Our Insights

It’s the culture, stupid…

  • 26 Apr 2019


Great news.

By the time you’ve finished reading this article another 6 ‘AI’ tools will be set out into world with the promise of transforming your organisation. A new dawn beckons of automation for your organisation with these simple plug and play solutions…

Not so much.

Put away your cheque book. Put the phone down. Take a breath.

Yes, we know buying new shiny software can be exciting, but let’s be clear when it comes to data:

Culture eats software for breakfast.

A consistent bottle neck to effective data programmes is too much of a focus on technology rather than people.

Or even worse, a disjointed, fractured culture due to siloed software purchasing decision making.

Here are 5 points to make sure you’re on track:

It starts & finishes with the CEO.

Effective data leaders (CDO or CAO) focus initially on the leadership team, building a data literate & data driven culture at the very top of the business. If the CEO isn’t driving this as a top priority, the programme will always be less effective than its potential. The CEO has a crucial role to play in 3 ways:

Managing the dynamics at C level of the data programme:
Managing the communication of the journey at board level, challenging existing mental models, identifying executives that are resisting & causing blockers to the programme. This is often a bigger piece of work than most anticipate.

Choosing the right data leader:
Historically the focus may have been on hiring the smartest candidate possible, but the role of CDO/CAO is much more nuanced. Often communication/ sales skills are more important. Having a vision & inspiring others to follow that path. Given the huge cost of data project, putting the right executive in charge is crucial.

Fostering an innovation culture within the business:
Analytics can provide huge innovation opportunities, but only if a culture of discovery & experimentation is in the business. Most companies are held back by silos, incentives & legacy behaviour. The CEO must clear the way for progress.

‘We are a data company’

The first sentence everyone should hear in any interview with your company. A recent Forbes article defined a data company as:

“Data companies aggressively leverage data as core assets. They drive continuous returns by purposely instrumenting their companies to collect data and then experiment to develop value.”
Notice how the definition is industry agnostic. This needs to be integral to your companies mission. Most companies aren’t clear on this. A great example would be an online only ecommerce retail business saying they are a fashion business. Good luck with that.

Everyone has access to data.

A ‘Data Programme’ isn’t a bunch a PHD rocket scientists sitting in the corner by themselves ‘doing cool stuff with data’ burning through cash while the CFO has his head in his hands. (Sound familiar??) The whole company, at all levels needs access to data. A simple self-service reporting system with good governance giving a single source of the truth is a good start. A company data dictionary should be the holy book for all employees.

Start with the end (ROI) in mind.

Be extremely ROI focused. Choose your metrics wisely. Be precise in the business value that you want to generate. Have a clear medium term analytics strategy beyond a few initial use cases. These are business questions not technology. Nobody cares how many Spark clusters you have. What are the 2 most important business outcomes that are going to add the most value? What is the anticipated impact on the bottom line? How can we test those assumptions quickly without burning through cash? These are either revenue generating or cost reduction, developed by the senior (business) leadership team.

Constant increase & renewal of data literacy across the whole business.

To avoid falling back into the warm cuddle embrace of the ‘HiPPO’s’ (highest paid opinion in the room) a constant training & re-training of data skills is required across the business. This will keep the message consistent that the organisation is a data company, therefore reinforcing that these are critical skills required. Whether that’s basic Tableau knowledge or advanced Python coding, it’s an investment that will pay consistent dividends in building your data driven culture.

In our experience, all too often the noise of the new shiny tools in town turns too many heads. An effective data programme is focused on business change: creating process, environments & culture where data driven decision making is embedded for the long term; not just for Christmas.

Check out our events page here for latest roundtable discussions for deeper dive on these points.

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