Making Good Data Management a Habit

In recent years there has been a lot of research conducted around the concept of habits. How humans create habits, what keeps habits going, and so on. The research suggests there are three factors to establishing and maintaining habits: motivation, ability, and triggers.

So how can we apply these to creating good data management habits within our organizations?

Motivation: This one is self-explanatory. There has to be a compelling reason that we want to start and maintain a habit. For things like exercising or quitting smoking, it’s pretty obvious what the motivation is. But what about data management? What’s the motivation for good data management habits?

This, of course, depends on both the organization and the individual. For organizations, the motivation or value behind good data management is being able to improve communication and marketing, and ultimately to advance the organization’s mission through those means.

But what about individuals? What motivates them? One thing could be that it’s a job requirement! Many of my clients are now putting data management into job descriptions and including it in performance reviews.

Ability: In order to create any habit, one must have the ability to actually do said habit. Of course, the same holds true for improving data management habits. Does your staff have the ability to improve how they manage data? If they don’t, how can you help? Providing training and process documentation are two big steps towards improving ability.

But another factor can be your technology. Staff may know how to manage data, but may not have the proper tools for doing so. If staff is still managing a lot of data in spreadsheets, Outlook, and other “manual” tools, this may be restricting their ability to create better data management habits.

Triggers: The final factor for better habits is triggers, something that causes you to say “Oh, I need to do that now.” For example, like many people, you may have the habit of checking your email as soon as you login on your computer. Whether you realize it or not, the trigger to your habit is logging in to your computer.

So what kind of triggers can we develop for better data management? One piece of advice I always give my clients is that “significant conversations” with members should be recorded in your AMS. So one trigger could simply be hanging up the phone or reading an email. As you hang up the phone or as you read an email, you ask yourself “Was there anything here that needs to be recorded in the AMS?” If the answer is yes, then record it. If not, the move on.

Other triggers could be built right into the AMS itself. For example, many AMSes allow for automated reporting (i.e., reports that are pre-built and then executed automatically at a specified date and time, and sent via email to designated recipients). You could develop data integrity reports that automatically search the database for potential errors and send those reports to key staff once a week for review.

As an interesting side note, research at Stanford suggests that of these three factors, triggers are the most important to developing habits. So how can you use your AMS to create new data management habits?

Of course, creating new habits, whether personal or professional, is not easy. But if you understand and apply the three factors that help create and sustain habits, you can create better data management culture within your organization.

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