Data projects, such as data quality, governance and master data management, involve change. Organizational change management is a necessary ingredient to any data project, because changing the way you deal with your data causes a ripple effect of changes with your organization. It has been said that problems in IT projects are caused by technical issues 10% of the time and caused by people 90% of the time.

For many people in your company, the prospect of change evokes different reactions and emotions. Most people will form an attitude about change based on many factors, such as their tenure or previous experiences with past changes (and whether they were perceived as wins or loses.) Oftentimes, a person’s attitude and reaction to change can be determined by their personality.

Whenever you begin an important information management initiative, you can expect to encounter all sorts of attitudes and reactions to the change your project represents. I have boiled down some of the more prominent patterns of attitudes you will likely encounter and how you can best deal with them (and even leverage their attitude for the betterment of your project’s outcome.) Below are a few of the personality patterns common to data projects that induce organizational change.

The Fearful

If you remember the movie Office Space and its satirical depiction of the modern office environment, there was a character named Tom Smykowski who was always afraid he was going to be fired. Every time a memo went out or a consultant was brought in, he just knew that it spelled doom for his career. In any information management project, you will have those people who will be afraid of the change it brings. Maybe they are afraid your project will automate work they do, and it will make them “obsolete.” They usually fear change of any kind, so it’s not just your project. Fearful people can be feet draggers and create resistance against the project. They may be difficult to schedule meetings with or avoid you all together.

The best way to handle fearful people is to actually just listen to them and their fears. Most often their fears are deep-seeded and attached to some emotional baggage or past negative experiences. When you provide open ears for them and make them feel comfortable sharing with you, they usually relax and feel less resistant to the project. As a bonus, you can often glean valuable insights from their stories.

The Controlling

Controlling personalities also present challenges to data projects, because of their reluctance to relinquish control over their stake in the game. They often resist changes that could affect their scope of influence, or they may view the project as out of their control and fear it will take away their ability to control the data, people, and processes over which they currently have influence.

The key to dealing with a controlling personality is to leverage them for the project’s advantage. Controlling persons often make excellent data stewards. Moreover, if you are certain their intentions are good (they often are), they might be helpful to recruit as a leader for data governance initiatives. Often controlling personalities won’t trust the other systems’ data over their own. You could recruit them to be a part of an approval role during rollout to satisfy their needs to verify changes that would supersede values from their departments’ systems. In doing so, you give them confidence and have filled a vital governance role with an eye for detail.

The Indifferent

Indifferent personalities may come across as ho-hum and nonchalant, but be careful. They may be truly indifferent, because they feel like the change won’t affect them, or they may seem indifferent, because they don’t care or have faith that your data project will have any impact in the organization (a non-believer). The latter case is a form of resistance. Indifferent people might subversively not make changes asked of them or revert to the old way of doing things, because their belief is low that the new process will stick.

Dealing with apathy in any situation can be tough, because acceptable mediocrity is a safe place for many people. They also may give the appearance of compliance and acceptance of change, but are thinking something totally different in the back of their minds. People may say they are onboard, but their subsequent actions make you think otherwise. Instead of trying to convince them, give them the opportunity to create small wins for them through the project. Low hanging fruit is a good way to create momentum, and momentum is one of the only external cures for apathy.

The Embracing

The embracing personality thinks everything is a good idea. They will smile and nod in meetings and you think you have someone instantly on your side. Don’t get me wrong, many champions and heroes in data projects are early adopters and naturally enthusiastic. These people can certainly add value to your project. However, proceed with caution and make sure they are the right person before you recruit them for a key role to move the project along. First, they might be the type of person who causes other people to throw up resistance—the “oh no here they come again” person. If their enthusiasm (genuine or otherwise) rubs some people the wrong way, it may cause the other personality types to dig in their heels deeper. Also, be cautious of embracers who show early enthusiasm, but quickly lose steam or go off chasing the next hot thing, just as your project is getting into the nitty-gritty.

Understanding and dealing with the personalities you will encounter in any information management project that brings about change is a key to success. It is part of the organizational change management component that cannot be overlooked. People, not technical barriers, usually make or break data projects, so handle them with care.

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