How to build a robust data culture in your business

Data has the potential to transform your business. But extracting and applying its true value requires more than data literacy; building and embedding a strong data culture is essential for long-term success.

Without one, the large investments you’re making into your data technology risk being wasted and their potential benefits left unrealised. Education is no longer enough, your organisational teams need to understand the data and actively lean in. 

However, building the foundational behaviours and processes that form your organisation’s data culture is complex and we understand why your board may be reluctant to invest. It feels hard, and is a tough sell when budgets are tight, it seems much easier and safer to invest in tech, which often comes with a shiny sales deck from the supplier, complete with dazzling ROI figures.

But we’ve seen the bottom-line benefits that investing in data culture can bring to organisations like yours, and how it can transform your businesses quickly and for surprisingly little cost.

By focusing on their data culture, this organisation created the environment for change. Change that would help their business thrive. That’s the true power of data culture. We need leaders and teams to be naturally curious about the data insights, actively moving away from gut feel decisions.

For organisations who make this investment, there’s a huge competitive advantage to be had. In our research we found that just 15% of companies measure how strong their data culture is. That means 85% aren’t fully capitalising on the chance to improve how they use data to make better business decisions. That’s 85% of your competitors that you can move ahead of in your market.

So how can you start to build a robust data culture that creates both quick wins and long-term benefits? And how can you do so for little to no cost to your business?

1. Step back and reflect

No two organisations are the same, that’s why you need to spend time understanding where the barriers to a strong data culture are in yours. 

This includes identifying what you are great at so you can build on those attributes and identify where improvement is necessary. As you do this you might want to focus on areas including: 

  • Whether leaders and employees use data as part of their decision making process
  • How insights provided by data are turned into positive action
  • How data collection and use contributes to overall business goals
  • The power of data to challenge the status quo and drive change
  • If there is an enterprise-wide data strategy or whether each team acts alone
  • How the touchpoints where customers generate valuable data are harnessed
  • How to gather, store and use data in an ethical way

This diagnostic will help you pinpoint which specific leadership and employee behaviours most impact the business, for better or worse, and will clarify your priorities when it comes to embedding your data culture.

2. Defining your vision and measures

What is the overarching objective of your data culture strategy? What does success look like? This should link to your business purpose and define what you’re trying to achieve and the behaviours required to succeed. A clear vision inspires support for change and brings senior leaders on board who can champion the benefits of a more effective data culture.    

High level backing makes it easier to remove silos, encourages collaboration and enables data teams to improve their understanding of the wider business context and develop data-driven solutions. In the long run this will embed cross-functional teams that share information and work together to develop the right solutions.

But how do you know whether this is making a real impact? The traditional way of measuring success – and you may be familiar with these metrics – include: 

  • The number of people who took part in internal and third-party training programmes
  • The number of certifications achieved relating to data tools and solutions
  • The number of analytical outputs created. For example new or updated reports and self-service dashboards
  • The adoption rate of reports across the business

But as we’ve seen with our clients, time and again these do not give organisations what they really need. You want to go beyond these measures to get a deeper understanding of your data culture. To do this we recommend and use qualitative behavioural measures rather than simpler quantitative ones that provide a truer insight into a data culture, such as: 

  • Self-reported job satisfaction (within the data team and business stakeholders) – before and after 
  • Levels of collaboration across teams
  • Actions that reduce data silos between departments
  • Cross-functional projects started and completed
  • And if you are ready to be really bold, a joint target on value unlocked through data

3. Identify and prepare your pilot

Focus on pilot projects that show how data can both enhance customer outcomes and make life easier for colleagues. Where could a strong data culture generate the most value and where is there support for change?

For example, a supermarket retailer we worked with developed a store footfall app for all store managers and trained them to use it. Because the initiative pinpointed an area of need and provided genuine value to managers, it drove usage, which boosted data fluency far more effectively than generic data literacy training. In turn, this triggered further ideas and initiatives that benefited customers, delivering tangible value that could be attributed to data.

Once you’ve identified where there are opportunities like this to add value to the business, and you’ve clarified how you will measure success, you’re almost ready to run your pilot. 

But before you do, you need to define the behaviours that will positively contribute to building a business-driven data culture and identify business leaders who will act as role models and champion those behaviours.

These will vary from business to business, but one important consideration is how the adoption and application of these behaviours will be measured both now and in the future.

4. Deliver the pilot

This is the fun part. A safe environment to test drive your pilot, discover its flaws and celebrate its successes. When running a pilot we strongly recommend using agile methodologies, which means rapidly building, testing and refining solutions, so that you’re constantly reflecting on your progress and always moving towards the best possible product. 

During the pilot process it’s essential that leaders are engaged and play a full part in demos and stand-ups, while living and breathing the positive data culture you’re hoping to build.

Each month we ask leaders to complete a behavioural retrospective that explores if and how they are role modelling the behaviours they’ve agreed to. This isn’t designed to catch anyone out, but to support and accelerate a change in mindset and culture.

5. Review and build on success

A successful pilot creates excitement within an organisation and an eagerness in other parts of the business to learn about and share the benefits of change. This leads to opportunities to both deepen initiatives where they already exist, and start scaling up their impact by introducing them into new areas of your organisation. 

Taking this five-step approach to embedding a robust and insightful data culture will generate positive results, we’ve seen it in action. Why? Because it enables businesses like yours to base decisions on clear evidence that delivers better performance and increased ROI.

If you’re struggling to get your board onside, start by trialling this process in one of your teams, departments or functions. By running a pilot you’ll be building your data culture from the ground up and creating a proof of concept that will deliver significant benefits to your business. Benefits that will give you a watertight business case in the next budgeting round.If you want to learn more about how to implement this process, or if you’ve got the green light and want to create an organisational culture that harnesses the power of data more effectively, get in touch, we would love to hear your perspectives!