How Business Leaders can Promote a Data-Driven Culture

data driven business strategy, forward thinking business leaders

You’ve probably heard the expression that what’s important is seldom urgent and what’s urgent is seldom important. This is often the case for business leaders interested in adopting a more data-driven culture for their organizations. They crave the enhanced business efficiency and effectiveness that comes with data-driven cultures. But they lack a plan, focus or motivation to build a data-driven culture in the face of less important, but more urgent matters.

Although many of these businesses and leaders have improved their data collection efforts, they still struggle to integrate data analysis, interpretation and data-driven strategic decision making into their culture. They struggle with the steps and costs, naturally, but they can also find it difficult to admit that the decisions they’ve made based on gut feelings and experiences for so many years would be better served by an analysis of data. They are faced with a mountain of evidence that data-driven organizations are better equipped to make business decisions, and benefit from those decisions.

BARC Research survey found that businesses using big data saw a 10 percent reduction in costs and an 8 percent increase in profit. Additionally, these companies reported making better strategic decisions (69 percent), enjoyed improved control over operational processes (54 percent) and gained a better understanding of their customers (52 percent). Understanding customers has its benefits. A McKinsey Global Institute study (Mckinsey Global Institute) found that data-driven organizations are 23 times more likely to acquire customers and six times as likely to retain customers.

How do you turn a desire for a data-driven culture into reality?

Many businesses are disappointed to hear that you can’t buy your way into it; there is no technological silver bullet or shortcut that will help you leapfrog your more digitally-advanced competitors. Technology tends to be the least of your problems; rather, your focus should start with your people.

Find Your Soapbox

Long gone are the days when speakers needed to elevate themselves by standing on a wooden crate or soapbox in order to get attention. We have Twitter for that now. Somebody has to stand on the proverbial soapbox if your business is going to understand the advantages of digital adoption. When asked “why?” you should have an answer prepared beyond “because I said so” or “because our competitors are doing it.” Be ready to rattle off and discuss these advantages when the subject of data-driven adoption comes up:

  • Better understanding of customers: It’s likely you already have data on your customers, perhaps more than you can seemingly interpret. Having customer data doesn’t beget insights. The key is in the access to and analysis of the data. This involves being able to unify data from all available sources, and then making that data accessible and actionable to the people inside your organization who need it most.

Everyone — especially sales and marketing — should understand the value of knowing who customers are, where they come from, what they want to buy and how they want to buy it, the needs they have, and how they want to engage with your company. These are the rewards of a data-driven organization.

  • Product or service innovation based on insights: With a more complete understanding of customers, businesses will find it easier to drive innovation and improve existing offerings and experiences. Everyone should understand the benefits of introducing products and services which are more relevant to the audiences who drive the company’s success. Everyone, who is, interested in sales growth and customer retention.

  • Ability to seize opportunities or respond more quickly: Businesses must acquire, analyze, and act on new data quickly, as only a data-driven organization can. Consider what happens when a competitor identifies an emerging trend or customer need before you do. They usually win. Now consider it the other way around.

  • It’s a first step in adopting emerging technologies in such areas as IoT and AI. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are being used to identify previously hidden customer data and insights, which can be used to refine offers and deliver relevant messaging. Consider, for example, how AI is often used to better track fraud by financial institutions, or by retailers to target customer promotions. Such practices might collectively become enough to tip the scales in your direction when there’s otherwise little difference between your business and a close competitor.

  • It will help streamline your operations. It’s not as exciting to discuss, but improvements to behind-the-scenes operations may lead to better customer experiences — and that can be exciting. This is especially true when businesses learn to adjust and optimize their operations in real time. Consider the benefits of seeing the status and condition of your equipment real time, weather patterns that drive demand, shipping routes, supply chain and inventory. A data-driven businesses can more easily track and adjust processes to respond to problems and demands. In the end, you’ll gain happier customers as they receive their products and services without interruption or other problems.

Lead by Example

You’ve likely heard the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Although the saying likely refers to something a bit less pedestrian than data adoption, it’s still appropriate advice. A business leader’s responsibility goes beyond approving budget or signing off on new employees and analytics tools. They need to model the behaviors they wish to see through their own actions. “Like what?” you say:

  • By making data-based decisions: If a data-driven culture is the desired outcome, all decisions should be based on data — without exception. Those decisions made based on gut instinct or experience alone should be acknowledged as such, and the outcome of the decision made should be used as a test — an opportunity to collect data for the same decision next time. Each time a data-driven decision is made, and insights into that data seem lacking, it highlights an opportunity to improve access and process. It may be someone else’s job to monitor company analytics tools, but familiarity with these tools, or at least the data dashboards associated with these tools, will ensure data is front and center to every decision made. And importantly, you’ll become a model for the behavior you wish to see.

  • By training and growing in the areas where you promote change: As a model for company behavior (at least as it relates to the adoption and use of data), you’ll influence others through your own efforts to understand company data. A leader steeped in data skills training sends a powerful message to the rest of the team, showing them first-hand how important these skills are to the success of the organization.

  • By showcasing data-driven insights and decisions through regular communications: Every PowerPoint presentation, Slack message, email and Zoom represents a chance to emphasize the importance of data in the organization. You’ll highlight data points and insights as you share performance results, audience insights and more. In effect, you’re working to change how employees and leaders communicate inside the organization, which is a reflection of how data has influenced company thoughts and conclusions.

  • By putting data on display wherever possible: Not only will the use of data in meetings and presentations drive behavior and a shift in culture, but leaders should consider putting key metrics and data points on display in common areas, on company intranets, etc. One example is a company who used data points to highlight the three areas of importance to their success, and used digital monitors throughout the office to highlight the status of these metrics. The areas showcased were Relational (Community or Social Media success), Transactional (Engagement on the website or generally) and Contractual (Sales and Partnerships). Putting data-driven metrics on display provides a constant reminder of the importance of data in the organization.

Something Old, Something New

You’ve probably heard the expression “make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” It’s the same with digital skills inside your organization, except the advice doesn’t lend itself to a good rhyme. Rather, the idea is that you’ll need to hire employees who have the “right” digital skills based on your industry and needs — individuals who have the ability to help create, apply and use new digital technologies in the workplace.

You’ll also need to upskill your current employee base. You know, the ones who actually have the experience and relationships that make your business the current success that it is. Here are key areas of focus to ensure current employees are up to speed digitally, to make sure both old and new wind up with similar skills and attitudes toward data:

  • Basic data literacy: Ensure your employees are provided with data basics, including the technical skills and critical thinking skills necessary to read and understand the data generated by your systems and technology. Naturally, different departments, roles and responsibilities will need training in different areas. Training and workshops should become the norm. The more data savvy members of your organization can pitch in, and there are businesses who specialize in upskilling existing workforces in digital skills such as ThriveDX.

  • Don’t scrimp on analyst resources: The goal is to surround current employees with digitally-driven co-workers without trading out one for the other. It’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater when upgrading staff for a more digital-driven culture. The baby, in this case, is your employee base who hold institutional knowledge and customer relationships. Make sure there is adequate staff on hand to train and coach other employees on their way to digital adoption.

  • Promote storytelling: Don’t settle for stats and a dry report on metrics when the insights and conclusions from these figures can tell a good story. Encourage employees to explain why the data matters and whether it should influence a decision. Lead by example, certainly, but make sure members of your organization are using narrative and visuals in addition to data in order to paint a picture for others in the company as they share thoughts and conclusions. Enthusiasm for a data-driven culture will blossom when the data tells a good story.

Developing a data-driven culture at your organization will take time and effort. But it’s unlikely to happen without change. Socrates wrote that the secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new. People and a comfort level with the way things have always been done will continue to be the most difficult aspect of a cultural change. If you focus on the areas outlined above, you should reach a tipping point where data advocates outnumber the data naysayers and avoiders.

Want to upskill and reskill your workforce to become well-versed in data? Check out more information about the programs offered and powered by ThriveDX here.


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