Mark Hunter: Leading the way in data drive

There has been much talk about the potential value that can be delivered from investing in data initiatives.

'Data is definitely a team sport,' says Mark Hunter of Sainsbury's Bank. Picture: John Devlin

That said, many data projects fail to deliver on the promise. I would argue that leadership is a critical enabler to delivering the ultimate value from data. In many instances, it’s the key differentiator.

“Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge”. I’m fond of this quote from marketing consultant, Simon Sinek.

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Another person I admire in this field is behavioural scientist and author, Daniel Pink. His Ted Talk on motivation is entertaining and worth a watch. It draws on research into motivation and debunking the traditional “carrot and stick” theory. The research showed that “carrot and stick” motivation only works for tasks which involve mechanical skill ie the higher the pay the better the performance.

However, once the tasks call for even rudimentary cognitive skills, a larger reward led to poorer performance. Pink introduces a new approach around intrinsic motivation – the “new operating system for our businesses” which revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Let’s start with purpose. It is the role of a leader to create and craft purpose. 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.

Autonomy – I’m a big believer in self-organising teams. In the corporate world, and certainly in banking, there is an increasing move away from “command and control” styles. This is being replaced by more contemporary styles of leadership (although some find this challenging). Schools of thought on innovative management highlight traits like “harnesses the abilities of others” and “leads from the side”.

Here’s another quote – this time 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 deliver a data project successfully. I think this is why so many data projects fail (I’ve seen failure rate estimates as high as 80 per cent) – it isn’t because the technology is impossible to implement, it’s usually because companies struggle to bring together the necessary people and skills collaboratively.

This leaves my personal favourite – mastery. To me it means “getting better at stuff”. As a leader, I place emphasis on personal development. As leaders, it is our responsibility to create an environment for personal development. 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.

• Mark Hunter is chief data officer at Sainsbury’s Bank