As the economy contracts, it has never been more important for companies to focus on business growth. Strategic plans to achieve this must include a focus on data practices. After all, market research and advisory firm Forrester Research predicts that insights-driven public companies will grow at least eight times faster than global GDP, or 27% annually. When establishing a foundation for growth, data – how it is managed and analysed – is an excellent place to start.
Yet, of those organisations that are already trying to improve their data practices, a number are still struggling to make effective data use a reality. Most companies (92%) are unable successfully to scale their analytics, according to consulting firm McKinsey, which illustrates the extent of the problem.
To reduce this figure, businesses must review their approach, scaling up their use of analytics across the organisation, and improving how they are using data. But this cannot be achieved by a handful of people. It requires an organisational shift towards adopting a data culture, where all employees fundamentally change their attitudes to, and understanding of, the value and power of data.
Data culture is the collective behaviours and beliefs of people who value, practice, and encourage the use of data to improve decision-making. In its most successful form, the spread of data culture has the potential to fuel critical company growth and make day-to-day tasks far more efficient.
No amount of technology, processes, or mandated initiatives will lead to changing a company’s ethos. The most fundamental component to building a data culture is how your organisation goes out of its way to cultivate and retain talent.
Rather than searching for employees from competitors, the most effective businesses start by looking within. This means setting a plan to keep staff excited, motivated and encouraged through training and skills development, including data skills.
That said, external candidates should not be overlooked. Businesses that are viewed as forward-thinking and innovative will certainly welcome like-minded candidates. Valuing the importance of data goes hand-in-hand with innovation, and companies with a successful data culture are fast becoming a destination employer for smart, inquisitive, data-savvy people. In fact, recent research from Tableau and Censuswide found that half of UK workers would reject a job offer if the company showed no signs of using data to make business decisions.
To build a workforce of data-minded people, I often provide the following recommendations to businesses that are at the beginning of their data culture journey:
Executive buy in: Conducting short, intensive, visionary sessions with the most senior leaders in a business will open them up to the value of data. This can be done via workshops or a roundtable session to make sure initiatives are the right fit for the organisation. This will encourage them to support and participate in building data teams actively, from identifying individuals who could lead the team to making sure the people they manage are dedicating resources towards improving data practices.
Dedicated data champions: Data champions are individuals who are passionate about using data effectively and who promote data best-practice. In my career at Tableau, it’s been a constant source of encouragement to see people from a wide variety of backgrounds and in a wide variety of roles show great passion for data and make amazing data champions – so keep your mind open and throw the net wide. These champions help build groups of data evangelists with their teams and, ultimately, contribute to their company’s journey to becoming data-driven.
Raise the bar for company-wide data literacy: The natural levels of data literacy and mathematical competence remain remarkably low in most organisations. In fact, the charity National Numeracy found over half of the working-age population only has the numeracy level expected of a primary school child. To make improvements so that data can be analysed and understood by everyone within an organisation, there must be a focus on raising the bar across the entire company.
I have seen personal success of raising company-wide data literacy. Online learning platforms such as AVADO offer bite-sized modules available to all staff to raise levels of data literacy across the organisation. Other educational material such as newsletters, town halls and internal exhibitions can all contribute to raising staff data-competence levels and understanding across the organisation.
Focus on holistic and ongoing analytics training: Build enablement programs that get people comfortable using data tools, and continue to grow their skills into the future. These programmes should be tailored to the specific skills needed for every role. The research study from Tableau and Censuswide also found that the key pet peeve for 31% of workers in terms of internal training is that it is outdated or doesn’t match their needs. Every employee can benefit from increased data literacy, but some may only need basic foundational education, whereas others will need more proficiency – for example, the marketing and finance functions.
Evolve your hiring practices with data skills in mind: From the outset, consider including data skills within job descriptions for all open roles. Screen for data-driven characterises in candidates – people who are curious, ask questions and probe. This way, the importance of data will organically become part of your company brand. When it comes to attracting top talent, incorporating data skills will appeal to data-minded individuals. Remember the laws of attraction? Like attracts like. Data people will be compelled to join data companies.
Don’t be shy - communicate your commitment to data: To attract new talent, companies need to be bold by articulating the value for everyone to be data-driven. Inspire others by sharing success stories, newly found insights and key learnings with the outside world. With the Government’s latest drive on data science skills and their investment in data science conversion courses, there should be a bigger pool of candidates to pick from next year. Recruitment teams will need to clearly communicate a commitment to data and development in order to appeal to these new candidates.
Across the globe, COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the importance of data and analytics. Data is being scrutinised every day as governments, scientists and healthcare providers try to steer society through unprecedented challenges. It’s the same in every business – the need to embrace digital transformation has never been so critical. Every digital interaction generates valuable data that can reveal how markets and customer behaviour is changing as countries and companies return to work.
If there was ever a time to have a data literate, data curious workforce, it’s now. I encourage you to try out of some these ideas as your company creates, builds and operates teams that are more data-driven – in a post-pandemic world, it can be the difference between businesses that just survive and those that find a way to thrive.