In all companies, there are certain people who radiate competency - improving the productivity, skills and the potential of everyone around them. Managers who can spot these high-potential employees often find it difficult to motivate, empower and retain them. Those who succeed, make a concerted effort to develop the talent and expand the influence of these employees across the business.
For data-driven organisations, some of your most high-potential employees are those with strong data skills and a desire to share them with others. I’ve seen examples from customers where “data champions” - individuals who are passionate about using data effectively and who promote data best-practice - have proven themselves essential in their company’s journey to becoming data-driven.
However, empowering data champions isn’t just for companies with mature data cultures. It’s equally important for those just starting out, as these individuals can help guide and course-correct through this cultural shift. When developing data champions within an organisation, there are two questions to consider: where can I find them, and, once I do, how can the business empower them?
Speaking with customers, what I’ve heard most often is that data champions are not so much found, as they are identified within the business. These are individuals whose passion and enthusiasm for data bubbles up to the surface to become a recognised and valuable attribute.
Some areas of the business are more inclined to foster data-enthusiasts - marketing, finance or business development, for example - however, data champions can be identified across the whole organisation. These are employees who ask in meetings, “where is the data to support that?” or, “have you looked at the data?”, challenging others to have more data-led conversations. They have put their hand up to do more, learn more and share more about data. In short, they are internal advocates for data.
Data champions are not only asking data-driven questions but seeking out answers on their own accord. In some cases, their enthusiasm for data may mean that they have shown interest in joining online communities, forums or networking events that promote data skills and encourage sharing.
In departments where the value of analytics has only recently been introduced, identifying budding data champions can be more difficult, but it’s worth the effort. Recognising people who are data enthusiasts and keen to evangelise its value is extremely helpful as companies go through change to become more data-driven.
For example, data champions can act as mentors when new processes are being adopted, not least because they reduce dependency on centralised support teams. Data champions can also simply be an example of what it means to be data-driven by encouraging learning and sharing, and helping others experiment with their data more confidently.
Once you’ve identified data champions across the business, it’s important to give them the flexibility to define what it means for themselves. As the role of data champion is often developed organically within the business, its definition should be handled with care. While the employee should take the lead on defining the role, they should do so in partnership with the business. This way, they can understand the big picture of how their role supports the company’s data strategy.
Data champions are most empowered when they understand how their work is helping to close gaps within the company’s overall analytics strategy. For example, data champions who help their colleagues improve data proficiency skills should understand how this work directly contributes to the company’s key analytics objectives. In this case, closing a skills gap in data literacy is a key priority for many companies in their journey to becoming data-driven.
Remember that the job of a data champion is often in addition to that employee’s daily responsibilities. Allowing data champions to define the role within the framework of their own strengths, interests and workload gives ownership to the employee to set out objectives that are realistic and motivating. Ensuring then that the data champion has a strong understanding of their company’s analytics strategy then helps to clarify their contribution in delivering on the company’s analytics strategy.
Once the role is defined, businesses need to give the right support to data champions in order to make an impact. What is meant by this exactly? I point to two key areas: recognition and training.
Much of the work of a data champion can go unrecognised as they are often helping others achieve better results or make better decisions with data. It’s important to keep in mind that even the most motivated and ambitious workers will become demotivated if they aren’t recognised by senior leaders for going above and beyond to cultivate a data-driven culture.
One way of giving recognition is by giving your data champions a voice at the table - both internally and externally. Concretely, this can mean offering networking and speaking opportunities at external industry events, where they can learn, share and be inspired. Internally, bringing together data champions to offer input about data-driven initiatives is extremely valuable.
Companies making the largest strides in becoming data-driven know that it requires a shift in mindset and daily habits - it requires change. Having internal advocates who provide consistent insight and feedback along the way allow businesses to course-correct and take more effective, incremental steps to becoming data-driven.
Finally, training for data champions is easily overlooked because they are often seen as the data experts within their teams. However, giving them access to e-learning tools, certification programmes or vendor events will raise the bar on their skills, while continuing to inspire and motivate them in their work.
At Tableau, our most data-driven customers invite the data champions along with their analytics teams and executive leaders to events like Tableau Days or the Tableau Conference. The motivation and engagement that comes from the process of learning together and from each other is truly incredible.
An empowered, professional, curious and creatively passionate worker is an asset in any organisation. Encouraging employees to perform at their highest level is something everyone should aspire to, not just those wanting to revolutionise data strategy and culture.
The reason Tableau has put so much thought into empowering data champions is because we know how important they are in a company’s journey to become data-driven. Whether you are just starting down that path, or are well on your way, identifying and empowering employees who are eager to help in the journey should be a key part of any analytics strategy.
James Eiloart is SVP EMEA at Tableau