By Cavan Dunn,
Vice President, Services

Walmart. Amazon. Spotify. AirBnB. Lyft.  What do they have in common? A data obsession. As waves of data sources have drastically changed the industries to which they belong (or even new categories altogether), these companies have used data to inform action and to gain clarity where others have remained stagnant or faltered. What’s the secret sauce?

Can “being data-driven” really be taught and adopted widely or is it too late for us to start? That’s a question clients often ask when anticipating a large, enterprise-wide transformation initiative. It’s a bit like the chicken or the egg conundrum: data obsession begets new data obsession, but what comes first? The data obsessed or the evidence that fuels data obsession? Here are some things I’ve observed as companies seek to evolve to better embrace the data available to them, starting by inviting their own people to mobilize around data by instilling a culture of data centricity

  • Build a manifesto. Employees should be able to easily recall how important data is to workplace culture and innovation, so it should begin with a mission or colloquial phrase that can serve as an elevator pitch. It can be displayed in common areas and should be reiterated by executives speaking about company vision, referred back to when forecasting with sources explained in detail to build credibility and highlight examples of data at work. Linking goal setting to data drives the priority home. Consider that many Amazon leaders used to have the poster, “In God we trust, all others bring data” displayed in their offices. That may be the extreme – and even polarizing for some – but having the language to express what data means to your organization will go a long way in underpinning a cultural shift or recognition. Know the role you want data to play before rolling out transformation; it’ll guide you as the unknown is faced and unexpected issues or skepticism arises. 
  • Create process starting at the top. Executives should be asking for – craving! – more data, and how they make their requests public knowledge matters in the widespread adoption of a data-centric culture. From the types of reports that are requested to connecting business decisions to data (i.e. that mid-quarter pivot is a direct result of data and the insight that caused it), executives should be vocal about where data makes an impact. And data should be everyone’s domain: Data governance procedures should be spoken about by both the CEO and CIO, for example, to show solidarity and to also ensure involvement surrounding data architecture isn’t relegated to “IT news and circles” only. 
  • Choose tools wisely. App fatigue is rampant in today’s work environments (and, ironically, making people less productive as a result), so stacking tools upon tools may only make adoption – of products or a data-centric culture – fare worse. Selective automation is the first thing that comes to mind when communicating the advantages of technology to the task-overwhelmed white-collar worker, as well as business intelligence software that helps make sense of data once it is retrieved, compiled, and analyzed. Showing how data is still essential to non-technical roles helps build a continuous story of data-as-transformation that creates buy-in for business strategy and long-term investments that are a bit more difficult to immediately make tangible to people outside of IT or business analysis as the process unfolds over time.
  • Illustrate “data moments” at every opportunity. From all-hands meetings to performance reviews to 1:1 conversations at the executive level and by the water cooler alike, evidence of data’s effectiveness should be out in the open and discussed with specificity. Employees should embrace the idea that data strengthens output and is needed for forward momentum. Mid-level managers are the champions of this cause, seeing much more of the day-to-day than executives above them. Asking employees to validate assumptions with data – and pointing them in the right direction to access that data – is a critical part of the puzzle when it comes to data-centricity and makes all the difference when ensuring that an organization is doing the legwork and not just talking the talk, which is essential for culture to take root. 
  • Make data more accessible. New data pools must be available so that curiosity can be fostered across level and job type. From marketing to IT, being able to see new data and test product or campaign effectiveness against it creates new avenues for decision-making and for ideation upon or preceding project initiation. Creating stronger lines of communication between IT and other departments, through informal relationship-building or lunch-and-learn-style workshops or through formal procedures such as work tickets and Slack channels, helps pave the way for highlighting different datasets available to the enterprise. Teaching teams the rigor of prototyping and feedback generation also helps employees appreciate how data becomes a natural part of decision-making, no matter the size or scope of the inquiry. In a world where transparency is more important than ever, knowing where data comes from, how it can be accessed to see relationships firsthand and to verify information, and showing the collective input will have a valid influence on company direction, all contribute to positive workplace culture at a macro level as well as where data is concerned.  

These observations have only scratched the surface when it comes to culture and change management. If you’re looking for a deeper conversation around this topic or want to hear what other organizations like yours have done well, let’s talk

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