My ‘light bulb’ moment on the GDPR

On Tuesday 31 October, President Donald J Trump gave the executive order to release previously withheld files relating to the 1963 assassination of John F Kennedy.

Among the many black and white TV news clips of speeches made by JFK that I’ve been watching across several TV networks that are marking one of the darkest hours in American history, one sentence in particular struck a chord with me and perhaps many of you reading this too:

“In each of us there’s a private hope and dream which, if fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone.”

That may sound like a lofty ideal, but I sincerely believe that as data protection professionals we all need to have the conviction to want to make a positive difference for both the company and organisation that we are part of as well as those whom we seek to serve. Nothing less will do.

It’s about sharing a higher sense of purpose and when you look at why some people and companies and organisations are great, it’s because they have a strong vision and purpose.

In my past, I’d been deeply disappointed by the poor quality and experience of online training and believed that there had to be a better way.

I realised as far back as 2012 that the GDPR was going to be the biggest shake-up in data protection and privacy for over two decades. I also predicted that the competition for talent would lead to a brain-drain and a shortage of well-trained senior managers required to orchestrate the technical and organisational changes necessary to comply with these higher standards of data protection and privacy.

So I decided to do something about it.

A few years previously, I’d the honour and privilege to meet one of the most successful businessmen of his generation and someone whom I admire in the same class as Sir Richard Branson.

Mike Harris was the founding CEO of telephone bank First Direct and internet bank Egg: he created two one-billion GBP businesses and was credited as being one of the chief architects that transformed the financial services landscape worldwide.

Mike began telling me the story of when he got invited to meet Bill Gates III at his palatial home overlooking Lake Washington in Medina, near Seattle.

“I was full of nervous excitement mixed with nervous anticipation. The Microsoft CEO Summit that I was invited to attend is a serious event with heavy weight presentations and panel discussions. I finally got to shake hands with Bill later that evening and introduced myself to him. ‘I know Egg’ replied Bill. ‘I gave the keynote at a conference where one of your guys spoke last month.’ I went on to tell Bill that Egg and Microsoft had been working together for a while on some new ideas and how we seemed to share something of a common philosophy,” says Mike.

What surprised as well as delighted Mike was that Bill Gates seemed to know a lot about Mike’s company that was infinitesimally smaller than Microsoft and given the hundreds and thousands of other such relationships that Microsoft had all over the world, it was curious that Egg had made such an impression on Bill Gates.

“The secret is to infect others with your enthusiasm. Bill himself has said that sharing his enthusiasm is what he does best and he’s not alone in this fundamental belief. The ability to express your enthusiasm and instil it in others is the key to turning your big idea into reality,” explained Mike.

After meeting Mike, I had my own ‘light bulb moment’ and decided to create a unique online training programme for senior executives – the GDPR Transition Programme at Henley Business School – supported by a new independent academic and practitioner journal, the Journal of Data Protection and Privacy.

Looking back at that conversation and subsequent advice I received from Mike, there were ten steps on the way to finding my own ‘light bulb moment’ that can apply to any situation where you are seeking to make an impact in the run up to the full implementation of the GDPR and need to create awareness and training in your own company and organisation.

Step 1: Unleash your enthusiasm. The energy required from you to engage with others in a new campaign or cause can make all the difference between success and failure, even before you’ve got going.

Step 2: Create a bold and inspiring vision of the future. For Mike, separating the ends from the means is absolutely vital to creating future success. Having a clear vision and purpose may sound simple but in practice it’s one of the toughest challenges facing any organisation or enterprise.

Step 3: In order to create a compelling GDPR awareness and training programme, it’s important to listen to critics who count. This is part of the ‘proof of concept’ phase and means that you don’t become blinded by your own short-comings or get carried away with your own vision. It’s a reality check and has made the GDPR Programme the ‘best in class’ for senior executives in Europe, offered by a global Top 25 business school.

Step 4: Have the necessary customer insight. This can be summarised as attitudes, values, perceptions, beliefs and behaviours.

Step 5: Produce a financial plan and ensure that adequate resources are in place. Inadequate capital will kill off a great idea. We had to raise sufficient capital to build the GDPR Transition Programme in time for when it was required. And we still need more investment, post-revenue to continue to make it an even bigger success.

Step 6: Know your ends from your means. Mike explained that in one of his many business interests what this means is defining a set of interim ends (a year ahead) that’s the first step towards achieving the ultimate goal. It also means allocating resources in order to achieve those ends; allocating accountability for the achievement of each end; monitoring progress and knowing what was fixed (the ends) so that the means to achieving those ends could be amended throughout the year if necessary.

Step 7: Embrace your brand reputation. The narrative around the GDPR Transition Programme had to be very carefully thought through and planned as a compelling and memorable story. As a BAFTA-elected film maker and former TV producer, I understood the power of ‘entertain, inform and engage’ and applied this to what looked like a dry and legalistic subject like data protection and set out to make this ‘human’.

Step 8: Create a culture to deliver the GDPR awareness and training. For Mike, this is about continually communicating what you believe in, what you are doing and why you’re doing it.

Step 9: Take smart risks. Every step towards the big and inspiring future goal needs to be carefully chosen and well thought through. It’s also about risk minimisation.

Step 10: Create a dedicated team that share the vision and purpose and are committed to achieving the end goals. Success can’t be achieved by the founder or a single CEO, no matter how brilliant they may be. It requires team work and choosing the appropriate people to accompany you on that journey is critically important.

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