How Lufthansa Shapes Data-Driven Transformation Leaders

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The airline created a program to educate leaders all across the organization and turn a sky filled with data into accelerated change.

Christian Haude, Ivo Blohm, and Xavier Lagardère

Reading Time: 12 min 

Carolyn Geason-Beissel/MIT SMR | Getty Images

 

Up in the air, a modern plane generates 1 terabyte of data every 24 hours of flight. For airlines like the Lufthansa Group, this data can be used to create valuable business outcomes, from improved operational efficiency to higher customer satisfaction. On top of this rich data set, Lufthansa has invested substantially in deploying artificial intelligence technologies, improving data quality processes, and hiring data engineers and data scientists. However, in 2023, it recognized that it had to do more to become a truly data-driven company. The industry incumbent faced not a mechanical problem but a human one: Organizational resistance to change stood in the way of transformational efforts. Lufthansa’s data experts felt like they were operating as lone wolves, without the business support and use cases that would get the whole company behind its transformation goals.

In its quest to beat these challenges and speed transformation, Lufthansa recognized that a crucial ingredient had been overlooked: the leadership circle. Leaders can not only motivate and inspire but also coach their employees to drive exciting data and AI use cases and turn their own business units into front-runners of data-driven change. However, internal analysis confirmed that there was a huge shortage of data and AI literacy among Lufthansa’s leadership ranks, from the C-suite to team leaders. Lufthansa felt that turning its leaders into data leaders would be a key success factor for the whole organization.

So Lufthansa created a data leadership program, and along the way, its team learned valuable insights about the roles that people could play in data-driven change. The company’s approach has lessons for other organizations facing the same need.

Data Leadership Is Not Just for Tech Leaders

What is data leadership? At Lufthansa, it means accompanying and supporting one’s team to achieve data-driven transformation together. Lufthansa knew that its future data leaders would not just be tech leads, like chief data officers (CDOs), who drive the implementation of data and AI use cases and corresponding policies, standards, and programs. Especially in data-driven digital transformations, business leaders need to take an active role.1

To operationalize the concept, Lufthansa defined six different roles for effective data leaders (see “Data Leadership: Six Key Roles”) and shaped a corresponding data leadership development program to bring those roles to life.

References

1. T.H. Davenport and J. Foutty, “AI-Driven Leadership,” MIT Sloan Management Review, Aug. 10, 2018, and T.H. Davenport, N. Mittal, and I. Saif, “What Separates Analytical Leaders From Laggards?” MIT Sloan Management Review, Feb. 3, 2020,

2. E.A. Teracino, “Data and Analytics as a Key Business Capability in Focus at the 2nd Annual Chief Data Officer and Information Quality (CDOIQ) European Symposium,” CDO Magazine, Sept. 18, 2023, www.cdomagazine.tech.

3. G. Vial, J. Jiang, T. Giannelia, et al., “The Data Problem Stalling AI,” MIT Sloan Management Review 62, no. 2 (winter 2021): 47-53.

4. “Successful Experiment to Detect Hand Luggage Using Computer Vision,” Lufthansa Group, accessed March 28, 2024,

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