Data Tip #2 – Build a Data-driven Culture

October 30, 2013 by Jennifer Cobb

With all of the hype about “big data”, many business and organizational leaders are starting to wonder – what does it mean to operate from a data-first point of view?  How will it impact my organization?  Is there research that supports the value of data-driven decision-making?

In fact, research does show that having access to the right data and using it to guide decisions makes a difference.  The way to achieve this value is to build a data-driven culture throughout your organization.  This is a higher bar, but in the end, it will pay off.

A recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit defines a data-driven culture as one where data is no longer simply the job of the IT group or a data specialist.  Rather, data is fundamental to every job, every business process and every decision.  In other words, embracing data is a central value of the company at every level.

Data driven culture

In the report, The Economist surveyed 530 senior executives from around the world, from a range of regions, industries and company sizes.  The report concludes that while a data-driven culture can be transformational and result in stronger financial performance, there are clear tensions inherent in making the transition to data-driven practices.  This transition, as with all cultural changes, must begin with leadership buy-in at the highest levels.

Here are some of the fundamental to-dos when thinking about your data culture.

  1.  Democratize data use.  In a data-driven culture, everyone in the company should have some experience with capturing, using and sharing data.  While not everyone will become a data expert, everyone should be able to work with data and be rewarded for their contributions to the positive outcomes it can generate.  Face to face interactions with customers, partners and suppliers are a classic area where better data can be collected and tracked.  Employees at all levels should be rewarded for their disciplined collection of feedback around every interaction.
  2. Data as a pathway for professional development.  The current shortage of skilled people to perform data analysis offers another opportunity for companies to build an internal data culture.  Training programs should be developed for employees with an aptitude for and interest in analytics.  These skills are highly in-demand, and recruiting for these positions is costly and challenging.  Smart companies will allow the analysts they have to float among departments and mentor colleagues interested in learning their skills.
  3. Data sharing leads to collaboration and innovation.  In many companies, the data one manages equates with power, and people are often reluctant to share.  As anyone who has overseen a change-management process can attest, this political dimension can inhibit even the best intentions to improve. Company leadership would be wise to emphasize that a culture of data-sharing benefits everyone.  The expertise each business unit and role has will continue to be necessary, though in a data-centric culture, roles will evolve to be more collaborative and less protectionist.
  4. Incentivize openness.  When data is open and shared, there is more room for innovation, collaboration and problem-solving, all of which benefit the bottom line within any company or organization.  Leadership needs to think of ways to reward those who share data, incentivizing individuals and departments that develop and nurture open, accurate and sharable data and analytics.

If you want to use your data more effectively, think about ways to build a culture based on open and democratized access to data and the skills to use and analyze it.  Your culture will become more collaborative, your employees will become more skilled and your bottom line will benefit as a result.


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