35)

That's a great way – it’s a great way to look at it, especially as the market has so many different, you know, maturity models and tools to measure where you're at in your in your journey and making sure that those enterprises are really looking at their own state before making any of these any of these decisions. So, let's look out, you know, let's say this takes ten years or more to really say, okay, we have a data-literate organization. And we are at that point where you're giving a lot of… you are empowering the human. Excuse me, let me say that again. You're in a state where you are empowering the people that are utilizing this data and understanding it. What's that next step? And I will have to ask, like, you know, even a little bit deeper, you empower humans, but then I'm assuming that in ten years or so, you're also being empowered by different algorithms and, you know, AI and machine learning and such. So then what's that next step, if you can think that far into the future? 

Moin Haque (26:58)

Sure. Well, I would say if data literacy has been accomplished, then it's time for me to find something else to do. That would be sort of the first thing. But my hope is that it's not a ‘getting from A to B’ sort of journey. It's really about becoming a mindful practice. You know, as I mentioned before, it's part of a continuous onboarding discipline. And ideally love to see the natural progression continue. And organizationally, there's this sort of framework of a pyramid, where you go from data to insights to knowledge, and you transcend to that next level, which is a larger sense of wisdom for the organization. 

So that is sort of where I would want to look to in the future and really trust in the process that when we empower our teams and we give them context, capability, autonomy and accountability, and we're fostering curiosity and collaboration, the next steps are going to lead to new things that we can’t think of today. We may not be able to see it today, but it's posturing us – are there new products, new markets, new customers? Could it change that canvas map we built and fundamentally change the structure of our business? All of these approaches to literacy will help keep it a continuous process… and also keep in mind for ourselves that nothing should be immutable, right? If there are things that are changing, maybe the way the organization is structured changes, maybe even what we think of is our focus today changes. It's not the same products, it’s not the same services. It may not be the same consumers or the same markets. And so, I think that you have to trust the process, and just let it sort of keep growing and know that you have empowered teams taking us there. 

Liz Ramey (28:46)

Moin, I have two final questions for you. And so we're going to go a little bit off topic. In my last podcast, I was able to talk with Eddy Wagoner, who's the CIO at JLL, and we asked him -- we had a great conversation about sustainability and such, but we asked him, what would you ask another executive, what would that next question be for them to think about? And so, he's posing this question to you. How are you thinking differently about what you're doing today to create a better tomorrow for the people who work for you and your company? 

Moin Haque (29:27)

Okay, that's a great question. So, I think my first reaction to that is I just want to reframe part of the question, and that's that -- and I'm going to reframe it in a way that will help answer it -- is that I don't see the idea that people work for me. We want to ensure that no one ever feels that way on the team. Our roles are about stewardship. So I guess from my perspective, it's really important that whatever I'm doing today is fostering a tomorrow where people don't feel like they're working for someone or so forth. 

But, I’ll pull from a question that I ask everyone on the teams that I steward, which is that when you wake up first thing in the day, ask yourself the question, is today a day that I have to go to work? Is today a day I get to go to work? So, for me, the tomorrow is really more about the latter. I personally want to do things that or find ways that really drive more and more context and connection. 

And again, we touched on this earlier on acculturation and context and connection. I think that's really going to help in making a better tomorrow for folks who are part of the team. And three specific things I sort of hone in on. I get asked this and a lot of the teams I’ve stewarded is -- is what skills should I have, what's really important? And the three skills that I always call out are empathy, entropy and efficacy. And what I mean by entropy, people will be confused by that. It's really about having the skill to revel in chaos and not relying on everything being well-defined. And from an efficacy perspective, always contextualizing whatever it is you're doing into the larger picture, into that larger canvas. How is whatever I'm doing moving the needle forward. So really honing in on developing those three skills and stewarding the development of those skills for the teams, I think is a good way to foster a better tomorrow. 

Liz Ramey (31:35)

That's a fantastic approach. And so, Moin, we're going to end with asking you what your next big question is. So, I'd like you to think about this in the sense of being a business leader, not necessarily being a CDAO, but a business executive who is looking to change the enterprise or to progress the enterprise. I'm not going to tell you who I'm posing this to. So, so fire away. 

Moin Haque (32:05)  

Well, this is actually a question that I'm struggling with on a regular basis. And I would love to get insights on and what it has to deal with is - what does culture or identity from a brand perspective really mean in today and in the future, especially as we move into a more increasingly hybrid world where the physical definition of space and time is reset with more virtual and ephemeral dimensions. What does it mean to foster a corporate culture or identity? And it's something I struggle with the teams I’m stewarding, but also for myself. You know, I live from a corporate culture perspective, you can say I live in a multi-denominational house. My work, my partner's corporate culture is distinct from my own, yet we physically work under the same roof. So, what does it really mean for companies to drive a culture or identity? 

Liz Ramey (33:02)

Wow, what a great question. I am absolutely going to enjoy posing that to the next executive. Moin, thank you so much for joining me and talking about this. It was really a fun conversation to have. 

Moin Haque (33:16)

Thank you. It's my pleasure. Really enjoyed the conversation. 

Liz Ramey (33:18)

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