Data Driven Leadership

Leading with Data-Driven Maturity

Guest: Mark Caswell, CEO, Resultant

In this episode, Mark shares how to transform your data into actionable insights and where to begin your data transformation project. Here’s a hint—it’s not about the big bang and more about the big picture.

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Are you a data-driven leader looking to unlock improved efficiency, engagement, and decision-making? Manually assembling data can be a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. If you're feeling the pain of not achieving your desired results, then this episode is for you.

To quickly implement a data-driven leadership solution, Resultant CEO Mark Caswell balances academia and action, helping companies confront their data-driven problems and find success.

But what does that mean?

In this episode, Mark shares how to transform your data into actionable insights and where to begin your data transformation project. Here’s a hint—it’s not about the big bang and more about the big picture.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • The dangers of big bang data: what to avoid when using data and technology in data-driven leadership
  • How to design the right way to teach data-driven leadership
  • The importance of solving what’s in front of you versus trying to solve everything

In this podcast:

  • [01:15-03:35] Marks’ data career journey
  • [03:35-08:26] How to solve for data-driven leadership
  • [08:26-09:36] How do you know when you've diagnosed enough?
  • [09:36-11:09] Great consultants understand the problem and get stuff done
  • [11:09-14:09] The dangers of big bang data
  • [14:09-16:17] Perfection versus progress
  • [16:17-19:51] To change, you have to know the why
  • [19:51-27:10] What data-driven leadership means to Mark
  • [27:10-31:48] Getting through the entrepreneurial valley
  • [31:48-35:37] Don't overwhelm yourself trying to solve everything
  • [35:37-38:13] Leaning into the data vulnerability side of data leadership
  • [38:13-40:23] Jess’s key takeaways

Our Guest

Mark Caswell

Mark Caswell

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Mark Caswell has led Resultant’s exceptional growth as CEO since 2019 and served as a leader throughout the organization, including for the technology services and professional services teams, since 2014. With his guidance, Resultant has grown to more than 400 employees while continuing to deliver mission-critical outcomes to our clients.

Mark is passionate about helping teams and organizations achieve their goals and deliver results in the face of complexity. To achieve this, he deploys a unique blend of business leadership, strategic thinking, innovation expertise, and technical depth. He firmly believes in Resultant’s mission of “helping clients, coworkers, and communities thrive,” and works diligently to ensure that Resultant’s teams are empowered to fulfill that mission.

A practitioner and supporter of continuous learning, driven by deep curiosity, Mark believes that ongoing development of the team is critical to the success of any organization. This is evident not only in his own learning path and leadership of Resultant, but also in his passion to teach and coach others. Mark is part of the EDGE Mentoring program, helping young professionals across Indianapolis develop their careers and leadership. He frequently speaks at conferences, sharing thought leadership on a broad range of topics. Mark has made it a personal mission to train as many people as possible in Design Thinking—from K-12 students to seasoned professionals, including the Resultant team.


Jess Carter: The power of Data is undeniable. And unharnessed, it's nothing but chaos.

Speaker 2: The amount of data, it was crazy.

Speaker 3: Can I trust it?

Speaker 4: You will waste money.

Speaker 5: Held together with duct tape.

Speaker 6: Doomed to failure.

Jess Carter: This season we're solving problems in real time to reveal the art of the possible, making data your ally. Using it to lead with confidence and clarity, helping communities and people thrive. This is data driven Leadership, a show by Resultant.

Welcome back to data driven Leadership. We have a special guest here today. This is our last episode of Season 1. Joining us is Mark Caswell, Resultant CEO. I have had the distinct pleasure and honor of knowing Mark for eight or nine years, and there are some real highlights to that relationship for me that I hold dear. But I do think that the best one was when we were on a bus together, going home from a full day Wrigleyville and he just really didn't want to let go of a specific Frozen song that will remain nameless. And it was a delightful experience. So hi Mark, welcome to the podcast.

Mark Caswell: Hey Jess. In my defense, I had two young daughters at the time, and all we did is watch the Frozen movie. I could probably recite the entire thing to you to this day.

Jess Carter: Yeah, no, it would've been strange if you didn't. If you just really loved it. Though, there are Disney people who are out there that exist so that they're welcome here's too. Well, thanks for joining us today. We are going to kind of wrap up our first season of the podcast together, so I appreciate you joining us.

Mark Caswell: I'm happy to be here.

Jess Carter: I've kind of found this interesting, especially with your resume. So for people who don't know you, why is Mark Caswell the CEO of this fast growing, data and tech consulting firm in Indianapolis?

Mark Caswell: Happy to. That's a theoretically deep question, Jess. So I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Michigan. My dad was a teacher. We lived in a farming community. And in our physics class, all 13 people, I was told to go be an engineer by that same father. And I think 11 of the 13 of us did. So after engineering school, plan A was to be a professor. I loved to teach. I still love to teach. I did not enjoy research as much as I thought I might, so off into the working world. And the first 12 years were at Rolls-Royce, a phenomenal company. Loved the product, loved the people. First six, very, very technical, and that's probably the first place I got into numerical methods, data analytics, some of the deeper tech stuff, but didn't actually plan to have a career in technology.

The next six years I went international business, so I was kind of everywhere but the United States, flying around the world, learning how to manage clients, how to help organizations get better. And then, let's see, in 2013, I left Rolls-Royce to this small 18 person consulting firm with the intent to do that for two years and then go back. And I just kind of fell in love with it and started managing different pieces of the business. Didn't have a title for two years. We were just being entrepreneurial and trying to do good stuff in the world. And eventually they asked me to step into the CEO role and here we are.

Jess Carter: That's awesome. Well, so that is helpful to walk us through. And so Mark, now you've had this experience of going internationally and then helping build our business, which is primarily, it's a national company. But we started in Indianapolis and now we're, I don't know, how many states do we have people in or do we serve? Do you know?

Mark Caswell: Last I checked, we have people in 38 states, offices in seven and we're doing work in all 48 contiguous US states. Why we're not doing work in Hawaii yet, I do not know. That's my personal mission.

Jess Carter: The 2023 vision? Is it on your vision board?

Mark Caswell: That's it. That's the whole strategy, actually.

Jess Carter: It's just beaches on your vision board. Well, so we'll jump into our, I'm going to pull you into the Solution On The Spot segment. So normally, we would bring in somebody else to do a Solution On The Spot that's separate from the full episode. This time we're going to make you walk through a Solution On The Spot with me. We really wanted to come up with a extremely challenging Solution On The Spot, but here was my thought. So when I think about the problem that I wanted to present to you today, I was thinking about some really complex problems I wanted to throw at you, a few curve balls, but what I really thought was important was for others to hear you describe how to solve for data-driven leadership. It's the name of the podcast, it's what we're focusing on today for our whole conversation, and it is a bit ambiguous.

So here's kind of the story and we'll unpack this together. Let's say that you and I are meeting a friend of yours who just got appointed into a leadership position in a mid-market company, a CEO. And they haven't historically been a company that's largely data-driven and they haven't experienced some of the lessons that perhaps you or I have helped consult others through in the past. There are problems that are keeping them up at night and they don't know where to start. So they've got this, they're new to the org, they don't understand some of the dynamics. They do know some of the hardships and they like to be data-driven, but they're not sure where to begin. Where do we start that conversation?

Mark Caswell: And it's a great question. So you can tell, based on my background, Jess, I'm a nerd, you know this already. And so for those of us in the world of data, I think it's just this obvious statement to just dive right in to data analytics. Because I really don't think there's any organization that can't be helped through better, more efficient, more effective use of data. But turns out not everyone is like us. So the very first question that I think the new CEO is to ask is, why? Why data? Because data for the sake of data is a great way to waste a bunch of money, but it's not a great way to get the outcomes you want. And so if you're not building technology solutions, data solutions, if you're not publishing data with an idea of what you're trying to achieve, you're very, very likely to go wrong.

So that's the first question is just what are you trying to get done? It could be the problems that you mentioned, right? Okay, are they these massive problems and you think data might help? Are you looking to get your workforce more engaged with running the business on the day-to-day? Are you looking to empower people to make decisions more locally? Are you looking to just understand the business from your perspective at the moment? And the rest of that will come later, but I think that you have to start with that, why? Otherwise you're likely to just flail around and waste a bunch of money.

Jess Carter: Well, and usually there is a problem. If you think about, they're up at night because of something, right? They're worried about their sales pipeline, they're worried about their strategy in some way for growth or they're hiring urgency and so there's something that's keeping them up at night. But it is funny that a lot of times I think I have to observe us helping people get through. Like you hear about the Five Why's. If you ask why five times, you kind of get to a root cause. I feel like we sometimes have to help narrate people to their own problem to then say, "Okay, so you've got your why now how do we size out a solution to that that can be a quick win, but also start to set a stage for, what else?"

Mark Caswell: We all recognize this in our personal life. When a friend shows up with a problem, the stated problem is often not the actual problem or not the only problem. And we all know that. We all have discussions with each other, with our friends, with our family members, with ourselves, sometimes that help us get to the bottom of something. And I remember, gosh, this is probably five or six years ago now, I had this moment where I went into a CFO's office and they wanted a dashboard. They wanted a dashboard about sales efficiency. That was the stated problem. Well, anytime anyone asks for a dashboard, what they're really saying is, "There's something I don't understand or there's something that's frustrating me or there's something that has me scared." Maybe all three, behind that request for a dashboard, which is a very small thing. It's actually to do it well, you have to be a bit of an artist and a scientist at the same time.

At the end of the day, creating a dashboard is a relatively small problem, but behind that, were all these business issues. He was worried about profitability, he was worried about the merger of two organizations together and how the executive teams were interacting. He thought that they should be automating a process. So all these things came up, but it wasn't until we said, "Why?", that you actually got to all that stuff. And oh, by the way, we could have created the dashboard for him. Would've been four-week project in and out, good to go. He would've got the thing he asked for, wouldn't have solved any of his problems. Wouldn't have helped his business move forward at all.

Jess Carter: Well, okay, so you are a master at this, but I want you to unpack it if you can for us. Because this is something for me that has always been impressive to me is, there's this meeting of academia and the market that I think we do often in consulting, where we're trying to unpack the real problem and you can get lost in the unpacking. You can get lost in the research and the deep analysis and do we know the problem? Do we understand it enough to go solve it? And then you have this sort of rush, let's just go solve it. And I think that there's a way that you seem to level set on, "We've done enough to understand the problem to go make a dent, let's go make a dent." How do you get there? How do you know when you've diagnosed enough?

Mark Caswell: So I have the saying about work-life balance, that that balance is the wrong word, because it implies two opposing forces. It implies that work is in opposition to life. Life is in opposition to work, and your goal is to balance those so they don't screw each other up too much. That's not actually true. Work and life are intertwined and support each other when they're effective. So it's work-life congruence. I think there's probably a similar thing to say about the statement you just made that it's either academic, understand the problem or get stuff done. I think great consultants, I think great executives, I think great people, figure out a way to do both of those things at the same time and kind of ebb and flow.

In a meeting, you might be way down deep in a detail and then all of a sudden somebody says, "Well, hold on a second, let's take a step back." And you come way up to the big picture and then you spend a little bit of time there and that enables you to swoop back into the detail in an effective way. I think you kind of have to simultaneously hold both of those in your mind. But I will say, just to maybe talk about the two extremes. So a bunch of strategy and philosophy in academia without action, is pointless. It's just pointless. It's interesting. That's the problem. It's so much fun, but it doesn't get anything done. At the end of the day, you got to get stuff done. On the opposite side, running continually into a brick wall isn't terribly effective either, right? Noticing that there's a door to the side and taking a step to your right is a good way to get through the wall. And so it's the kind of balance of the two. But it changes all the time. It changes all the time.

Jess Carter: Yeah, that's why it's fun. It's kind of like an art. You have to figure out, when am I recovering from bashing my head against the wall too many times? I should probably just take a breath and consider, is there a door, window? Something to get through. Okay. All right. So if we're helping somebody unpack their why and we're helping them appreciate how much they need to understand to go do it. So you've been in this position a lot in your career where you've been sort of consulting somebody on big problems for their company and their leadership role they play. Are there any things that you'd say, "Don't do that." Or caution somebody to make sure that the way that they behave or what they go do next is meaningful or helpful?

Mark Caswell: I guess the story that comes to mind, and I think you could take this and you could extend it to other areas as well, but I'll often talk to people about the dangers of big bang data. And what I mean by that, and again, if you don't constantly hold the why in your mind and ask those kind of questions, this is the danger. So even if you start in a good place, you can end up in a bad place. But I think often people will make the statement, "We should be using data more effectively." That is almost always true.

But absent the why or forgetting about the why, what will happen is you'll turn to the IT guy and you'll say, "Hey, we want to use data, help us use data." Well, what will they do? They will do their job. They will go find a data solution, they will install the data solution, they will put data in the data solution. They will realize that data is probably messy and so they will clean the data solution. They will put governance and security and identity control around the data because they're responsible. And after about two years and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, they will go, "Ta-da. Who wants to use my data solution?" And the answer is, no one. No one wants to use your data solution, right? Because you haven't solved any problems and you haven't brought people along for the ride. You don't have a data-driven culture.

All you have is a bunch of data inside of [inaudible 00:13:21] technology that no one wants to use. And I think that an answer to your question, how can you go wrong? You can kind of forget that the point of these things is for people to use them to solve problems, to make them more effective, to make their jobs easier and better and more fulfilling in many cases. And if you'll lose sight of that and think of it as just a technology project, it's pretty easy to get off track.

Jess Carter: Wow, that's really helpful. Okay. All right. I think your friend feels grateful for our advice. Totally set up for success. Nailed it. Great Solution On The Spot. Thank you.

Okay, so I know that we're kind of talking in some abstracts here, but I think they're qualifications of, there's some demonstration of nuance of data-driven leadership. And so there's one other thing I wanted to pick your brain on this abstract topic here though while I've got it. I don't know if you've heard this sentiment before, but I had it described to me at some point at as adult learning has to be orchestrated differently than learning for K through 12. And the concept was in K through 12 you learn addition and then you learn subtraction, and then you learn multiple. And they don't show you that you're getting to calc, they just show you one thing at a time. And with adult learning, we have this desire for, "Show me every box of math I'm going to learn and then show me this one. And then zoom back out and then show me the next one that I learned and then zoom back out."

And you kind of described that. I think what's interesting is to your point, these aren't contradictory, but they have to be thought of and designed the right way. Whereas, we all want that big picture as adults, we don't always have it in data and tech and in data-driven leadership. We're realizing we need maturity that we don't have and we're taking one step and we're trying to lead an organization through change, through modernization of their technologies, through data-driven leadership. And we don't even have the next six steps ahead of us. We just know what the next right thing is to do. That can be really challenging to lead an organization through or to try and convince everyone to pivot towards when they have this kind of known, studied desire to see the big picture. And you've spoken regularly to me about the balance between making a difference week over week, making progress or perfection. Can you share some of those insights or experiences you've learned on how in a data-driven leadership position, do you find peace amongst perfection versus progress or adult learning versus not having all the answers?

Mark Caswell: Boy, that's a big one. Let me start by reacting to this idea that people want to know the why in order to change. I think when people ask for context, there's two reasons. So one, people want to know what they do matters. That the why, matters. So I think that's super important in any job that whether it's because I can take care of my family or I can move my community forward or whatever, the why matters. So I think that's one big side. The other thing you said is, it's necessary for change. And what human beings are, are phenomenal pattern matching machines. The way the human mind works is by being very, very good at detecting patterns, sometimes even where they don't exist. And using those patterns to navigate life. Now, it's not always correct to do that, but it is very efficient to do that.

Just imagine if everything you encountered in the world was like a small child and was new for every time, there's no way you could get through life. And what happens is early in life, your brain is very plastic essentially because you don't have many patterns yet. And those are physical structures inside your brain. You don't have many patterns yet that have formed up. Your brain hasn't used to learn those patterns to navigate the world efficiently, aka lazily. And it's just really easy to learn things. But later in life those patterns are set. They figured out how to navigate the world presumably fairly successfully. And so in order to change those patterns, it takes something big. It takes kind of a force. People often change through these big periods in their life where these big things happen. But another way is to kind of give them a new why or a clear why, and that opens up your brain a little bit in a state where you can form new patterns.

Now, specific to data-driven leadership, I think there's a great point in here. So if you just throw data at people, I don't know that it's going to be terribly effective. You could even throw a beautiful dashboard at someone and I don't know that it's really going to compel them to change their behavior. Why do we look at data? To change the way people think or to change the actions people take. That's it. And neither of those two things are likely to happen if you haven't given them a reason to change the patterns inside their brain, aka explained a new why that is different than the why they had before.

Jess Carter: So the why is almost the flip in someone's brain to say, "Okay, think differently. Don't get stuck in that old pattern."

Mark Caswell: Yeah, exactly.

Jess Carter: That's cool. Have you ever been in that situation where you know have to think differently and you have to deliberately flip the switch for yourself?

Mark Caswell: Just every day.

Jess Carter: I have cognitive awareness of moments in my life, especially the last few years where I'm like, "This is, don't go there. Brain show up differently. Innovate, innovate."

Mark Caswell: I mean, we shouldn't feel guilty about it. One of the reasons consulting is such a hard profession isn't necessarily because the hours are long. Sometimes they are, but often they're not. It's because the mental fatigue you get from constantly being in that change state, it's hard. It's just a really hard place for your brain to be.

Jess Carter: I probably need to do due diligence of backing up and saying, okay, so I kind of jumped right in because I was just excited about the topic. I have not asked you yet, when you say data-driven leadership, what do you mean? What is data-driven leadership to you?

Mark Caswell: I think there's two sides of it to me. Side number one that's probably the most obvious is, that you're using data to inform the decisions you make and the actions you take or ask others to take under your behalf. I think sometimes we kind of say, "Well, you shouldn't lead with your gut." I don't know that that's exactly true. If you have a pretty well calibrated gut, it really just means that all those patterns we just talked about are pretty good at doing the thing you're doing. However, I think it's really complex to run a business and they move faster than ever. I forget what the prediction of how many of the Fortune 500 won't exist in 20 years, but it's scary. It's just really hard today to do things. And so you have to use data to inform your decisions and where possible backup that well calibrated gut, right? So I think that's one side is, are you doing that? Are you using data to drive your decisions?

The other side of data-driven leadership is the more vulnerable side, which is, am I letting others make decisions, be informed, drive their own thoughts and actions by sharing data with them? And interestingly, that's often the hardest one because when you give someone else information, they might not come to the same conclusion as you. And now what you have is a good old-fashioned argument about, well, what does this actually mean? You can't control the message when you let other people see the information. And so these fear responses take over of sharing. But great leaders, I think, share data as much as possible, explain it and teach it as much as possible, and listen, when the response back is different from what you might have thought it was or what your conclusion was.

Jess Carter: Yeah, it's a little bit still to this day stunning to me, the amount of emotional reaction data can create. I mean, it is often the harder part of what I do isn't the data work or the presentation of the data, it's helping people orient their feelings and behavior to make sense of how they feel and what the data says in a way that can drive that change. We try not to shock anybody. We kind of talk about no surprises, so we don't walk into a room just again, the ta-da factor just never usually ends well. I learned that both at home and at work, it just turns out people don't love surprises, at least not my people. So I think it's been important to me to be like, we're orienting people toward information they probably already know or they didn't know it and they are shocked by it. And so if they know it, they had some preconceived notions about it. And we're actually just dealing with that often. It's not always actually the data, it's the emotional reaction that it garners, which is just not something I expected in our profession.

Mark Caswell: Where you're using data to solve problems, it's very likely those problems carry an emotional component to them. I don't feel terribly bad about my middle-aged weight gain until I step on the scale and see the number and then it becomes mildly uncomfortable. Data can cause an emotional reaction. It's just true.

Jess Carter: You are exactly right. Truly, I think of a chemical reaction. 'Cause the other thing that's fascinating, I mean, I have this people around me and in leadership programs I've read, heat situations can drive change, because it's this intense moment where suddenly you have to really respond differently. Your brain's firing differently. You're in fight, flight or freeze. And so things happen differently and you can kind of go through quite a bit of change or adjustment in one period.

But that if you've ever been in a situation where things are intense emotionally and you're trying to make data-driven decisions, it sometimes feels like you're aware of a boxing match in your brain. That I'm trying to process what I'm thinking and feeling, but I'm also trying to collect enough data to make the right decisions and I want to do all of that together. But it's like it just gets really intense to just process change and let data and emotions work together. If you've been through that heat moment before, it's like I feel like I'm fighting off my, whichever side of your brain, the reactions of my emotions for a moment to try and actually understand what decisions do I need to make and how much agency do I have to make those decisions right now. And then I can go process the rest and get to a decision. But that can be in a hospital room and in a board meeting. Those are things I didn't know.

Mark Caswell: The use of data is a tool to help people see things that wouldn't otherwise see. And it can be a very powerful tool because often it's hard to argue with data. Now you can take that too far. It's the interpretation of the information, which there are multiple ways to interpret things. So let's not get too high and mighty about, "The data says this and therefore I'm right." But all those things you would do with change management, and other times you would prepare people for change. You would give them a chance to speak into change. You would be not just inauthentically, but authentically willing to hear their feedback and change yourself. The same applies when you're using data. If you walk into a boardroom and slam a chart down and the table and say, "Ha-ha, I gotcha, the data says I'm right." Even if you're right, that's not going to go terribly well.

Jess Carter: It'd be fun to watch.

Mark Caswell: Yeah, yeah, it'd be great. If only we could record board meetings. I'll do it next time.

Jess Carter: I think that's an astute point too, because that's where, back to your earlier comment too, you talked about using your gut. And the reality too is, I think that there are sizes of firms and organizations where your gut can be based on data because your company is the right size and people and they're honest, and you've established trust and transparency and you've demonstrated that you listen when they talk to you and you actually hold a substantial amount of data in your gut and you don't need a dashboard to tell you what you feel.

I think where I've seen that change is when companies do scale quickly and suddenly analyzing all of that data through one-on-ones is not the most effective use of leadership. And so they have to go through this transition of, "That's how I used to do it. How do I lead with data now that we have a hundred, 200, 3,000, 50,000 people?" And you've been through some of that, I mean, do you have thoughts on what that experience is like and some things that were hard to let go of or things that are easy to lean into and you're glad that you can do it differently now?

Mark Caswell: Oh my goodness. Do I have thoughts? Yes, I have thoughts. So Jess, you were here for this. We grew very strongly, very quick, which in many ways of course is great. We got the opportunity to work with some phenomenal clients and solve some really interesting problems. And it introduced things that I don't think we expected and it introduced some things that we expected, but we didn't expect as difficult or as quickly as they showed up. And I think the number one there is, so when I took over as CEO, I think we were 96 people and we're just shy of 500 today. And that happened in about three years. And a lot of that growth happened in a very accelerated 18 months time span. And I have this phrase that I've started to use called, entrepreneurial valleys. And they are where businesses and leaders go through these valleys that it is possible to get through, but climbing up the other side of the valley requires different behavior than what got you to the bottom of the valley in the first place.

So we went through this entrepreneurial valley at around 250 people. And the best way I've been able to characterize it is, so there's this thing called Dunbar's Law that says, "You can have about 150 good acquaintances." People that if you saw them in a restaurant, you'd walk up, you'd say, "Hi." You'd remember a couple of things about their kids. You've got a relationship that you can use, right? Once you're at 250 people, if you think about it as a leader or anyone in the business, you only know about half the people in your business. And what you don't even realize, well, I didn't realize, maybe people smarter than me realize is, you were managing the business through relationships up to that point. Yes, you had processes. Yes, you had data that was available. But when things needed to happen, those things happened through relationships. And at about 250 people that just, you can't do it anymore.

A, you only see about half of what's going on anyway. And B, if you need to get to somebody, half of them are more than one relationship away. And so all of a sudden, I mean like that, the structure required to run your business is considerably different. And for us, one of the things that, and this is ironic because we are a data company, this is what we do. We missed this opportunity to get data in people's hands in a different way, in a deeper way. And it caused problems for about nine months where people didn't have the information they needed to run the business.

And it took us a little while to see it. And now that we see, now, okay, we're sharing information in a new way, in a deeper way. We're getting information into people's hands. We're actually structuring the business on our access to information and how we do it. And it turns out that's a good idea and it's working and things are improving. But it just seems like this great, almost tragic irony to me, that we're a data company that does this. We use design thinking, we're very, very people oriented, and even we missed this little kind of three, six month window where we weren't getting it quite right.

Jess Carter: I love that you're kind of walking us through this. 'Cause I think it's an experience that we're not alone walking through, but it feels very lonely. And I think especially people who have deep responsibility, we can take that very personally or very heavily. And the reality is, it's back to some of those basics, but it's a really unique opportunity for us to get to empathize with those we serve. The access of the data wasn't really there. The accuracy of the data wasn't really reliable. We didn't think we needed it at times and maybe we were scared of some of it. And so those are the things you've already rattled off. Those are just experiences that we also had.

And I think it's kind of this nice little humble exercise of nobody's perfect. We're all just humans trying to figure this out at the same time. No one's arrived. We're still figuring this out too, but we'd hope that we would learn lots of great lessons from that and be able to pull those forward and be a bit more anticipatory. And so maybe that's one of my other questions for you is, leadership in general can feel lonely. That's a real sentiment. And so when you're trying to lead with data, it probably feels even more lonely because people are on different paths there. Where does somebody start? Where do they ask for help? How do they start that process? How did you start to get yourself out of the valley? What tools did you have that you leveraged in the right ways to solve for some of that?

Mark Caswell: Well, I guess specific to the use of data inside your business, and probably some of this applies to other problems you find in the valleys as well, but you don't have to boil the ocean. It can feel really overwhelming if your organization doesn't use data, if you don't have a data warehouse, if you haven't used dashboards to drive your business, it can feel incredibly overwhelming. Just take a breath, pick one problem, just one. That's all you got to do. We call it a use case based approach to data. Pick one problem that you think data will likely help you solve and just go solve that one. Now, solve it in such a way that thing you build to solve it, can be used for the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. But don't overwhelm yourself trying to solve everything all at once. Just pick one thing, preferably a fairly easy thing and go solve that.

Jess Carter: So many people would probably just immediately pick the biggest thing that they really want to solve. That easy thing is probably important.

Mark Caswell: Turns out the biggest things are likely the most annoying and causing your business or your organization the most problems. Yes. And sometimes that's where you start, but sometimes you just start with an easy one.

Jess Carter: Well, and in your experience, what have some of those easy problems been? What have you heard people say, "Hey, this is an easy problem, I just need help. I need help answering it. I don't know how to answer it, but it should be simple."

Mark Caswell: Let me use our business as an example. In the world of consulting, billable hours are a thing. That's just the way our business runs is billable hours. A problem we had is an individual employee didn't have access to an easy way to see whether or not they were meeting their goals. And theoretically, yes, you could go into the system, you could download your data, you could add it all up, you could do your own math to figure out where you should be by the end of the year. So you really going to do that all the time? And so you just kind of go.

And so we put in place a very simple dashboard, very simple dashboard that just said, "Hey, based on this much PTO and where you're at in the year, your red, yellow, green relative to meeting your goal, if we project your performance today through the end of the year." Wasn't terribly hard. The data wasn't terribly complex. We saw an instant five to 15% improvement across the different groups in our business in performance. I mean just instantly, just by getting access to data. And it took, I don't know, maybe four weeks to create that thing. That's a great example.

Jess Carter: Well, and even the other thing that you hadn't said this outright, but you've done it in your storytelling today too, that I just think is important to call out is, there are levels in which the economy world market at large requires you to be highly responsible with... At some point you can't just decide, I'm just going to skip it, I don't need it. And so there are levels in which we have to be adults about our data and we have to do things of a certain quality in a certain way. Where else? And so I think in some ways even understanding and reflecting as leaders on, "What responsibility do I have to my business, to my employees, to my stakeholders, to my shareholders on data accuracy and how I am leveraging data." I think it's good. Sometimes it can seem like a aspirational exercise, but there are things that we just have to get right.

And so I think understanding, if you're in public sector, federal reports just have to be right. They're giving the states' dollars to federate a program that they're funding. They need to know how you're doing that and if you're doing it. If you think about a private sector business, I imagine closing your books, your P and L, some of that just needs to be right. And so that ethics and moral compass and then that responsibility to make sure that the data that must be accurate is. And I think that can be an easy place to start too. It's like, "Well, we just have to anyway. Let's get that ball rolling and then we can make sure we're responsible. We can make sure we're trustworthy. We can build on that." And I think that can be kind of an easy place to start too.

Mark Caswell: I think that's a great point, Jess. I would add, so there's absolutely an expectation now that wasn't there five to 10 years ago around using data to run a business and that data being accurate to do so, and yet no data is perfect. And so there's this other set of problems on error detection, error correction for the data that you have within your business. Sometimes the most important piece of information you can get is that your information isn't right. Right? Or that somebody's forgot to put in a number or this number doesn't make sense relative to that number. There's a whole area of data governance around error detection and automated error correction.

Jess Carter: Well, so Mark, we are wrapping up our time together, so I may ask you one more question and then kind of anything else you want to share. As you reflect on 2022 and then you think about where you expect yourself and the business and other parts of your life to be in 2023, are there data-driven leadership goals you have? Are you looking at 2023 and you're thinking, "I hope I get to bring this to bear. Or I really hope I get to see X realized in 2023 for our business, for my life." For whatever.

Mark Caswell: I would say for me, I'm leaning towards that data vulnerability side of data leadership. I want to get as much information as possible into everyone's hands inside our business. And every time I have a moment where I think, "Oh, well, maybe I shouldn't do that." I want to figure out why I'm thinking that, and I want to break that down. Teach people how to use that piece of information, figure out why I might have that fear, and then figure out a way to make that fear go away rather than not share the data.

Jess Carter: Awesome. Thanks for sharing. Anything else you want to share on the podcast? This is not the only time you can stop by, but.

Mark Caswell: I would say just to encourage people, I'll encourage and I'll challenge folks that might be listening. So on the encouragement side, there is no such thing as a perfect approach to using data within your business or a perfect approach to be a data-driven leader. I remember getting this advice when I, have three children now, when my son, who's the oldest was born. I of course was doing the first parent thing and freaking out about getting everything absolutely perfect for my son. And I remember somebody pulling me aside and they said, "Hey, Caswell, calm down. You care, and you're trying. That's 90% of the battle. Don't give the last 10%, 90% of the stress." Obviously that was 14 years ago now, that stuck with me. I think that applies in this situation too, right? If you try and you care, you're going to get a lot of this right, and the stuff that you don't get right, you'll just fix and try again, which is totally fine. It's totally fine.

And so I think just taking those first couple steps on these journeys is my best advice to folks. The challenge I'll put to everyone, I'm lucky enough to mentor a handful of folks in their twenties and they're entering a different work world than I was entering, I won't tell you how many years ago. But we don't get to not be data-driven. Their careers will go, I won't say nowhere, but not where they are hoping and aspiring for them to go if they can't embrace this concept of being data driven leaders. I think everyone has to do this, including those of us who maybe graduated over five years ago.

Jess Carter: That five years from their PhD maybe. All right, well, thank you so, so much for joining us on this episode. Really appreciate you helping wrap up the season. This has been very helpful.

Mark Caswell: Very happy to be here. Thanks, Jess.

Jess Carter: Wow, that was amazing. I think my biggest takeaway as I reflect on my time with Mark, was realizing that it is my job as a leader to create the circumstances that help my organization respond to data thoughtfully. Coaching them through that experience. I have opportunities daily to navigate people towards responding to meaningful data that can change their work, their lives, their career, and it's my job to do just that. I have seen and experienced leaders who do not think this is part of their job and they just dump data on their team and allow for whatever falls out of that scenario. And usually that includes emotions and reactions and outcomes no one wanted. So I'm grateful for the reminder that as a leader, I do help orient people to data, and that thoughtfulness and planning that it takes is often the difference between a great data-driven leader and a well-intentioned one.

This has been an incredible Season 1, and we are so grateful for it. As we unpack Season 1 together, we get to remember that you've been part of this journey with us understanding more about how we assess data and understand how an organization is using it or not quite yet. And how they govern it, what pipelines are already established or could be established to help their data be leveraged in a more meaningful way. How to modernize a data warehouse, and then how to lift that data into meaningful visualizations and transforming it along the way. We cannot wait to continue exploring what it means to be a data-driven leader with you. The real life scenarios that we leverage, unpacking the qualities that make a good data-driven leader, and how to avoid common pitfalls as you work to mature your leadership style and the data maturity of your organization. If you have specific topics that you want to hear about more, please rate and review the podcast and let us know how we can work to incorporate those into future episodes.

Thank you for listening. I'm your host, Jess Carter, and don't forget to follow the Data Driven Leadership wherever you get your podcasts and rate and review letting us know how these data topics are transforming your business. We can't wait for you to join us on our next episode.

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