Setting the foundations for a data culture

In the previous post about people analytics, we discussed how you should start your people analytics journey. The focus was then, in what end to start, but there are other things to consider as well.

As we all know (or can guess), it takes time to implement systems and build data infrastructure. It also takes time to reach a reasonable level of data quantity and quality. To get there you need a lot of resources. This is a challenge that most are aware of and have found ways to tackle. However, what we not as often seem to acknowledge is that it takes a lot to build a data culture. Those who fail doing this are also very likely to fail in their implementation of a data-driven approach to business decisions.

To build a culture that supports data-driven decisions (or data-informed ones, but let’s save that discussion for another time) you need to consider three aspects: to what extent you use data, what behaviours you demonstrate and what you expect and reward in others.

1. Frameworks for data-driven choices
It’s all about having one common approach to business problems, a clear framework for decision making. If you want to be data-driven as a company, it also means that you need to consider the data before making a choice. One way to secure this is to make it clear that you must always base your business case on relevant data. You as a leader need to ensure that seniority or being able to convince others of ideas solely based on gut feeling is never ok. That the need for presenting ideas using data applies to everyone.

A good example of how to do this is Amazon’s six pager concept. It’s based on all ideas being presented in a detailed memo, that is carefully considered during a meeting. The idea should speak for itself and the memo should provide all the information needed for making an early-stage decision.

2. A culture that actually supports the use of data
Expecting that insights and ideas are based on data is not enough. You need to support a culture where your team not only have access to data but also has the time to consider it. This means that there needs to be space in the calendar not only for meetings but also for preparing them – and with a good margin. The time-slots for forming insights need to be long enough and without disturbance. It’s a known fact that it takes 20 minutes to get back to a task with full productivity after you have been interrupted. This means that we cannot expect our colleagues to be available all the time and with short notice.

Another known fact is that our brain works in two different ways, one fast thinking (and often wrong) associative system and one slow analytical system. To disconnect from the gut-feeling and biased associations, we need to come to work well-rested and free from stress in order to be able to focus. A strongly recommended read on this topic is Thinking, fast and slow by the Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

3. Employees that contribute by taking care of themselves
We’ve all learned that we as employees need to take responsibility for our own development in order to stay attractive on the job market. Few of us will stay with one employer during our entire career. To be able to switch jobs we simply need to develop the relevant competence. We’ve also learned, often thanks to health-related initiatives from our employers, that we need to eat healthy, work out and think of our ergonomics to tackle the physical challenges of working in a modern office.

What we still have to learn though is how to take care of our brains. There’s no way that we as individuals will be able to contribute to a data-driven culture if we cannot focus on reading a detailed memo. We won’t be able to consider what our collected data really means if we haven’t slept a full night because of that tv-show, not taken a 30 min walk to stimulate our brain or haven’t turned off that never-ending stream of notifications from all our devices. All those factors show clear correlations with the limitations of our cognitive abilities and are well established in research

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the future of work and how we as humans can stay relevant when automation and artificial intelligence becomes more and more prevalent. Surprisingly, how we can best take care of and utilize the amazing cognitive centre that we all have access to, is not part of that discussion. Read more on how working out supports the brain and how notifications mess it up.

So, let’s all help forming a data culture by taking every opportunity that we have to use data when presenting that brilliant idea.

Want to talk more about data and culture? Say hello to Henrik and Sara.