Most organisations today recognise that data will play a role in their future success. Many have also learned the hard way that achieving this success requires more than just getting the data and tools right. They have also realised that people and process are equally important, and that establishing a data-driven culture lies at the heart of unlocking the potential value in their data. Taking a ‘build and they will come’ approach just doesn’t work – after all, it’s human nature to resist change and, left to their own devices, people will often ignore any new data capabilities that require them to change the way they work.
Cultural change is required to overcome this challenge; people need to change the way they work with data because they want to, not because they are forced to. Achieving this cultural change is often the hardest part of any transformation involving data. Getting it right is about accepting that some people may not be willing to change, especially where data is concerned, and proactively working with them to bring them on board.
In the second of Ascent’s Data Conversation webinar series, Microsoft’s Chief Data Officer Robin Sutara, joined Rich Pugh, Ascent’s Chief Data Scientist to discuss how, by getting the culture right, you can overcome this barrier to data-driven success. This article presents six key takeaways, inspired by that conversation, that will help organisations to establish a strong data-centric culture wherever they are on their transformation journey.
1. Overcome people’s natural resistance to data.
People are often reluctant, or even fearful, to embrace data and technology. The rapid increase in digital and data transformation over the past few years has left people with concerns over how quickly they are expected to become proficient with new data capabilities. Our rapidly expanding digital footprints also leave people with uncertainty over how to comply with data privacy legislation.
The key is to show people how data and technology can make their jobs easier not harder, and to show them how data capabilities can help them achieve their goals and objectives rather than hindering them. Establishing an organisation-wide data literacy education program achieves this in a practical, structured, and repeatable way. Reassure them that becoming proficient with data is a skill that needs to be learned, and that they are not expected to be instant data experts. This, in turn, helps them overcome their reluctance and fear.
2. Work top-down as well as bottom-up.
Every organisation will have pockets of data excellence: individuals or teams who are already achieving great things with data and need no convincing of its merits. One approach to establishing a data-driven culture is to simply take a bottom-up approach and try to increase the number of people in this category, through education and data capability provision.
Whilst this approach will be successful to a degree, the most effective way of establishing a data culture is to balance this with a complementary top-down approach, ensuring that there is executive support for building data maturity. Leaders must show continual commitment to the organisation’s transformation agenda and communicate the vision and strategy for data effectively at all levels.
3. Build momentum through advocacy.
The best way to build momentum and a sense of community when establishing a data culture is through organic growth. Strategic data initiatives, communication and education also play their part, but the value of having enthusiastic data advocates who can incrementally grow and strengthen the culture from within on a day-to-day basis should not be underestimated.
Data culture advocates, through their business-as-usual activities, can proactively spread the ‘data word’ to everyone in the organisation. Anecdotal evidence of how better use of data has improved their working lives provides a compelling illustration of how it could also make others’ jobs easier, creating onward momentum and another way to help overcome peoples’ resistance to data.
Who makes a good data culture advocate? The short answer is anyone in the organisation who has seen the benefits first-hand, and who is keen to pass the message on so that their colleagues can follow suit. They can be found anywhere in the organisation, and, ideally, should comprise a diverse set of people at many organisational levels and from many business areas, so that everyone can find an advocate they can relate to.
4. Build the culture iteratively.
Establishing a better data culture takes time - little and often is the way to go. Not everyone needs to be convinced of the merits of better data and technology before an organisation can start to build a better culture around data.
Look for where the enthusiasm lies first and build out from there. Support data advocates with new experiences and opportunities to contribute so that they remain eager to promote the culture from within. Implement the more strategic culture building initiatives (such as data literacy education) incrementally, at a pace that ensures the organisation sustains motivation and has the time to adapt and change.
5. Measure progress.
With any project or initiative, measuring progress is vital to keep on track and take corrective actions needed to ensure success. Establishing a data culture is no different – the key is to put in place the right level of progress reporting and then let anecdotal evidence and storytelling provide the context people need to make it relatable.
Progress reporting should comprise both quantitative measures (like data capability usage and consumption, or process efficiency improvements) and qualitative measures (employee feedback) if possible. The sweet spot is 2-3 measures that provide a directional view of progress - this is enough to show a return on investment and to help inspire people to want to become part of a vibrant, data-fluent community that is keen to explore new opportunities to create value.
6. Communicate success.
The final tip is to communicate success regularly. A data-driven culture has people at its heart, and those people need to know that the culture is working - and that it is worth continuing to evolve and grow it.
So, make sure that successes are communicated - share plans and achievements, report on progress and culture survey results, share anecdotes on how data is making peoples’ jobs easier and help convince any sceptics that this better data-driven culture is something they really should be a part of.
In summary, by establishing a data-driven culture, organisations stand a far greater chance of success in the age of data-driven transformation - and conversely, without strong cultural foundations, organisations will likely be left behind by their competitors and find it increasingly hard to survive.