The Chief Data Officer of JPMorgan Chase, Rob Casper shared in an interview a few years ago, “The best advice I have for senior leaders trying to develop and implement a data culture is to stay very true to the business problem: What is it and how can you solve it? If you simply rely on having huge quantities of data in a data lake, you’re kidding yourself. Volume is not a viable data strategy. The most important objective is to find those business problems and then dedicate your data-management efforts toward them. Solving business problems must be a part of your data strategy."
The imminent role of data in business decisions remains undervalued, despite the fact that on a very basic level, every business activity today depends on the ability to make timely, agile decisions that are sure to leave a lasting impact on the business and its people.
Insights from McKinsey Global Institute reveal that a data-driven organization is 23 times more likely to turn prospects into customers, six times more likely to retain them, and 19 times more likely to generate a profit as a result.
That’s the impact of being data-driven. The opportunity cost of an absent data-centric culture? Beyond what organizations would want to hear at the moment.
The importance and business advantage of leveraging data cannot be emphasized enough. What’s more important though is building data constructively through collaboration and not in isolation. A siloed business intelligence team working on raw data and circulating dashboards across different functional teams - not helpful! Such practice contributes to the stigma towards the chaos too much data can create.
The challenge today when we speak of big data and analytics appears to be closer home to culture, over technology. The gap in understanding the power of data and how it can benefit the organization, keeps the broader workforce from drawing relevant, actionable insights from the wealth of information said data brings to the table. This becomes a major reason to hold back the engagement with data analytics and deriving meaningful inputs that could empower employees to make more business-oriented decisions.
Let’s pause and find out why we need a culture for data consumption, what roadblocks need to be eliminated to extract the benefits of being a data-driven workforce and how organizations can improvise on existing business constructs to leverage relevant data and boost business and people performance.
Understanding the need for establishing a data structure
Organizational decisions often rely on data, which may or may not be organized in a manner that is coherent to its consumers. This is why it is crucial to establish a well-defined structure before hopping onto tools and technologies to draw insights from a vast amount of data.
Identifying the what, why and how of data:
- What data analysis are you looking for and what purpose does it serve
- Why do you need this data analysis
- How does this analysis contribute to the decision-making process
There is a need to take a step back before placing a request for data and note what data is needed, why is it needed, and at the same time establish a connection between how said data could help make informed business decisions. Once the structure is in place, you can then move on to identifying and addressing likely roadblocks in becoming data-driven.
Roadblocks in becoming a data-centric workforce
The first step back in becoming data-driven is to assess structure, the second step back is to think about the end-user. In this case, your employees. In the journey to becoming effective consumers of data and adapting to a data-centric culture, it is essential to identify and eliminate certain roadblocks that keep us from extracting the benefits of being a data-driven workforce. Some of these are:
- Lack of understanding on how data impacts individual roles: According to the results of a survey conducted by the Economist, a third of executives see the lack of understanding about how to apply big data to their role or function as the most common internal obstacle to greater use of big-data analytics. Gaps such as these if left attended, grow wider, making a dent in the very foundation of a data-driven culture. Lack of education often becomes the root cause of ignorance, and in the current crisis more than ever, business decisions cannot afford such ignorance.
- Lack of alignment towards end in mind: The survey by the Economist also stated that 23% of senior executives admit that the lack of agreement about the value of big data within the senior management team is the third most common obstacle that stands in the way of greater use of data analytics.
The value and end in mind of being data-centric is crucial to gain leadership buy-in, which in turn is crucial to drive a top-down cultural change, laying the pathway for a bottom-up engagement.
Leadership alignment on the data-strategy and purpose before investing in growing a data-centric workforce is crucial.
The workforce is often spread across a variety of functionally distinct roles, which essentially means the workforce is made up of different business areas, with employees coming from different experiences, having different perspectives and outlook. In such diversity of roles and experience, speaking a common language surrounding data initiatives and its necessity becomes challenging. Therefore, a data-focused culture requires to be driven from the leadership, percolating across functional leads, levels and thereby the employee base at large.
- Breaking data isolation: Analytics often ends up being an isolated function with the sole purpose of disseminating dashboards, with inadequate guidance on what is needed out of the gathered data. The dimensions that the data intelligence team finds relevant might not match the insights and inputs desired by the leadership or individual function leads. In a data-driven organization, collaboration must replace isolation, ensuring that the time invested in generating trends from aggregated data leads to meaningful business decisions. This requires the end-user and business intelligence team to work together and come up with a comprehensive, consolidated data structure tailored to the needs of the users.
Pivoting to a data-centric culture
The very perception of data being numbers and charts requires a revamp. Understanding how relevant data impacts business outcomes and therefore internal talent often gets lost in transition.
In conversation with People Matters about how organizations can build a more data-centric culture, a talent leader from the banking industry suggested, “Demystify data analysis, make connection between data and decision obvious, make data analysis and deriving insights the key expectation, and most importantly begin the change with self.”
Breaking that down, here are some recommendations to re-engineer your organizational culture into a more data-centric culture:
- Know the purpose: Before investing in a data technology, step back to understand the core areas you seek data for, and communicate the need to the data analytics team. Creating a string of dashboards shouldn’t be the end in mind. Identify business areas that you seek to utilize derived data in, and articulate the said need to the team working on the data. Data doesn’t dictate decisions, you arrive at decisions based on the data you seek. Making this step a practice will help evolve a mindset in favour of data, a mindset where one is able to decipher the impact of structured relevant data on business decisions, and thereby results.
- Bring in governance: Like other functions, data needs its place to be able to grow within the organization. Having a data focused internal team will help nurture the capability of the organization to work with data and make strategic data-based decisions that increase the chances of success. What’s also crucial is having a seat on the table through leadership roles to drill data in the overarching organizational strategy.
- Establish a connect between being data-centric and the consequential business outcome: Demonstrate the consequences of being data-driven. Until the workforce is acquainted with the improvements and results that follow being data-driven, the desired bottom-up engagement and evangelism cannot be achieved. Organizations need to communicate the far-reaching impact of a data-centric mindset, on the business as well as individual performance.
- Invest in data education: Investing in training opportunities in this space is a great way to begin bridging the gap in understanding and perception of data. Such training opportunities however need to be supplemented with real-time examples of how leveraging data is bound to multiply results. Sensitize, apprise and educate the workforce on the much needed organizational maturity to leverage data intelligence.
- Leadership buy-in and leadership driven: Building a data-centric culture is one such shift that requires constant reinforcement, modeled in the leadership behavior as well as encouraged through changing year old norms. In an interview back in 2015 Opower’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Operations Rod Morris stated, “Our CEO is a computer science major - a numbers person, so data underpins everything we do - from providing real-time energy savings tips to customers to predicting the success of our recruiting campaigns to deciding what soft drinks to offer in the employee pantry.” Such practices help make data a transformational culture practice instead of a one time transaction tool.
Human involvement in decision-making creates room for bias, which is why when guided by relevant data, arrived at after careful efforts towards crafting a comprehensive well-articulated background process for data generation, organizations are in a position to make meaningful and impactful decisions.
In enabling data-backed decision-making to scale business performance, one step is key - building a data-centric organizational culture.
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