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Want to be Data-Driven? It’s Not About the Tech

Executives say that cultural challenges — not technological ones — represent the biggest impediment around data initiatives.

In a 2021 survey from NewVantage Partners, 92.2% of mainstream companies report that they continue to struggle with cultural challenges relating to organizational alignment, business processes, change management, communication, people skill sets, and resistance or lack of understanding to enable change. This represents an increase from an already high percentage of 80.9% of firms that named cultural challenges as the greatest impediment to success just four years ago.

If we’ve known this for a while, why are organizations continuing to struggle with becoming more data-driven? The main culprit is a lack of commitment and persistence. The long-game isn’t sexy. Quick wins get more attention and recognition. However, changing your organizational culture and mindset is not an overnight endeavor. It’s not just middle-management or front-line employees. Many leaders have this short-term mindset, which can thwart the success of culture shifts necessary to become a data-driven organization.

In addition, when undertaking this transformation, many leaders tend to think of ‘data-driven’ from a single perspective – numbers. Data takes many forms. It can be observations, open commentary, or even dialogue. Not all data can be easily cataloged into spreadsheets and line graphs, and sometimes that data is the most valuable.

When organizations define data narrowly, employees have a hard time understanding what data is valuable and what data isn’t. If your culture is geared towards only the statistically provable, you overlook many subtle insights that both customers and employees can capture and utilize to help grow and differentiate the organization.

If you want to really become more data-driven, it starts with creating a common understanding of what business challenges and questions you want and need answered. It’s much more about the why than the whatThe why drives purpose.

If form follows function, the next step is to work with and train employees to understand how to interpret data, how to avoid evaluation bias, and how to ask critical questions about conclusions. The goal is to create a culture driven by exploration, curiosity, and a drive to learn.

Thirdly, you need to reinforce, reward, and repeat those behaviors that represent and support these cultural traits. This isn’t a one-and-done or a ‘year-long transformation’, but a new way of operating. It is something that should be embedded within your organizational values. Effective change is ongoing – something which is continually fostered and refined, rather than transactional.

If you want to be a more data-driven organization, start with examining and defining the three fundamentals of a successful change: establishing common challenges, educate employees on understanding data, and reinforce the right behaviors. No technology platform will ever make that happen for you.

Andrea Olsen

Andrea Olsen

About the Author

Andrea Olson is a speaker, author, behavioral economist, and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO of Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of The Customer Mission: Why it’s time to cut the $*&% and get back to the business of understanding customers and No Disruptions: The future for mid-market manufacturing.

She is a 4-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been continually featured in news sources such as Chief Executive MagazineEntrepreneur MagazineThe Financial BrandIndustry Week, and more. Andrea is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer and Director of the Startup Business Incubator at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, a TEDx presenter, and TEDx speaker coach. She is also a mentor at the University of Iowa Venture School.

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