Culture, Skills, and Capabilities // How to become a more data-driven organisation

In our whitepaper “How to become a more data-driven organisation”, we wrote about the five steps that an organisation would need to take, which are:

  1. Outcomes: Defining goals and metrics to ensure clear and measurable outcomes
  2. Analytics: Implementing and sharing the analytics to improve data-driven decision making
  3. Innovation: Testing assumptions through hypothesis testing and learning
  4. Data Platform: Gaining new insights and enabling more intelligent features through improved data integration
  5. Culture, Skills and Capabilities: People who believe in and understand the new ways of working are as important as the technology

This article will focus on the last step, Culture, Skills and Capabilities and how it is people who underpin all the previous steps to ensure a longer-lasting change. Your people will need to understand new philosophies and weave data and analytics into everyday conversations and decisions. 

Shifting Organisational Culture is Hard

The culture of your organisation is a reflection of the conversations your people have with one another. You can’t design or ‘implement’ a culture any more than you can design a thousand different conversations and communication pathways everyday. You can, however, influence the tone for those conversations over time. By understanding how to leverage that influence purposefully, it will in turn allow a culture of empowerment, accountability and trust to develop and flourish.

What use is Data in Driving Organisational Culture?

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But not all opinions are equally valuable. The truth is that opinions based in fact—in measurable, meaningful data—are more valuable than those that are not” – Quote from Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D via Psychology Today

Data, in and of itself, will not transform the culture of your organisation. Demonstrably rooting decision-making in data and fact, affords an opportunity to remove ego from the equation and focus on genuine alignment and collaboration. As leaders, you can directly influence how that manifests in conversations across your organisation. 

The change however is an evolution, not a revolution. It takes time and consistency. Lead by example; show your reasoning for a strategy based on evidence, and actively change course when the data points in a different direction; encourage challenge, experimentation and innovation; learn from and even reward failure.

How do we support this type of change in our organisation?

We often talk about enabling our teams to become more autonomous and empowered, but then struggle with how to make that a reality. How many times have you seen a leadership team saying the teams are ‘empowered’ and yet the teams themselves don’t feel it? Putting data directly in the hands of teams can be a simple catalyst for unlocking that sense of empowerment and autonomy, because they have the tools for fact based decision making and management have the metrics to ensure things are under control and heading in the right direction.

At the heart of any agile culture shift is growing a sense of ownership and collaboration. Ownership of the product in production, ownership of the code and quality, ownership of outcomes and metrics.

If the goal is to grow a strong sense of accountability across your organisation, something as small as the transparency and democratisation of data can make or break that aspiration. It’s unreasonable to ask people to take accountability for something of which they don’t feel they can take ownership. 

How can a team take ownership and accountability for successful delivery if progress towards a goal is hidden in a tool which no-one looks at? How can engineers own their code into production without transparency of the pipeline, good alerting and monitoring, and the empowerment to act when issues arise? How can a team be targeted on growing customer acquisition, if the data is buried in quarterly reports distributed for ‘management’?

Don’t spoon-feed people the information you think they need to ‘do their jobs’. Instead, grow a culture where data is the currency of truth. Make as much data as possible freely available around your organisation, and allow and encourage them to decide for themselves what they need and how to consume it.  

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach

The philosophy of approach may be common to all, but the precise mechanics, skills, tools and ways of working, for how you can best get started in your specific circumstances will vary massively from one organisation to the next. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution here, no silver bullet. But, taking a data-driven approach to becoming more data-driven, means you can find quickly which ‘levers to pull’ and learn from as you go. How will you measure success? What hypotheses can you form around the impact you could have?

There is no certainty in the future of your business, and it has never been more true that adaptability is your competitive advantage. Adaptability comes from the ability to learn and adapt; learning which ideally should be rooted in facts and data.