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Making Data-Driven Business Practices ‘Sticky’

Data and analytics leaders must build internal structures to support data culture so that it can take hold and grow within their organizations

Written by Solomon Radley

Making Data-Driven Business Practices ‘Sticky’

Written by Solomon Radley on Nov 20, 2019 4:00:12 PM

Data and Analytics

Cultural change does not happen overnight.

Giving 100 people rods and telling them to fish does not make an army of fishermen. And giving everyone in an organization access to data doesn’t create lasting data-driven business practices.

The fact is, any shift in employee behavior will be temporary if people don’t understand what they have to do and why they need to do it.

Left unsupervised, those employees who haven’t bought into a company’s data vision can revert to their old ways of working. Over time, new people will join the business and any trace of those data-driven ways of working may be washed away entirely.

“Don’t go big and say, ‘It’s all about the data’ and then forget about it,” advises Helen Blaikie, Financial Planning, Reporting & Analytics Director at financial services mutual Wesleyan Group. “It’s about ensuring that [data] is living and breathing throughout the organization.”

That’s why it’s important for data leaders to think beyond aligning their data strategies with corporate objectives and securing executive sponsorship for the approaches they want to take.

Changing the way a whole organization operates means galvanizing company-wide support and equipping everyone with the skills and support structures they need to work with data efficiently.

Communicating the Need for Change is Key

The notion that CDOs must be great communicators is already becoming a data industry cliché. But there’s more to it than simply convincing the CEO to endorse a company’s data strategy.

Because executing any data strategy requires certain people within the organization to change the way they work, data leaders must communicate their vision to stakeholders at all levels to succeed.

“The CFO will have to play their part,” Blaikie explains. “The Chief HR Officer will have to play their part in terms of recruiting and retaining staff, helping build a pipeline of people coming through the organization.

“From a data protection and from an architecture perspective as well, you have DPO and also the CIO.”

As a bare minimum, this means ensuring there are internal comms plans in place to raise awareness of the work data and analytics teams are doing. Showing that data-led initiatives generate results is essential. But communicating the value of these initiatives is just the start.

Successful data leaders must also equip staff to work effectively with data and establish processes that encourage them to do so.

Data Literacy Helps Make Data Culture Stick

Promoting data literacy is about equipping staff with the skills to read, work with, analyze and argue with data.

Inevitably, what this means in practice will depend on what a company does and vary from role to role. A software engineer at a broadcaster will need different data skills from a CEO at a bank.

Since teaching everything to everyone is an impossible goal, enterprises tend to tackle this challenge by running separate literacy programs based on each group’s needs.

“It’s about developing the skills internally,” says Klemens Mueller, Head of Insights & Analytics at online marketplace operator Scout24. “Something we do here is we purely identify what does data literacy actually mean for each role in our company?”

“We start by focusing on the ones that having the biggest impact,” he adds. “So, in our case it would be product developers and software engineers.”

The key when designing any data literacy program is to find where the knowledge gaps are within the organization. Data leaders can then develop initiatives that empower each group to use the data available to them.

In practice, this might mean establishing ‘data academies’ for junior staff to hone skills on the job, sending more senior staff on intensive bootcamps and requiring new hires to demonstrate their data skills during the hiring process.

“We have something at Deutsche Telekom called ‘reverse mentoring’,” adds Guido Beier, Senior Manager HR Digital & Innovation at Deutsche Telekom. “Young people train the C-Level how to deal with all the new technology.

“This works for using digital tools like Office 365, for instance. Why not do something like reverse mentoring for data and analytics?”

Establish Data Culture as a Core Business Value

If communicating the possibilities improved data literacy opens up is the carrot that coaxes employees through a company’s data transformation, KPIs are the stick.

Principles and policies for data ingestion and usage should be agreed at the executive level. Then, processes must be designed to ensure these policies are followed at all levels of the business.

Meanwhile, data groups and councils can be established to keep these rules ‘top of mind’ throughout the organization.

“Every feedback discussion within the company will also as an element have a discussion around, ‘How does your behavior relation to data-driven-ness?’” Mueller adds. “This goes from the junior employee up to the C-Level.”

“As a company you have to create a habit of making use of data and having conversations around data,” he explains. “Every team has to measure themselves. Even by that, you get into the habit of actually having a need for this data and questioning yourself.”

Of course, weaving data into the DNA of an organization in this way is easier for newer companies with less established internal structures. But the post-2008 transformation of the financial sector shows that it is possible for large enterprises to make these changes.

It will take time to embed data-driven practices within any organization. But with the right structures and processes in place, lasting data cultures will begin to germinate and grow.

This article is an extract from Transformational Data Strategy UK & Europe. For more exclusive insights from the UK and Europe's top data leaders, click the image below now and download the full report.

Transformational Data Strategy UK & Europe


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