A 2020 New Vantage Partners Fortune 1000 survey revealed that nearly three-quarters (73.2 per cent) of large corporates have yet to successfully establish a data culture. Nine out of 10 of those surveyed cited ‘people and process challenges’ as the biggest barriers to becoming data-driven organisations.
The truth is that following huge investment in technology stacks, data warehouses and BI tools, Data & Analytics leaders are at a critical point in their data transformation journeys. And those who are succeeding are taking a holistic, collaborative approach that addresses the need for skills development and behaviour change among business leaders and across the workforce.
Mike Kiersey, Principal Technologist at iPaaS pioneer Boomi, suggests ‘The lack of organisational alignment and cultural resistance is a leading factor in data strategies failing.’ (Information Age, 2020). Only 20% of all employees feel confident working with data, and half tend to rely on gut-feel in decision making rather than evidence-driven insights (Accenture, 2019). There is a skills gap between the highly skilled analysts producing insights and the workforce who need to effectively interpret and use those tools to take action.
Nearly two decades on from the emergence of the role of Chief Data Officer, the odds are stacked up against successful adoption of a data-driven culture.
For organisations to fully realise the value of their data analytics capability, they need to invest in high quality vocational training that equips their existing workforce with the skills to better understand, interpret and use the data in the business.
An organisation’s Data Strategy and L&D Strategy need to align with one another, and both need to align with business goals; from increasing revenues and customer retention to reducing costs and managing risk.
Dr. Kim Nilsson, Chair & Co-Founder at Pivigo, a data science marketplace and AI-as-a-Service company, says that of the three considerations CDOs/CDAOs need to make when putting data into employees’ hands – technical, skills and governance – the bottleneck for most organisations is skills and talent. ‘Tools are relatively easy to buy and implement, and governance is typically already being taken very seriously by most organisations. Skills, however, tend to be either taken for granted, or the individual is left to take responsibility for their own training.’
The cost of inaction is huge; and this will be of interest to senior colleagues who can be critical players in the mobilisation of your data strategy. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Data Analytics attributes a £10,000 difference in annual productivity between employees with insufficient digital skills and their more data-confident peers. It is a critical challenge for both Data & Analytics teams, their HR/L&D counterparts and business leaders. This is especially relevant now, given the current economic landscape and the pressure on businesses to draw on valuable data to increase their chances of survival and to lay the foundations for recovery and growth.
Richard Head is Johnson Matthey’s Head of Digital Analytics. He has made it a priority to build data literacy skills across the workforce and works closely with key stakeholders to make it happen. ‘Strategically building data awareness within a business like ours is critical to its success. Johnson Matthey employs more than 13,000 people, using science to make the world cleaner and healthier. We are driven by innovation, and that requires data-driven decision making across the organisation. How do we build that capability? Our digital analytics team worked with our learning and development colleagues to identify effective training opportunities for our people. For us it’s important that new data skills acquisition is relevant to the role and is supported by personalised coaching, on-the-job learning and exposure to interesting data challenges.’
1. Make your data strategy relatable to key stakeholders. Be clear in the desired outcomes, in language that resonates with non-technical colleagues. How will your strategy drive profit? How will it help to achieve operational efficiencies? How will it contribute to employee engagement initiatives? Include a Talent & Skills component of your strategy and work with department heads and L&D colleagues to refine it.
2. Raise awareness of the benefits of data insights. Use all the channels open to you to story tell and make the outcomes measurable – from CEO communications through to internal newsletters and intranet updates. For example, Julien Fouré, a Treasury Trader at energy giant bp, used new data analytics skills to create an automated one-page overview of where the market currently is compared with the past five days, and scheduled it to arrive by email in the inbox of his local team each morning. In a role where speed has a direct impact on results, automating this previously manual process has enabled his team to quickly make complex calculations and accelerate decision-making. Such stories bring to life what it means on a daily basis to have better data skills.
3. Assess the skills gap. Work with L&D and Organisational Development colleagues to understand where the gaps are in your employees’ data skills. This can be built into performance management and personal development planning sessions. It can involve surveys and Training Needs Analysis questionnaires. Different roles will inevitably have different skills requirements. In most organisations, the workforce can be visualised as a ‘data analytics community’ pyramid. The higher up the pyramid, the greater the level of expertise in using data to create predictive or prescriptive tools, as well as knowledge of architecture and database technologies.
4. Roll out training programmes for each audience. CDOs should be engaged with discussions with L&D leads around which training to invest in. You will know the critical skills that need to be covered, and your L&D team will be able to advise on the most appropriate delivery format and which providers are most suited to deliver on your objectives. Vocational training over a 12-18 month period is more likely to effect cultural change than a series of one-off workshops or ad hoc lunch and learns.
Ask L&D peers about ringfenced Apprenticeship Levy funds that can be used to train existing as well as new employees at all stages of their careers. Many IT leaders are not aware that this money exists and if they don't use it to invest in their people within 2 years then the funding expires. Using this money to invest in talent is a cost-effective way for companies to maximise their returns on investment in their people.
5. Embed the learning and make it part of your culture to celebrate evidence of data-driven decision making. Create a pool of advocates, representative of the full data analytics community (users, producers and experts). These will be people who are learning new skills and demonstrating how data literacy is having a positive effect on their work.
Ensure that you have active supporters from different layers of management and leadership – from team leaders and supervisors right up to the C-Suite. These people will be seeing the benefits of data-driven decision making and encouraging such behaviour from their direct reports. They will be sharing with peers and their own managers the huge potential data literacy brings. Cascade those stories – and ensure L&D colleagues are primed to offer training and support to the right people at the right time.
Include a Talent & Skills component of your strategy and work with department heads and L&D colleagues to refine it.