Season 3 Episode 3
Welcome to Season 3 of the Law Firm Data Governance podcast. I’m CJ Anderson, founder of Iron Carrot and I’m excited to share more of what I’ve learned in my 20-plus years of working with information and data in law firms.
In this third season: “be the best data governance lead you can be”, I move beyond the ‘what’ of season one and the ‘why’ of season two by introducing some of the ‘how’ and the ‘who’.
Over the 10 episodes in this season, I’ll share what I’ve learned about using a bottom-up approach to achieve your data governance deliverables. I will be talking you through the specific skills and knowledge that can help you be a successful law firm data governance lead.
In this episode, I talk about data governance communication plans, and the communication channels that support them. I also talk about some of the key skills data governance leads need to have in order to support delivering a communication plan.
Law Firm Data Governance Podcast
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So let’s start with the definition. A communications plan is a tool that provides a way to structure communication and engagement planning in order to do one of four things. Firstly, to generate interest, enthusiasm, participation and support for data governance. Secondly, to keep stakeholders informed and to sustain interest in data governance. Thirdly, to share the outcomes of data governance activities and finally, fourthly, to generate interest in spreading data governance activities to more teams.
Every data governance centre of excellence should create a communications plan to support its data Governance Foundation roadmap, its data strategy and its business as usual activities. This is usually done by the data governance lead supported by an internal communications team.
Once you have your data governance foundation road map or your data strategy, the next activity is to create a communications plan. In the early days of implementation, data governance is as much about what you say as what you do. At the very least, you need to share these documents with the firm and to help everyone understand what it means.
Since data governance primarily aims to affect peoples data related behaviour, it involves a culture change. The behavioural and operational changes will only be achieved if everyone is engaged and participates in your firm’s data management activities. Planning this engagement and change in mindset is a key driver for creating a robust and comprehensive communications plan before you do anything else.
The cornerstone of a great communications plan is the key messages document. Key messages set out what you need people to understand why and in what order. For big initiatives like a Data Governance Foundation Roadmap, or a new data strategy, the creation process should have completed some of this for you. An excellent communication plan should contain 5 elements.
One: The big picture, data governance road map execution.
Two: Why are we doing it? The vision and the goals.
Three, How are we doing it? The Objectives.
Four: Who is doing it? The data governance lead, the members of the data governance framework and anyone else.
Five: What and when? What are the tasks on your road map and when will you be doing them?
There are many different models for identifying and segmenting your audience, and you don’t have to list out every single person in the firm. You can group people into sets that make logical sense when thinking about the “what’s in it for me?” message of your communications. For example, roles such as partners, lawyers, secretaries or corporate lawyers, finance lawyers, tax lawyers, business services. You can split things by role, by team or by seniority.
The themes of your data governance communications are the action areas that you need to communicate about. For example, in a data governance foundation road map, the themes relate to each of the identified goals and groups. This helps you to schedule and plan for each activity specifically before focusing on the timing and delivery of the communications plan overall.
I always encourage data governance programmes to have a communications plan and to make that plan as effective as possible by recording the intent and rationale for each communication piece. By which I mean, what is the purpose of the communication? Is it for information? Is it for action? Is it for a decision? Is it for education? Is it for preparation for a discussion? Is it for them to communicate onwards or to garner opinions from others?
Each piece of data governance communication should have a target date when it will be shared. There is usually so much happening in a law firm that these dates are typically fixed and cannot easily change without impacting other teams communication plans. If drafts need to be signed off, the plan needs to be clear about who does that and by when. You also need to keep track of other people’s deadlines. For example, the internal comms team might ask for articles to be sent to them a week before the firm’s bulletin is published.
There are two types of owners, when it comes to communication. The person holding the pen and creating the draft and the one whose name it is going out under. It is not unusual for most data governance columns to be shared by the data governance sponsor, but written by the data governance lead. Be clear about who is doing which activity and how much involvement the sender wants with the creation process.
Make it easy on yourself by getting your intranet pages, collaboration spaces, things like MS Team sites, distribution lists, templates or whatever else you identified for your roadmap set up at the very beginning. This dramatically reduces your dependency list. You will still have to wait for some things. For example, you can’t record the video until the script has been signed off. But noting this dependency helps you properly plan your activities and your deadlines.
In any law firm documentation is the primary method of communicating information. This could be by creating a formal document in Word, using intranet pages effectively, or more simply by being effective in the emails and presentations you create and share. The spectrum of formal documentation also stretches out to process mapping, lineage mapping, business glossary creation definition drafting is a skill in itself, by the way, strategy creation and much, much more. All of these also rely on effective communication. It’s far more than just an exchange of information. It’s about understanding the emotions and the intent behind the information and presenting it in a way that resonates with and influences the intended audience.
Every firm has its preferred ways of communicating and collaborating, and as the data governance lead, you must make use of them all. You need to set up the Internet pages, the team spaces, the distribution lists, the meeting schedules, the office bulletins, the video blogs, everything else that are available to you to help people share and collaborate on data governance, content and activities.
By setting these things up as soon as possible, you’re helping to increase transparency. It enables better communication between stakeholders. It sets the expectation that data governance happens best when everyone works out loud.
The nature of law firms is that senior stakeholders, particularly partners, feel more comfortable with a sturdy Word document. But the reality is that no one is going to read a 30 page document with no diagrams. It’s better to have something much smaller and very pictural instead or as well if they insist. If a senior stakeholder can’t get it in less than 60 seconds, it won’t land.
Again, since data governance is about changing the firm’s behaviour, the data governance leads role is in part a sales role, so this is going to include an element of public speaking. This is literally the process or act of performing a speech to a live audience. It’s commonly understood as formal face-to-face speaking of a single person to a group of listeners. But in the age of virtual communication, it can also include the ability to hold the attention of a large, say, 30 plus group of people online. This may include being able to handle rapid fire questions and or to facilitate group discussions.
I hope that all of that has helped you to understand what a communications plan is, what goes into it, and why it’s an important part of a data governance leads role. Remember, if you’re already creating a project plan and thinking about change management, you can listen to the earlier episodes in this season if you haven’t already, the communications plan should naturally flow from what’s in those.
Thank you for joining me for this law firm Data Governance Podcast episode. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share like and review this episode so that more law firm leaders and data governance leads can learn about data governance. Join me next time for season 3, episode 4, “influencing skills”.
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