Big data can give great power to businesses that harness it intelligently, using the right analytical tools. But it can also give great power to individuals within those businesses, who may use it to drive their own agenda. We can call this "data bullying": the use of data to unfairly exert power over others.
Data as a weapon
As firm believers in “reward the behaviour you seek” when it comes to data, at Acceleration we’re always disheartened to find out that data is not being used to reward high performers, but rather to “know who to kick”. This happens distressingly often.
It got me thinking: how many companies are using data to punish poor performance or, even worse, as a means of power to control or avoid accountability?
To call this counterproductive would be an understatement. Beyond the obvious problem of crucial data being kept in isolation and not shared with those who need it, there can be more damaging effects on working relationships.
How data bullying can harm your organisation
Let’s look at some of the different ways in which data bullying can harm an organisation.
Simply by denying others access to data, individuals can gain advantages at many levels: in meetings, during strategic sessions, or to make more sales than their peers. It’s impossible to compete against or cooperate with someone who has exclusive access to information.
Then there’s the form of data bullying where it is used as a battering ram. In the modern business environment where data is increasingly recognised as the most solid foundation for decision making, a tendency can develop where everyone bows to the same people in every discussion simply by virtue of them playing the data card.
Lastly, there is the most sinister facet of data bullying, where data is used to sabotage the ideas of or undermine specific people. The tactic here is often ambush, where data is withheld until the moment when it can be sprung to best effect – to show up a rival, or increase departmental power (and budget).
The only sensible option available to your organisation is to adopt policies and processes that promote seamless sharing of data, along with the insights that they yield. Data bullying needs to be avoided at all costs, especially so early in the game, when establishing the wrong habits can have severe long-term consequences.
Is this happening in your company?
- Are departments working together in your organisation to create a single view of the customer?
- Do your analysts leave their desks to talk to the marketing or call centre teams?
- Would anyone be comfortable informing C-level that, having tried something new and failed, lessons were learned – without it damaging their reputation or threatening their bonus?
- Is the insight capability in your organisation growing?
If you answered “No” to any of these, it’s time for a check-up on how data is being used in your organisation.