How to instil a data-driven culture

Data is recognised as one of the single most valuable assets owned by a business. According to a recent report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, 59% of top-level executives surveyed said they consider data and analytics to be “vital” to the running of their organisations, with a further 29% deeming it “very important”.

The level of investment leaders across all sectors are dedicating to build their data capture and analytics capabilities gives some indication as to just how crucial they believe data is to their future.

Recent research from Gartner revealed that more than 75% of companies are investing or planning to invest in big data by late 2017, with data-driven businesses becoming “the new normal”.

>See also: 3 ways to place data at the centre of corporate culture, according to Amazon boss Jeff Bezos

Consequently, businesses are restructuring and creating new positions as they get to grips with data and fully realise its benefits. The rise of the ‘data scientist’ is the clearest evidence of this, and people with the skills to turn data into actionable insights that deliver business value are highly prized.

Such roles will always be needed and valued for the truly ‘big’ issues. However, concentrating all of an organisation’s data into the hands of a few experts severely limits its potential for business value. In order to really extract the full value from data, everyone within a company should have access and be using it on a daily basis to make decisions.

Data is a great equaliser. It is of value within any industry, for any size of company – and for any level of employee within a business.

Enabling all employees to regularly dig into their data is about more than technology or granting access to information. It’s about instilling a culture of data analytics.

Here are six key things necessary to foster a culture that drives a data-driven organisation.

1: Empower employees and they will embrace data

Fostering an analytic culture begins with empowerment. This means empowering and trusting the workforce to explore and answer questions with their own data.

The previous model of data analytics was one managed solely by ‘the few’. Today’s companies can’t afford to continue with this model. It’s up to senior leadership to promote a culture where employees have access to their own data as well as the technology tools to be able to see it easily explore it.

When this happens, there is a positive change that happens – employees are empowered and businesses are transformed.

2: Train for using tools, but also the brain

Getting all users to be data-driven will more often than not require additional training. Some of this can take place through the actual tools, which tend to offer use cases, online videos and more.

Such training tends to focus on features and functionality, but it’s also important to take a wider lens with regards to upskilling. Building up critical thinking, analytical curiosity and a foundation in relevant fields like data visualisation helps encourage a shift in mentality.

Bringing in outside experts can help to this end and keep things exciting. With this academic background and general foundation, specific tool training begins to make far more sense.

3: Embrace the uncomfortable

For a lot of organisations (especially ones with very sensitive data), this level of empowerment can feel extremely uncomfortable at first. This is why the leadership team is crucial. The leadership must play a key role in moving the company beyond a need-to-know mentality, or else it will undermine the entire transition.

Acknowledging that data empowerment can feel uncomfortable and then taking steps to make it begin to the feel like the norm is critical.

4: Hire the analytical and the curious

Building an analytic culture with existing employees should be accompanied by an ongoing attempt to bring in the talent an organisation needs to embrace and develop it.

Data should of course play a role in this process, but it should be kept in mind that the ideal candidates are not necessarily those with the most knowledge of the latest technology.

Technical skills are important for some roles, but there is one non-negotiable trait that every team member must have: critical thinking.

Tests should be created that stretch candidates’ analytical capabilities and excite their curiosity – which is another key trait that really underscores self-reliance and underpins an analytic culture.

>See also: Data-driven government: oxymoron or reality?

5: Ignore gut instinct

To cement a data-driven culture and encourage the right type of thinking among employees, leadership must begin demanding data-driven answers.

Instead of asking the opinions of middle management, senior figures must require recommendations backed by data and expect that they ask the same of their respective teams. Answers shouldn’t begin with the words “I think”. Instead, data literacy should be a part of all conversations.

6: Be patient (but not too patient)

In the end, implementing an analytic culture is a long-term process and not something that will happen overnight. But a year from now, the companies that have yet to make a firm start will have wished that senior leadership begun the process today.

Truly fostering a data-driven, analytical culture should involve every aspect of an organisation, from the management of data scientists and beyond into training, tools, hiring processes and more across departments.

But the most important factor is that data, the great equaliser, is democratised so that everyone can begin to ask questions and make more data driven decisions.


Sourced from James Eiloart, VP EMEA, Tableau

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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