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Putting People at the Center of Your Data Strategy: Nedbank’s Paul Morley

Nedbank Executive, Group Data Services Paul Morley shares his experiences of building company-wide data communities and how he believes organizations can benefit from them

For companies to truly embrace data and analytics, data leaders need to move conversations around data literacy beyond their departments and into the broader organization.

For Paul Morley, Executive, Group Data Services at South African bank Nedbank, one of the best ways to build data literate organizations is to make data conversations a part of daily business operations.

In this week’s Business of Data podcast episode, he shares his experiences around building organization-wide data communities and how companies can benefit from them.

“I focus a lot on internal education and collaboration to build awareness and create enthusiasm around data,” Morley says. “I probably spend about two or three hours a day doing just that.”

“If I could do more, I would,” he adds. “It's very important to make people who don't understand data understand it because, for an organization, working with data is like a team sport. As much as we might naturally want to focus on just the data team, it’s actually not about us. It’s about taking the whole company with you and inculcating that knowledge.”

Three Tips for Promoting Data Literacy

Gartner’s 2020 Execution Gap Survey found that 67% of employees don’t understand their role when new growth initiatives are rolled out. To address this challenge and drive the value of data literacy all the way to the grassroots, Morley recommends the following:

  • Embrace repetition. The only way to instill a data literate business culture is repetition, repetition, repetition. It’s like playing a new sport, Morley says. It takes practice to get good at it
  • Appoint the right leaders. Morley says it’s important for data leaders to cultivate good communication skills. He attributes his own success in part to his natural extroversion, and recommends building teams full of leaders who are strong communicators
  • Get down in the trenches. Morley encourages data leaders to spend more time talking to the people at the coalface than sitting in leadership strategy sessions. If frontline staff don’t buy into the journey, you’re going to fail. With them on-side, you’ll have a better chance of enacting the change you’d like to see

Be Mindful of the Headhunter Threat

Building a strong internal data community may be about more than those working directly with data. But the challenge of finding and retaining staff with the right skills persists. Talent poaching remains a reality for many companies.

Morley explains: “Two other local banks are actively hunting our employees. We’ve lost about 30% of our staff this year alone in our group, across professions. It is concerning and it’s something we’re discussing at the executive level. But we’re also still attracting a lot of new blood; that’s testament to Nedbank’s culture.”

Seeing off this threat is about making your company as attractive a place to work as possible. Morley says providing opportunities for training and personal development has a role to play, here.

“If you're going to retain people, consider your organization's value proposition,” he says. “I’ve noticed that youngsters typically leave because they want a different challenge or to work with new technologies. Older employees tend to shy away from the new stuff. So, it becomes harder to retain the older guys than it is to bring in young talent. The new guys are enthusiastic, and they have a point to prove.”

“We've got extensive training programs and I’ve been involved in starting two graduate programs at local universities,” he concludes. “We’ll survive the poaching because we are capable of regenerating our resources.”

Key Takeaways

  • It’s a team sport. Business leaders must take the entire organization on the data journey with them. The more an organization practices involving everyone, the better it will get at it
  • Take steps to attract and retain talent. Consider the organization’s value proposition to employees. Aim to provide strong incentives for people to work with you, such as career development and training
  • Less tech, more people. A people-first approach to data literacy could encourage employee engagement and help business leaders to spot flaws in existing processes more easily