Operator Spotlight: Data and Analytics Leader Anita Lynch

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Anita Lynch, Vice President of Data Governance for Disney+ at the Walt Disney Company.

Given the turmoil from both COVID-19 and the recent racial injustices, what are some things companies and teams should prioritize right now? 

ANITA: I can’t speak to what everyone should do, but what I’m doing is carving out more time to listen and reflect. By pulling out of the day-to-day fray and asking bigger picture questions to understand diverse perspectives, it becomes easier for me to identify a faulty assumption or consider the less obvious opportunities as they arise. Recently a friend asked for my advice on how she could engage with her team around these emotionally charged events. The advice I gave is this: This is an opportunity for catharsis with the hope of healing. 

Sharing is best facilitated within an established culture of trust with small group discussions of 10 people or fewer. Even among people we know, we cannot guess what any one person might be struggling with as a related trauma. Create a safe space for discussion by acknowledging the trauma of these events and the fact not everyone knows what to do. Ask people if they’re willing to share – and if so, ask “How is this affecting you?” and “How can we support you?” 

The pandemic and downturn have renewed fears over privacy and data security. What advice do you have for companies looking to navigate those concerns? 

ANITA: COVID-19 has made everyone in the data sector much more aware of the importance of data privacy, user data protection, data quality, and cost optimization. It’s critical to ensure there’s a partnership at the leadership and operational levels between Information Security, Data / Data Engineering, Marketing, Product, and Legal teams. In my organization, the Governance team role sits at the intersection to do this work. 

How has your team at Disney had to change because of COVID-19? 

ANITA: Disney has a strong culture of developing leadership. Today our leaders are spending even more time on coaching, development, and gathering input from our team members who work directly with customers, internal or external. We’re working hard to ensure every unique situation is checked for opportunities to give support and encouragement.

We’re also more focused than ever on transparent communication and delivering high quality work. Repeating iterations of individual work balanced with group work allows us to detect misalignment and share knowledge. Although there’s an element of fatigue resulting from the increased screen time, there’s huge benefit to having broader participation in our quality checks. 

My own team has changed how we collaborate and manage our time, too. We’re geographically distributed, which requires flexibility in scheduling, and we’re more conscious of participation in meetings and discussions. For those technical roles and non-managers, we encourage one day mid-week where they can minimize scheduled meetings to work uninterrupted. 

Are there additional steps smaller and younger companies should take now to prepare for both additional cyber threats and a new reliance on analytics? 

ANITA: Independent of size and stage, companies should have an advisor on data protection and data privacy compliance, in addition to data strategy. The landscape is evolving quickly and smaller companies need to allocate all of their internal focus on building a great product.

Any advice you’d offer someone looking to build a career in analytics?

ANITA: This space is continually evolving, so don’t be tempted to specialize too early. Understanding how data and insights drive value for all the various business functions is the key to eventually becoming an effective leader in the space. Keep challenging yourself to learn new skills and applying them in new contexts.

What’s one amazing insight no one knows about data privacy?   

ANITA: Having a vision for privacy compliance at the outset when architecting a data tech stack for product or marketing analytics is now a competitive advantage. 

AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a waitress and bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

ANITA: I spent one summer in high school working as a cashier at a Mrs. Field’s Cookies. It was a crash course in general management. I learned how to do math quickly in my head, as well as the importance of managing inventory and supply chain to improve your P&L. I also learned how to build brand awareness – The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies at the right time of day could make all the difference, plus it makes people smile. 

What’s one unconventional thing you’re doing to keep yourself sane these days?

ANITA: I’m paying a lot more attention to my inner dialogue. Before COVID-19, it was common for me to be a bit more critical of myself than perhaps I am with my team or my family. Now I’m actively working on being as empathetic with myself as I’d be with my best friend. Everyone experiences and manages their stress differently, and recognizing when I’m fatigued or stressed is important.

What’s the one spice or condiment you could never live without? 

ANITA: Everything bagel seasoning – for my eggs in the morning!

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