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Transforming Culture & Growing Data Literacy: The Keys to Maximizing the Impact of Your Data

TARYN HESS, PHD

Principal, Business Consulting, Client Learning and Talent Enablement
Blog

In today’s marketplace, a data-literate workforce — one that uses data as a company asset in decision-making, evaluates and questions data, knows how to find data, and confidently interacts with data to derive insights and tell a story about it — is critical to business success. Research shows that high corporate data literacy scores can increase enterprise value by as much as $320-534 million. Additionally, some 85% of C-suite executives believe being data literate will be as vital in the future as the ability to use a computer is today.

Despite the recognized value of data literacy, most companies and their people are not equipped to take advantage of its potentially powerful impact. A mere 11% of employees are fully confident in their data literacy skills. At an organizational level, only 19% of companies report having established a data culture, while just 27% say they have created a data organization.

When attempting to improve data literacy, many factors influence success, but the most significant is culture, which 91.9% of executives identify as the greatest barrier to becoming data-informed.

GETTING STARTED WITH DATA LITERACY TRANSFORMATION

Adapting culture requires much more than simply launching a literacy program; organizations must transform how everyone thinks, interacts, uses and communicates with data. Here are several key actions that your company can take to improve its culture and kick start its data-literacy journey: 

  • Slowly adapt to change. The business must candidly assess its readiness to change and its data acumen. First, take a baseline of where your company sits on the data literacy maturity model, and then slowly adapt your processes and ways of working to embody a more data-focused ethos. For example, you will need to determine the extent to which your company has and adopts data governance policies, uses metrics, shares and secures data.
  • Reengineer your business processes. Business processes should be reengineered at every level to include data – from the beginning of a project all the way through to the completion and maintenance phase. This will ensure that processes support new and changing data advancements and needs and that your employees can take full advantage of data along every step of the process.
  • Educate your staff across vital areas related to data transformation. Employees need to have the same terminology, definitions, ontologies and frameworks to communicate effectively. Data literacy education should include a core curriculum that covers data mindset, ethics, regulations, security, governance, quality, assets and tools, data-informed decision-making and communicating with data. This type of learning program will allow you to scale efficiently while providing minimal uplift effort to tailor to role-specific data needs.
  • Hire and promote data-literate employees. Examine job requirements to make sure they include an appropriate level of data literacy for every role (e.g., success measurement, data analysis, etc.). Hire or promote employees who understand data and who practice data-informed decision-making.
  • Align your organization to support business objectives. Data literacy doesn’t exist for its own sake; business goals need to be aligned to data-driven objectives. Your metrics, KPIs and OKRs should be properly tied to data sources that examine progress toward goals.
  • Promote and communicate the importance of data. Throughout all levels of your organization, talking about the importance of data and promoting its use is key. Employees want to hear the organizational vision, mission and goals for data. They need to understand their role and the specific actions they can take to drive the adoption and use of data. This can be accomplished through a variety of modalities – townhalls, newsletters, videos, emails – as long as the messaging is aligned with the interests and needs of its intended target audience.
  • Model data practices from all leaders. When it comes to data change, leaders need to be prepared to drive the integration of data into your processes, culture and behaviors. To do this, they must be aware of their role and the data-related needs of employees, demonstrate how the organization wants to use data and provide feedback on how to accomplish goals. 
  • Celebrate your data wins and highlight this success across the organization. Showcasing the positive impact of leveraging data provides positive reinforcement and inspiration, supports buy-in, and gives real examples of how to integrate data into practice within context. Wins can be shared in smaller team meetings, in larger townhall forums and globally in company news releases and websites.
NINE COMPONENTS OF A DATA-LITERATE CULTURE

The actions above will help you create a data-literate culture in your organization, which should be comprised of the following components:

  • Create an education and learning program for the following groups:
    1. The entire company should understand the common organization-wide data language, data tools and systems, as well as the importance of data sharing and collaboration.
    2. The leadership team needs to understand their role in setting the pace of data change and how they can support making data change happen.
    3. Data stewards who are your data advocates need to be prepared to support forward momentum.
  • Align targeted skills and communicating data goals:
    4. A corporate-wide communications program needs to clearly articulate the importance, impact and value of data and being data literate.
    5. Competency matrices should include the data skills required for people’s roles.
    6. Hiring protocols should align desired data literacy skills with hiring practices.
  • Build organizational structures that provide long-term support:
    7. A mentorship program can provide support and guidance for mentees to hone new data skills.
    8. A center of excellence (CoE) or governance council should provide a governing body to establish vital data policies, standards and best practices that lay the groundwork for data and data change.
    9. A community of practice (CoP) can create events and opportunities for connecting people, sharing data stories and practicing data skills together.

Data is the driving force and differentiator for companies who are successfully transforming and meeting the continually changing demands of their clients in the marketplace. Shifting to a data-literate culture is hard and requires a carefully calculated and integrated approach to ensure success. Your approach (which should include the aspects addressed above) will be unique to your organization, allowing you to have a widespread impact by driving value and monetary benefits, creating a shared vision and culture, and supporting the growth and retention of your people.

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