5 ways to kickstart a data-driven company culture in 2020

Zara Wells, Enterprise Customer Success Manager at Looker

Jan 22, 2020

If you’ve been looking for ways to get your colleagues more excited about becoming more data-driven this year, you’ve landed on the right blog post. Getting people on board with data has a lot to do with two terms that were thrust into the limelight in 2019: ‘data culture’ and ‘data literacy’.

In talking to customers about these initiatives, I found that (1) many felt like they should have a data culture, and (2) not everyone knows what that means.

Here’s how we think about these terms at Looker:

  • Data culture: A community made up of data-driven individuals across all departments and levels. These communities are where everyone is empowered to use data critically, to make decisions, and start conversations rather than close them down.
  • Data literacy: The ability to read, understand, and communicate through the use of data.

If you want a deeper dive into these definitions, check out our JOIN presentation about how to build data literacy in your organization.

Organizations that haven’t promoted a data-driven culture or invested in improving each employee's data literacy are beginning to fall behind. Their competitors are charging ahead, powered by the democratization of data and the ability for all to access, understand, and communicate with it. Employees are enabled and empowered to make data-driven decisions to keep the business on the right course, there’s no bottleneck to get insights, and there is no ambiguity thanks to the governed foundations the data teams have put in place to support this culture.

Unfortunately, creating a culture of data is not as simple as having employees pass a Data Literacy Certification or having the CEO send out a note saying, “as of 2020, we have a data culture”; but there are concrete steps that you and your company can start taking today.

Here are five lightweight initiatives you can bake into your 2020 strategy to start developing a data culture at your organisation.

1. Include the notion of being data-driven/data literate in your company-wide 2020 mission statement and goals

Bring your data strategy into your company strategy. It’s time to get rid of the generic placeholder mission statements and objectives that reference ‘transparency’ and ‘trustworthiness’ and replace them with concrete mission statements that will actually shape desired behaviours.

Make these actionable and relatable so they can also be incorporated into departmental objectives. Even better, create shared data-related objectives, such as agreeing on the definition of business metrics cross-departmentally, to improve governance.

So, rather than — We need to make loads more money this year by being transparent and trustworthy partners — how about — We’ll increase profits by 10% by empowering and enabling everyone in the organization to make data-driven decisions in an accurate and timely manner.

2. Spark your internal data community

Your company’s data culture won’t be much of a culture if it’s just you. Encourage recruiting managers to include statements like “data-driven” in job descriptions so you’re enticing individuals with that mindset from here on out. And just as importantly, tap into that goldmine of data-savvy and data-thirsty colleagues you already have across every department.

As you identify these data-savvy folks across the business, recruit them to build your ‘guild’. I sometimes describe these wonderful people as translators, as they typically have a deep understanding of their business unit, have existing relationships with business users, and understand how the data works. They can work with analysts/ developers to build something that is fit for their department’s purpose. Having a guild also means you’ll have an extended team of people who sit across the business who can help roll out any data-driven, cross-departmental strategies and keep you abreast of the sentiment in their area.

Whack-a-mole anyone?

Have you ever played Whack-a-mole? (Bear with me). Finding champions is a bit like that game. You’ll recognise who these individuals are because: they’ll pop up here and there and ask great questions; they’ll likely be proactive in getting access to any data tools; they’ll make recommendations to make their data more usable and understandable.

But just like in Whack-a-mole, they’ll go back to their daily routine without the appropriate incentives and opportunities to keep them out in the open. Draw out your champions by finding ways to engage and partner with them to form your data-driven community. And in terms of frequency, I recommend playing Whack-a-mole on a semi-regular basis so you can continue to grow your guild - they pop up where you least expect them! (Please note, do not bop employees on the noggin.)

Engage with your guild

Work with your guild to build relevant resources and book some events that will resonate with their area of the business, different skill sets, and different engagement levels. When doing this, be cognisant of other initiatives that are going on in the business and see if you can work with them to introduce data more broadly to your company.

The graphic below depicts what types of resources and events we see working best at different engagement and technical levels. For example, running a Hackathon for business users isn’t going to resonate, but some resources alongside a lightweight scavenger hunt for certain data points can be really engaging.

You’ll be amazed at how successful events are when there are baked goods and swag!

3. Build a company performance dashboard that is accessible to everyone and is situated in prime real estate

People love to see and feel like they can impact the overall company performance. Numbers like revenue, profit, number of clients, and so on can spark great conversations and can help to demystify ‘data’ as a term. Peppering a few of these in some company-wide dashboards can peak the interest of end-users and ultimately encourage data-driven culture adoption.

I rarely encourage the use of vanity metrics but they have their place. Add some impactful metrics to your dashboards as they can make a great first impression on someone who isn’t that familiar with data.

As you build your company performance dashboard, remember to choose visualisations that make sense, and add descriptions to each visualisation that will resonate to the end-users. Once you have your dashboard, claim a spot on any regular company-wide communications; put it on screens across the offices, make it accessible via internal chat tools like Slack, and use that prime real estate on your internal intranet. Make your dashboard engaging, relevant, and up-to-date.

4. Conduct a survey to measure how data-driven your company is

As a data product owner, it’s important to understand how individuals use data, how comfortable they are with it, what their goals are, and whether they are able to meet them. Having a baseline enables you to track progress throughout the year and understand how to prioritise your roadmap. A great way to establish this baseline is with a survey.

For instance, you might investigate questions such as:

  • Do people feel they have access to the data they need to make decisions in a timely fashion?
  • Which teams have a thirst to self-serve but don’t currently have a solution?

Remember the days when you would get cold calls to survey a service or product? They called on a Sunday afternoon when you were having your Sunday roast. (If you didn’t know I was English, you do now!) Typically the questions weren’t relevant, they were far too long, and there was no outcome, so you learned to never answer the phone on a Sunday afternoon. This isn’t a good experience for you or the recipients.

When you send your survey, make your intention clear by telling people how you’ll use it to improve their experience in adopting a data culture and help them meet their goals. Keep everyone updated on the actions you are taking thanks to the feedback and consider creating a visible roadmap of the iterations you are making.

I recommend surveying at least three times a year so you can track your impact and iterate on your roadmap if you need to.

5. Show something fun and engaging with data

Data can be a daunting, anxiety-inducing word for those who are unfamiliar with it. Not everyone may realise that they already make decisions based on data, but when they look up the temperature to decide whether it’s a shorts or a trousers day, they’re doing just that. (Although for some Lookers, every day is a shorts day.)

To take the scare factor out of data and consider creating a dashboard showcasing fun metrics that people will enjoy tracking. You might include data about hours volunteered against an annual target, the number of multiport adaptors lost this year pivoted by department, or snack consumption quarter over quarter.

A nice one to kick-start the adoption of a data-driven culture in January is capturing activity levels like steps, hours of sleep, or calories burned and creating some healthy competition between departments. It’s a great way to encourage collaboration and promote a data culture. What’s also great about this exercise is that it teaches individuals how to be data-driven and understand the importance of data input and data hygiene. It allows people to see how different data sets can be visualised and how to create actionable insights rather than vanity metrics with them. Plus it gives you a fun data set that you can use for enablement before training users on their own data.

Cheers to a data-driven year!

The recommendations that I’ve shared will work across any business with any culture, including yours. Demystify data, make it accessible, and make it trustworthy — but don’t put that last bit in your mission statement! Read our Kickstarter customer story to see how Looker is helping other companies become more data-driven.

Next Previous

Subscribe for the latest posts