The Art and Necessity of Building a Data Culture
We live in the digital era. And the digital era is built on data. Everyone in your business, organization, agency, family, and friend group needs data. We don’t always realize it. Some won’t acknowledge it. But everyone needs and uses data every day to make decisions. One of my colleagues constantly reminds me that we are all data junkies who need that fix to “get sh*t done.”
So we all agree that we need data, right? Right.
Now comes the hard part: how do we actually use data? And not just to inform what we should buy on Amazon or who we should follow on Twitter, but how do we do the impossible (and over-used-buzzword of the century) to “make data-driven-decisions?” As I often hear from frustrated friends at conferences or over coffee, there is a collectively identified need for improving data literacy and, at the same time, collective angst over actually improving the who/what/where/when/why/how of data at our companies or organizations.
The short answer: We need to build our own data culture.
It needs to be inclusive and participatory for all levels of data users. It needs to leverage appropriate technology that is paired with responsible processes. It needs champions and data evangelists. It needs to be deep and wide and complex and welcoming where there are no stupid questions.
The long answer: We need to build our own data cultures. And it’s going to be hard. And expensive. And it’s an unreachable destination.
I was blessed to hear Shash Hegde (Microsoft Data Guru extraordinare) talk about modern data strategies for organizations. He lays out 6 core elements of a data strategy that any team needs to address to build a culture that is data-friendly and data-engaged:
Vision: Does your organization know their current state of data? Is there a vision for how it can be used and put to work?
People: Maybe more important than anything else on this list, people matter. They are the core of your user group, the ones who will generate most of your data, manage the systems, and consumer the insights. Do you know their habits, needs, and desires?
Structure: Not to be confused with stars or snowflakes — we mean the structure of your organization. How business units are formed, who manages what, who controls what resources, and how the pieces fit together.
Process: As a systems thinkings person, I know that there is always a process in play. Even the abscence of process is a process in and of itself. Knowing the process and workflow of your data is critical to flow and use of your culture.
Rules: They govern us. They set boundaries and guiding rails, defining our workspaces and playing fields.
Tools+Tech: We almost always start here, but I’d argue it is the least important. With the cloud and modern data platforms, with a sprinkling of AI and ML, it is rarely the bottleneck anymore. It’s important, but should never be the priority.
Building data culture is a journey. It can be endless. You may never achieve it. And unlike the Merry Pranksters, we need a destination to drive towards in building data literacy, use, and acceptance. And if anyone tells you that they can do it cheap or free, please show them the exit ASAP.
Starting your data adventure
At MERLTech DC, we recently hosted a panel on organizational data literacy and our desperate need for more of it. Experts (smarter than me) weighed in on how the heck we get ourselves, our teams, and our companies onto the path to data literacy and a data loving culture. Three tangible things we agreed on:
💪🏼Be the champion.
Because someone has to, why not you?
👩🏾💼Get a senior sponsor.
Unless you are the CEO, you need someone with executive level weight behind you. Trust us (& learn from our own failures).
🧗🏽♂️Keep marching on. And invite everyone to join you.
You will face obstacles. You’ll face failures. You may feel like you’re alone. But helping lead organizational change is a rewarding experience — especially with something as awesome as data. It’s a journey everyone should be on and I encourage you to bring along as many coworkers/coconspirators/collaborators as possible. Preferably everyone.
So don’t wait any longer. Start your adventure in your organization today!!