Fostering A Data Culture Within An Organization

Brendan Watkins

By Brendan Watkins, chief analytics officer, Stanford Children’s Health.

The purpose of analytics is to provide insights using data to enable people in an organization to make smarter decisions. It gives decision-makers a better understanding of what is going on, what has happened, why it happened, and what is likely to occur based on hard data. Done well, analytics will improve the overall performance of the organization.

It is important to ensure that insights are spread throughout a company in a strategic way to maximize the benefits. Just as an organization’s culture is a major factor in its performance, its data culture is crucial to spreading this wealth of knowledge and information.

What is data culture?

Data culture is a broad term encompassing various aspects. The most obvious aspect is how much value executives place on data and analytics, and how aligned leaders are on the organizational data strategy. How leaders view analytics has a huge impact on the motivation of analysts to improve their skills at reading, interpreting and analyzing standardized data (also known as data literacy.) Data culture requires connection among the cohort of analysts as well as the organization’s data strategies, and it is critical to establish a network that permeates the organization.

Establish networks

The formal way to establish this network is through the establishment of federated analytics and named analytics power users. This structure enables alignment while empowering analysts with tools, data and support they need. It is important that these analysts glean value from the collaboration and are incentivized to obtain valuable skills and relationships.

The informal network of relationships is key to developing a positive and impactful data culture. The data governance structures should support a strategic roadmap of analytics initiatives undertaken as partnerships between the central analytics team and analysts in business areas. Shared ownership in developing analytics solutions fosters a virtuous cycle whereby the team members have deeper buy-in.

It highlights the value of governance that established the projects and the project team members establish strong relationships through working in the trenches together. After the initiatives are complete, the relationships are positioned to stay strong, enabling analysts to pick up the phone for support and alignment rather than waiting for designated forums. Positive relationships breed other ones as the vibe and energy takes hold amongst peers.

Hire (and train) for culture

Fundamental to setting a positive data culture is hiring for culture fit. Technical skills can be learned and enhanced, but it is much harder to affect softer skills such as collaboration and communication. It is important to reward positive relationships and partnerships that advance the data culture. Analytics team members should be connected to the organization’s mission and understand its key priorities.

Ideally, the team will embrace (and be ambassadors for) the core principles of analytics, sharing in the challenge of advancing the data culture. By creating an atmosphere within the analytics team that rewards great people to challenge the thinking and enables creativity, highly skilled people who are connected to the mission will advance the data culture once they find it meaningful, rewarding, challenging and fun.

Analytics should be fun. It is an essential function for an organization as it leads to better decision-making by providing valuable insights. It is a journey to improve understanding, so the work is never done. While it is important to develop analytics solutions and capabilities, once a baseline of these is available, advancing the data culture can be more impactful.

It is up to leadership to establish the right environment to foster a strong data culture. From here, personnel can adopt it, own it, and spread it throughout the organization.


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