Deploy a data warehouse, collect information from various sources, hire a team of analysts and your nirvana will be just over the horizon! Sound familiar? Despite hiring new analytical talent, our decisions continue to be based on what worked last time or what feels right, after all, that approach built us what we are today didn’t it? Or does this hit closer to home… Too many companies discount data-driven culture then end up playing catch-up as they do not proactively manage cultural change, often resulting in disastrous effects. Harnessing the spirit of data ensures the essence of success will prevail.
Company culture has an infinite power and is the reason why digital transformation projects either sink or swim. According to the 2018 Data & Analytics Global Executive Study and Research Report by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan Management Review, “Organisation culture is the biggest obstacle to the adoption of analytics and data sharing aimed at improving the customer experience.” While it was previously technological constraints that defined competitive advantage, companies are now realising it’s their own capacity for change that defines their digital effectiveness. Unfortunately, data-driven culture is not something you can import or impose, it’s a continual process continuum requiring foresight behaviours, specialty skillsets and supportive infrastructure.
What is a data-driven culture and why don’t we see it more widespread?
A data-driven culture questions everything and requires analytical results to drive decisions. It describes an environment consistently striving to leverage data wherever possible to improve business performance. Employees need to appreciate the value of data, know how to utilise it and continually seek data to define current and future strategies.
Sadly, many companies lack the culture supporting paradigm due to;
- Functional and departmental silos
- Misalignment of data-driven goals to Executive decisions and strategies
- Leaders’ fear of taking risks and stepping outside their relative comfort zones
- Executives expecting the usual timeframes to be met, not allowing nor appreciating the time for the change to be widely understood and accepted as the new improved norm
- Voices of experience saying “We’ve always done it this way.”
- Analysts lacking the emotional quotient to effectively communicate to decision makers
- Employee scepticism of the value of it all – thinking data is irrelevant to their role
- Employee lack of clarity on the company vision
- Not knowing what data is available and how to use it
- Difficulty forming and acting on a single customer view
- Weak customer focus within the business
- External pressures (stockholders, cheaper suppliers, disruptors, etc.)
How can we turn this around?
The irony in creating a data-driven culture is it requires the approval and advocacy from the upper echelons yet is imperative to be built from the ground up. Change Agents need to be vocal and proactive to obtain buy-in from leadership, which needs to be demonstrated through investments in resources. Omission of a clear strategy is fraught with danger. Understanding and communicating data’s value to the business is paramount to modify and change company behaviours and keep employees autonomously engaged along the way.
Use engagement tactics to generate consistent buy-in and change company behaviours
As a preface, none of the following engagement tactics will work unless people trust the data. To have integrity, your data must be clean, documented, transparent, consistent and timely. Unfortunately most programs fail at the very end when dashboards produce unreliable results. All involved too hastily dismiss, abort and revert to their hard-wired ways which is why trust in your data is a critical success factor. If your data isn’t viewed as dependable, discussions will remain speculation-driven, data utilisation will be subdued and a data centric mindset will not embed itself in your culture. The belief in data becomes redundant.
Transparency on the current state of the data and commitment from upper Executives are imperative. Executives have to lead by example and make it part of their daily routine to demonstrate they care. Occasional announcements will not suffice, they need to follow through by re-allocating budget, clarifying positions, allowing time, etc, to send an unambiguous message to employees around what data is available and that no strategic or logistical decisions will be made unless there is supporting evidence to do so.
Create a sense of urgency and demonstrate the opportunity costs of not using data effectively. Quick-wins especially, are a great way to maintain momentum as they highlight the usefulness and value of data. Sharing these measurable results further encourages the shift in mindset through a sense of accomplishment, as it recognises the effort that led to the successful outcomes.
Make data everyone’s business. Invigorate employee passion through empowerment by putting them in the driver’s seat and providing them with the tools to extract actionable and impactful insights. Insist on evidence and encourage or propel teams for comprehensive explanations of each data-driven decision. Such self service data requires a basic level of data literacy, resulting in users feeling more comfortable, which in turn, ultimately reduced resistance by them.
Provide ongoing support and training to facilitate a safe workplace environment and to learn and develop. Commit to an experimental mindset, recognising each hypothesis test as opportunities to learn and assimilate with other teams. It is imperative for management to have empathy and understanding, while people adapt. Hands-on training sessions are essential to deter and/or reduce negative sentiment and address initial and any ongoing concerns before these stifle adoption rates.
Involve everyone in the business (not just the data savvy) through providing incentives and/or rewards. Keeping it visual proves to employees that their work matters. This could involve modifying or changing your operation model and roles, to allow people to create future data-driven focused decisions.
When you make it fun and all-inclusive offer meaningful prizes for hitting milestones or impactful analysis, employees’ commitment and confidence is reinforced and nurtured. Giant screens displaying key metrics in public areas also encourage a focus on data while solidifying values of accessibility and transparency. There are companies who display data as art form in the office, publicly showing winners for best visual displays of data which helps bring what is usually considered as boring datasets to life.
If you can draw the line between granular metrics and final outcome profitability or customer satisfaction, employees will feel like they have been part an integral part of making that change. Feeling like it’s something they are creating is a significant cultural motivator as it gives them a sense of ownership and pride. When employees are encouraged and supported to become part of the solution, their sense of contribution becomes tangible. It’s this tangibility that affords and encompasses their own purpose, belief and loyalty to their work.
Finally, utilise analytics to track and improve the change. Monitoring usage reveals information which helps to refine and iterate the analytics initiative to ultimately increase adoption and ensure outputs are being used to support decision making.
Have a clear vision and strategy
Data is at the heart of every organisation and so should be at the core. Strategy should be defined with your customer in mind and built on clear objectives measured through Key Performance Indicators. Ensure your data strategy is aligned to business goals and supplemented with a data and technology roadmap as this will assist everyone strive toward a common goal and provide a clear action plan. Your vision needs to be continuously communicated in order to clarify the reasoning driving the change and also will describe the beneficial impact it will have on employees’ daily tasks. This, in turn, stimulates organic growth from the roots as employees begin to understand the benefits of data, believe in the vision themselves and start making a habit of seeking data with a quantitative mindset.
Ensure you have the necessary skillsets, infrastructure and datasets
The trick here is to maintain a balanced mix of business acumen with technical expertise and accessible data to all. Domain expertise, technical expertise and soft skills are intrinsically linked to facilitating the change as they aid to cross-pollinate concepts and help decision makers comprehend the story and any limitations of the data. Some companies choose to elect Data Champions of each business unit or appoint a Chief Data Officer, to further emphasise the significance of data to spearhead an oragnisation’s efforts.
It’s time to prioritise data-driven culture in the workplace
The absence of a data-driven culture can be the largest obstacle to company or organisational success. To effectively shape such deeply ingrained beliefs, change needs to be a gradual and an iterative process whereby leaders are willing to embrace what’s possible to achieve and employees have the support they need to believe in the power of data as well. An organisation who sows the seeds of data as a collective, will cultivate sustainable crops of growth not only for their future, but for future generations to follow.