Your four-point plan for a data-driven working culture

By Per-Ove Johansson, - Future WorkplaceProductivity

Data has become something of a buzzword in recent years. It’s difficult to read about anything to do with business without seeing it mentioned in some capacity.

There is a clear reason for this, of course: data can be an extremely powerful tool. At the tail end of 2015, Gartner predicted a power shift in business intelligence and analytics that will fuel disruption in the coming years.

And in our own research earlier this year, General Electric (GE) CEO Jeff Immelt said the ability to turn data into insight for customers is “going to be worth trillions of dollars,” while companies such as ANZ Bank and British Gas are already investing heavily in data and analytics technology.

Yet while a recent Gartner survey found 80% of CEOs have operationalised the notion of data as an asset, only 10% say their company actually treats it that way.

This latter finding highlights one of the biggest emerging challenges in achieving the full potential of a digital workplace: linking data and analytics to behavioral and cultural change.

In this third instalment of our #DigitalWorkplace series, I’m going to cover four ways to help build that link and create a data-driven culture within your business…

1. Encourage transparency

One of the most significant changes to the way businesses operate over the years has been the breaking up of traditional ‘silos’. There’s a trend towards companies operating a much flatter structure, with teams collaborating openly where they previously would have sat in different parts of the building and never spoken to each other.

This kind of transparency is critical when it comes to data. Businesses need to have a single, centralized view of the customer, but they also need to be aware of new data sets coming into the organization (as a result of an acquisition, for example).

But some organizations are still suffering a hangover from the old ways. The rise of ‘shadow IT’ means technology is being adapted and used around businesses without wider organisational approval, so any resulting data is held in siloes.

To get the most out of data, you need to make sure all departments share it with each other. And that data should be centralized – making it easier to manage at a leadership level and preventing information overload.

2. Lead by example

Being a data-driven organization is more about the journey than the destination – transformational change monitored through information and analytics but guided by strong leadership.

So one way to change a company’s culture to support this new digital workplace is through the boardroom.

Leaders not only have the influence to set the right tone when it comes to data, they also have the power to make decisions on technology and organizational structure that will have a massive impact on the way a company uses its data.

The problem is that many leaders are afraid of losing control – they are naturally concerned about security, but they’re also worried about losing data to competitors.

This makes them afraid of change when it comes to data. But instead of being fearful they should embrace that change and be proactive in managing any potential issues so they and their organizations can experience the benefits in the long-term.

3. Hire data-driven people

Where it’s often been said that people are a company’s most valuable asset, in 2016 it’s fair to say that people who know how to use data are even more valuable.

Along with leadership, learning and development and recruitment both play a major role in the extent to which a company benefits from data. Some people may already feel comfortable around it, but others will need significant training.

To accelerate the journey to a data-driven culture, companies should therefore aim to hire or empower people who already display analytical skills and behaviours – data-savvy employees who understand that journey and can provide the necessary support along the way.

But what about existing employees who tend to struggle around data? Often the best way for people to learn is through doing.

Provide plenty of opportunities for them to engage with data and the technology surrounding it, but also encourage mentorship throughout the organization so those experienced in data and analytics can support their less confident colleagues.

And to solidify that learning and ensure it permeates throughout the organization, ensure all performance measures and business processes take evidence-based decision-making into account.

Also bear in mind that people will likely have different perceptions and fears when it comes to data, whether it’s numeracy skills, ability to learn new software platforms, or apprehension about data itself. So it’s important to accommodate for that through communication and training.

4. Invest in the right tools

Finally, make sure you’re investing in technology that will help you collect and manage data in the most effective way possible.

There is no ‘right’ platform – it all comes down to what works for your business. If you have data analytics professionals in-house, involve them in any decisions around new tools and encourage them to analyze how useful those tools would be.

Also ensure you have the right tools to protect you when it comes to data security and governance. This is particularly important in large organizations where employees use data autonomously.

Even more important than tools, however, is focusing on outcomes. Technology evolves so quickly that if you only focused on that you’d soon lose momentum. Creating a data-driven culture is about setting the right vision and strategy and then adapting your technology along the way to support that.

All of this will ultimately have an impact on recruitment, too – if you can’t demonstrate a genuinely data-driven culture with up-to-date tools to match, you’ll likely struggle to attract and retain the most talented data professionals in your industry.

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