Hallmarks of a Data-Driven Organization
Questions businesses and candidates should ask to assess the data culture
Courting the Right Fit
When you’re job hunting, you bring a set of skills and experiences. The prospective employer is evaluating whether you would be a good “fit” within their organization. The employer is trying to assess whether your personality and values will mesh with those of the organization. It’s much like the dating process where you try to decide if the other is someone with whom you would like to share part of your life. The career courting process is much more compressed. After the equivalent of a cup of coffee, a lunch and (if you’re lucky) a dinner, you decide if you want to make a commitment.
Typically, a recruiter will find and screen candidates that check the boxes on the job description. The hiring manager filters the paper candidates further and validates the information on the job description with conversation or a series of conversations about your experience. Firms with a track record of hiring candidates who are able to fulfill the job requirements and fit in well within the organization, often have an interview or part of an interview to assess whether a candidate espouses the values that are important to the organization. A good candidate will always do the same when given the opportunity to ask questions. Company values that you, as a candidate, might be looking for to close the deal, might include things like work-life balance, fringe benefits, commitment to continued education.
The Great Reshuffle
The importance of these intangibles is changing the landscape. The phrase “great reshuffle” has been coined to describe the current employment marketplace. Workers are reevaluating their values and priorities. They are looking for more than a paycheck. They are looking for opportunities where they can succeed.
Employers, on the other hand, are finding they need to be more innovative. Intangible benefits are more important than ever in attracting and maintaining talent. Creating a culture and environment that people want to be a part of is key.
A data-driven culture provides a competitive advantage for the organization and creates a culture that workers want to be a part of. Creating the right culture that drives performance and an organizational strategy that will tie business strategy to execution. The culture is the secret sauce that will help employees leverage technology and ensure the right processes are in place. When a data-driven culture is embraced, advanced analytics become the realized expectation.
Still, the challenge for both you and the employer is the same – defining and assessing the intangibles. Are you a team player? Are you a problem solver? Is the organization forward-thinking? Does the company empower the individual? Will you be given the support you need if you run into a brick wall? In a matter of a few conversations, you and the employer evaluate whether you are committed to the same values.
The Value Proposition
I can think of a number of organizations in my personal sphere where second-generation leadership knows the business inside and out. Their organizations have succeeded because they have made good decisions. The leaders are smart and have a strong business sense. They understand their customers. They haven’t taken many risks. They were founded to exploit a particular market niche. Tradition and intuition served them well for many years. To be honest, though, they had a tough time pivoting during the pandemic. The supply chain disruption and new customer behavior patterns played havoc with their bottom line.
Other organizations are adopting a data-driven culture. Their leadership has recognized that there is more to guiding an organization than using your gut instincts. They have adopted a culture that relies on data at all levels of the organization. A recent Forrester report found that data-driven companies outpace their rivals by better than 30% annually. Relying on data to make business decisions gives organizations a competitive advantage.
What is a data-driven organization?
A data-driven organization is one which has a vision and has defined a strategy with which it can maximize insights from data. The breadth and depth of the organization has internalized the corporate data vision – from analysts and managers to executives; from the finance and IT departments to marketing and sales. With data insights, companies are better prepared to be agile and respond to customer demands.
Using data insights, Walmart leveraged AI to foresee supply chain issues and predict customer demand. For years, Walmart has integrated real-time weather forecasts into their sales predictions and where to move product throughout the country. If rain was forecast for Biloxi, umbrellas and ponchos would be diverted from Atlanta to get to the shelves in Mississippi before the storm.
Twenty years ago, Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, issued a mandate that his company would live by data. He distributed a, now famous, memo outlining 5 practical rules for how data should be shared within the company. He defined the tactics to put legs on his strategy and vision of a data organization. You can read about the specifics of his rules but they were intended to open access to data across the silos of the organization and break down technical barriers to data access.
Speed Dating Questions
Whether you’re evaluating a new organization with which to associate yourself, or you’ve already taken the plunge, you might want to consider asking some questions to assess whether it has a data-driven culture.
- Is a data-driven approach and data-driven decision-making built into the fabric of the organization?
- Is it in the corporate mission statement?
- Is it a part of the vision?
- Is it a part of the strategy?
- Are the lower-level tactics to support the vision budgeted appropriately?
- Do data governance policies promote access rather than restrict it?
- Is analytics decoupled from the IT department?
- Are the metrics which drive the organization realistic, reliable and measurable?
- Is a data-driven approach practiced at all levels of the organization?
- Does the CEO trust her executive dashboard enough to make decisions that conflict with her intuition?
- Can business-line analysts easily access the data they need and analyze the data independently?
- Can business units easily share data across silos within the organization?
- Are employees enabled to do the right things?
- Does every person in the organization have the data (and the tools to analyze it) to answer the business questions they have to do their job?
- Is the organization using data to look at historical data, a current picture, as well as, predicting the future?
- Do predictive metrics always include a measure of uncertainty? Is there a confidence rating for forecasts?
- Is correct behavior encouraged and rewarded, or, are there unintended incentives for finding a backdoor? (Bezos also punished undesired behavior.)
- Is leadership always thinking and planning the next step, innovating, looking for new ways to use data?
- Is AI being leveraged, or are there plans to leverage AI?
- Regardless of your industry do you have in-house competence in data, or a trusted vendor?
- Does your organization have a Chief Data Officer? Responsibilities of a CDO would include Data Quality, data governance, data strategy, master data management and often analytics and data operations.
- Is data available, accessible and reliable?
- A positive response implies that relevant data is being collected, combined, cleansed, governed, curated and processes are designed to make data accessible.
- Tools and training are available to analyze and present data.
- Is data valued and recognized as an asset and strategic commodity?
- Is it protected as well as accessible?
- Can new data sources be easily integrated into existing data models?
- Is it complete, or are there gaps?
- Is there a common language across the organization, or do users often need to translate common dimensions?
- Do people trust the data?
- Do individuals actually use the data to make decisions? Or, do they trust their own intuition more?
- Do analysts usually massage the data before it is presented?
- Does everyone speak the same language?
- Are definitions of key metrics standardized across the organization?
- Are key terminologies used consistently within the organization?
- Are calculations consistent?
- Can data hierarchies be used across business units within the organization?
People and Teams
- Do individuals with analytics skills feel empowered?
- Is there a strong collaboration between IT and the needs of the business?
- Is collaboration encouraged?
- Is there a formal process to connect individuals with super users?
- How easy is it to find someone within the organization who might have solved similar problems before?
- What utilities are in place within the organization to foster communication between, among and within teams?
- Is there a common instant messaging platform to communicate within the organization?
- Is there a formal knowledge base with frequently asked questions?
- Have staff been given the right tools?
- Is there involvement of the finance team that is in sync with business and IT strategies?
- Have standards related to people, process, and technology been adopted throughout the organization in both business and IT?
- Is appropriate training in place and available to educate employees on tools and processes?
If you’re able to get real answers to these questions, you should have a pretty good idea whether your organization is data-driven or is just a poser. What would be very interesting is if you asked, say, 100 CIOs and CEOs whether they thought their organization was data-driven. Then, we could compare the results of the questions in this survey with their responses. I suspect they may not agree.
Regardless of the results, it’s important the new Chief Data Officers and prospective employees have a good idea of the data culture of an organization.