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What Is a Data Culture and How to Maintain It

What Is a Data Culture and How to Maintain It

A data culture is integral to success for small and medium-sized businesses. It promotes searching for actionable insight to achieve your biggest goals.

There’s a simple but almost foolproof test to determine whether your company has a data culture, and whether it’s well entrenched or not.

Here’s how it works: Think back to the last few meetings you’ve had. It could be with employees who all work in a specific department or a larger gathering of your entire team.

Try to remember some of the biggest ideas that were brought forward, and the discussion that happened among those in the meeting.

If you can’t recall the last time someone responded to a proposal with a question like, “But where’s the data to support that?” your culture is evolving as it should.

A data culture is one where key decisions are driven by data. This could be data about customers, operational data, or even modeling data that is used to test what-if scenarios.

Though many small and medium-sized businesses didn’t start out with one, a data culture is integral to success in today’s digital-first landscape. It’s a way of working that promotes searching for actionable insights to achieve your biggest goals. These can include driving down costs, creating efficiencies through automation, or creating moments of “customer magic” by transforming experiences that exceed their expectations.

It’s important to recognize that having a data culture doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve fully mastered data and harnessed its full potential. Given the way technology and business conditions are constantly changing, your use of qualitative and quantitative data will need to constantly adapt.

A culture centered around data allows you to do that, encouraging everyone to embrace a beginner’s mindset in how data can improve the way your company works.

In larger organizations the responsibility for creating a strategy around data falls to someone with a dedicated role, like a chief data officer. For SMBs, it’s important that everyone thinks like a chief data officer, identifying and reimagining their work based on the potential of data to offer value.

There’s another way to look at this: how can you use data to enrich the employee experience? In other words, what kind of tools, training and other resources can you provide to empower everyone on your team to act in a data-driven way that makes them more successful?

You should also think about everyday practices that can support and maintain a data culture in your organization. Here are a few easy ways to get started:

Regularly assess data organization and storage

Silos are the enemy of data culture, and it’s surprising how often – and stealthily – they can creep up.

It can be as simple as an offline drive where a team member stores critical notes from customer meetings. In some organizations it can be paper records that still haven’t been digitized. No matter how the silo emerged and the form it takes, it can create confusion, errors and duplication of efforts across the company.

Make time to routinely step back and review how everyone is organizing the data you all rely upon. In some cases, data might not be in a silo, but thrown into the digital equivalent of a haystack. A data culture only thrives when it’s easy for everyone to classify and categorize information. It should be searchable and simple to weave into multiple applications. This is the thinking behind a centralized platform like Customer 360.

If data is just taking up space, you may not only fail to make use of it, but run into performance issues with critical applications. Review and manage your storage limits accordingly.

Create a system for archiving data that’s no longer useful

Data tends to be more useful in real-time than all-time. You don’t have to hang onto every single record if it’s not going to serve the ongoing needs of the business.

Many businesses use regulatory guidelines as a way of establishing the right standard. Consider privacy laws like CASL and PIPEDA, for instance, which govern how long companies need to keep customer data on hand.

As your data culture evolves, you may even set dates at the outset of collecting data to make sure everyone knows when it’s safe to dispose or archive it.

Make sure data collected is digestible and easy to access

Some spreadsheets grow so large and convoluted that members of the team might dread opening them. The same is true for databases where it feels more like going on a fishing expedition than dipping in to retrieve the information you need.

A healthy data culture isn’t just about using data, but taking effort to render it in ways that accelerate the decision-making process. Maybe you can use a visualization tool like Tableau to make a large data set more digestible for senior leaders, for instance. Perhaps you set up a dashboard view of data based on key performance indicators (KPIs) that employees can check at a glance.

Keep a constructive dialogue open with all your stakeholders about how well they can consume the data at their disposal, and if there are other approaches you should take.

Provide continuing education to improve data literacy

When you first established a data culture you probably gave your team some training to help ease the transition. That work isn’t done. In fact, it’s never done.

Consider how data is morphing to adapt to its use across different channels and technologies. Fifteen years ago, for instance, most companies didn’t understand the value in social media data. Today, data is contained within video platforms, captured through augmented reality (AR), or in chatbot conversations.

Fortunately, there are new courses being added to resources like Trailhead all the time that can keep your data literary skills (and those of your team) as current as possible.

Incentivize data-sharing initiatives

What gets rewarded gets done. For everyday work, the reward might be our paychecks. Rewarding employees for their strategic use of data will call for greater creativity.

Think about how you could use your company’s social media channels to celebrate team members who stand out in their use of data, raising their profile and credibility in the industry.

Order in some lunch for the next in-person team meeting to thank them for using data to reach a business milestone.

Offer some one-on-one time with your most senior leaders to those who set an example in how they share data between departments.

Your data culture is truly what you make of it. Don’t wait! The time to make it a cornerstone of your business success is now.

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