Data Culture

edited May 2019 in First steps

What comes first - the chicken or the egg? Is data literacy the foundation for data culture?

We are faced with a similar question when trying to improve data literacy, drive BI adoption, and build a strong data culture. All three components support one another and collectively drive progress - but does one occur before the others?

What are some of the best strategies for incorporating all three of these components in a company wide initiative to make better data-driven business decisions? Challenges?


  • You're right - it is very chicken and egg - but these components can all be used to build on each other simultaneously!

    If you're trying to drive BI adoption, think about how you can work with small groups to build their confidence and their skills in using the tool - whilst weaving in some broader data literacy skills (data visualization, data-driven decision making). If you create opportunities to celebrate their successes (even on a small scale, such as congratulating an individual during a team meeting for the way they went about their analysis etc) then this starts to build awareness within the broader community that data and data driven decisions are valued by our company. In this way, you're working on the three components (improving data literacy, driving BI adoption and building a strong data culture) at the same time. This very simple process can be mirrored across all teams / functions - you can start small and then grow from there!

  • A culture change takes time and continous efforts to keep momentum and ensure its sustainability in a dynamic work place. Therefore, creating a strong Data Culture should always be the "end goal" even though definitions and content of the concept may change. And as I see it, strategic and tactical initiatives within BI adoption and data literacy are enablers or building blocks in a company's journey towards a stronger data culture.

    But of course they are all interconnected.

  • I dont think I would say you could have a data culture without data literacy, but could have data literacy with out a strong data culture. I think you can have data literacy and not have strong BI adoption. BI adoption is more aligned with tools and software and how well they are utilized in helping solve business goals. The difference to me is that data literacy is knowledge and understanding, but a data culture is when you put that data literacy knowledge and understanding into action, many times with the use of BI tools , to solve business goals. Individuals will be more effective with BI adoption if they are more data literate, but I have seen BI adoption fail with very data literate individuals.

    In the health industry when we had HIPAA privacy rules come about, we basically had a case where we needed to increase the "literacy" of all employees to a certain level related to these rules in order to create a HIPAA compliant culture and company. The knowledge and understanding had to come first, then it had to be incorporated into applications and tools that helped enable individuals follow the rules, and then had to be practiced by individuals to make proper decisions. This took strong leadership, investment, planning and focus, organizational changes, continuous training efforts, monitoring, tools and support. This example showed when you have executive leadership from top down you can really quickly make a difference.

    However, I have been involved in helping increase dramatically the data literacy of a company from small groups and departments and expanding that across the company and it included as the enabler a BI tool which had to have some level of organization ( ie center of excellence) to help define, spread, teach, and support that data literacy growth which was part of the BI adoption process.

  • This is a fantastic question! What does come first? What can be done without the right culture? The reality is, the culture is an imperative, along with the data literacy piece itself. Without a strong data literate culture in place, how will data and analytical strategies succeed?

    Now, that being said, I never use the word "change" when discussing culture. I talk about it being an evolution of an existing culture, weaving data into its DNA. This means start to embed it in the processes, operations, and more. "Changing" culture is a monumental task, not easily done, and really can frustrate and scare organization's workforce. We need to evolve it to utilize data more. This is why change management is a big piece of it.

  • i think the culture is a byproduct of data literacy, and BI adoption.... you cant force a culture change, its needs to be organic....but you can help set the stage through easy to use BI Tools and data advocates throughout the business....using these forums, it helps build a safe place to learn and grow provided the company leadership is supportive.

  • edited May 2019

    I would like to believe that we won’t need to differentiate between culture and data culture. As @JohnMaschke points out, an organic change in culture that embraces the use of data to solve problems starts with a champion in the business who introduces new data concepts through the context of normal business problems. This is how I am approaching it in my organisation. Slowly but surely. I’m still learning also.

  • For those of us toiling in the mines of building data literacy, it can be easy to overlook a key pillar for a data culture: executive leadership. "The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture. If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening." (Edgar Schein, MIT Sloan School of Management).

    If you're building a data culture, it is both fair and necessary to expect senior leadership to articulate the importance of data fluency, set expectations for data-driven decisions, model the kind of behaviors they expect, and invest in training.

    As a parent, I'd argue that the modeling of behavior may be most important. For example, when the executive team makes decisions, do they explicitly use data? When they present organization-wide updates, do they do a good job of communicating and visualizing this data? Do they translate strategies into specific measures that are well communicated? These are the types of things that can help everyone see how they should be incorporating data into their activities.

  • When looking at data literacy inside of a company's culture, I think it's important to ask questions like: How well does this organization support curiosity? Do we make time for people to learn new skills? Are we okay if we try something and it fails?

    Because you can have BI skills, you can understand that data is a critical part of the equation, you can even speak data, but if the human side is missing I don't believe you'll have the success you really want.

    To me, so much about data literacy is being willing to ask questions and knowing that data can help you find the answers. It's just starting there. Even simple questions like is priority A or priority B more important can change mindsets. For example, in product development we are starting to analyze things like revenue opportunity, revenue loss, user satisfaction, user efficiency, people cost to build, and technology cost to build for each new feature we choose to develop. By analyzing real data combined with deep business understanding, we can start to make our case for our priorities. In order to do this, we have to pause, take a breath and give ourselves time to be curious, to find the sources of data that will help us, and to take a chance and get it wrong. But we are definitely shifting the conversation.

  • Hello, I currently work in a retail company and many decisions are made based on felling and not on data in your companies. What is the process adopted to change this?

  • Hi @AntonioRodrigues, it’s great to hear from you!

    Have you seen the recently launched Human Impact of Data Literacy report?

    It found that almost half (48 percent) of employees around the world frequently defer to making decisions based on gut feeling over data-driven insight – so it is a common problem. 

    Here’s an article we think may help you for starters:

    It includes five steps to help businesses become more data-driven rather than making decisions based on feelings. There’s more in-depth information for each step in the Human Impact report too.

    Let us know if you find the advice helpful! 

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