Have you ever looked around your organization and despaired of the hundreds of spreadsheets, probably riddled with errors, that are passed from person to person and updated more times and on more versions than can be tracked?
Have you ever wished that people would just see data as the heaven-sent manna that you know it to be?
Have you ever enthusiastically tried to get business users to use your Business Intelligence and data visualization tools to no avail? Executives mutter about the waste of business money keeping these data platforms running that nobody uses.
Fear not. There’s a simple diagnosis: a lack of data culture.
Yeah yeah, I hear you say. Data culture blah blah. But what even is that? What does it even mean? And how do I go about procuring this elusive data culture?
I’m not going to promise you 3 easy steps. It’s not as straightforward as a hop, skip and jump – it’s a full shift in thinking for everyone in the business, including you. But I tell you, it’ll be absolutely worth every ounce of effort.
What is a data culture?
Simply put, it means that everyone in the business not only values data but is actively engaged with data, understanding and appreciating the benefits it brings to their own work and department. They use the data in their everyday work to make business decisions based on facts, not gut feel, and look for data insights to enhance the results of their work. All of their data is clean, error-free and centrally governed. But most importantly, there is a seamless collaboration between IT and all other teams in the business. IT isn’t seen as a barrier. IT is the enabler.
That sounds like unicorns dancing on rainbows to most. But I promise you, it’s absolutely possible.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a true story…
What are the benefits of a data culture?
Cava Mezze has become an incredibly successful restaurant chain. So successful, it branched out to include a fast healthy chain called Cava Grill. Cava has always had its employees’ best interests at its heart with sick pay, a high starting wage, paid parental leave and training programs for both personal and professional development to name a few of the employee-focused benefits.
When Cava’s founders hired their first data scientist, Josh, they had him working the line at their restaurants alongside their other employees. Why? Because then he understood exactly how the business worked and it helped him see what data was helpful and what was missing that could help. It also made it easier to work hand-in-hand with the managers and employees when it came to implementing the data science. And Josh too had the employees’ best interests at heart.
Cava’s data implementation has been an incredible success. From implementing sensors that detect light, sound and seating in each location to learn how to optimize the space for customers to the complete redesign of the shift scheduling software that minimized those with long commutes serving short shifts, the data transformation has been conducted in step with the employees every step of the way. And the employees see the full impact of the data. They are also the ones who feed the data scientists with their ideas, challenges and feedback on projects. How come? Because they have a culture that not only values data but thrives on data.
Data brings incredible opportunity
Data brings incredible opportunity – the opportunity to streamline operations, to optimize conditions, to boost ratings, to cut costs, to take risks, to implement change… the list goes on. Employees are more productive. Processes are more efficient. Data is consistent and valuable. And organizations have everything they need to grow to new heights.
But the opportunity only exists if everyone is onboard. Everybody needs to not only know the impact data can have but wholeheartedly believe in actively engaging with the data. People at all levels must recognize the importance of embracing data and using an analytic approach to decision-making. Then they need to make the change to incorporating data in everyday work. That is a data culture.
How do you cultivate a data culture?
Get everyone onboard
Don’t be fooled that a single, impassioned presentation to the company will make anything change.
A huge portion of success is down to getting people on board. I don’t care if you have the most watertight strategy in the world and invested millions in the most sophisticated tools, if nobody uses it, it’s as good as non-existent.
If your organization is like most, data maturity will vary across departments. Your data scientists, for example, will have a different opinion about what makes an ideal data culture compared to a team that works with finance spreadsheets.
Instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all culture, think about how to bring each team from where they are now to their data culture utopia.
You need to introduce people to products and systems gradually. If you push it through all at once, they’ll give up because it’s too difficult and there’s too much to learn and remember. Give them something useful that they can put into action immediately each time you meet. Then they feel like they are progressing and can see instant payoffs of the effort and time they’ve invested.
Put a strategy together
A smaller, but vitally important, part of building a data culture is your strategy. You should think this through before you even begin. Think: What is your strategy? What is the rollout plan? What does success look like, and how will you get there?
Your strategy needs to cover exactly how the data will be stored, governed, accessed and distributed. But importantly, who takes ownership? You need to ensure freedom of information between departments and teams. Silos are the death of a data culture. And you want an honest feedback loop to the IT team and analysts. If the data is wrong and nobody tells you, spreadsheets will rapidly be resurrected.
You need to think through how you’ll extend the data platform through the business too. Which department will you roll out to first? Who will be your BI advocates in each team? What is your timeline and what will equate to a successful roll-out?
Choose the right product
Then there’s the product. If it isn’t liked and easy to use, nobody will use it and all your efforts will have been in vain. Test the product first on those who are most resistant to change and technology. If you can win them round, you can be fairly sure the rest will follow.
You need to make sure that collaboration is easy within the product. You want that feedback loop right where the data is. It needs to produce helpful, relevant and visually appealing content that can be easily consumed. The product needs to be sophisticated enough for analysts to meet the demands of the consumers while having an intuitive interface so nobody is scared of using it.
The product needs to make the daily use of data easy, accurate, helpful and even fun.
Set the right foundations
With the right foundations, you can build a solid data culture. But you can’t just implement and leave. A culture requires constant nurture. You’re growing a seedling into a tree that needs tending. You have to be in for the long haul. Nothing worth having ever came easily.
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” – Colin Powell
Create the environment for success in your business with a solid strategy, the right people and the best product.
It’s your step-by-step guide to growing a business culture that loves data.