Executives say that cultural challenges — not technological ones — represent the biggest impediment around data initiatives.
In a 2021 survey from NewVantage Partners, 92.2 percent of mainstream companies report that they continue to struggle with cultural challenges relating to organizational alignment, business processes, change management, communication, people skill sets, and resistance or lack of understanding to enable change. This represents an increase from an already high percentage of 80.9 percent of firms that named cultural challenges as the greatest impediment to success just four years ago.
If we’ve known this for a while, why are organizations continuing to struggle with becoming more data-driven? The main culprit is a lack of commitment and persistence. The long-game isn’t sexy. Quick wins get more attention and recognition. However, changing your organizational culture and mindset is not an overnight endeavor. It’s not just middle-management or front-line employees. Many leaders have this short-term mindset, which can thwart the success of culture shifts necessary to become a data-driven organization.
In addition, when undertaking this transformation, many leaders tend to think of ‘data-driven’ from a single perspective – numbers. Data takes many forms. It can be observations, open commentary, or even dialogue. Not all data can be easily cataloged into spreadsheets and line graphs, and sometimes that data is the most valuable.
When organizations define data narrowly, employees have a hard time understanding what data is valuable and what data is isn’t. If your culture is geared towards only the statistically provable, you overlook many subtle insights that both customers and employees can capture and utilize to help grow and differentiate the organization.
If you want to really become more data-driven, it starts with creating a common understanding of what business challenges and questions you want and need answered. It’s much more about the why than the what. The why drives purpose.
If form follows function, the next step is to work with and train employees to understand how to interpret data, how to avoid evaluation bias, and how to ask critical questions about conclusions. The goal is to create a culture driven by exploration, curiosity, and a drive to learn.
Thirdly, you need to reinforce, reward, and repeat those behaviors that represent and support these cultural traits. This isn’t a one-and-done or a ‘year-long transformation’, but a new way of operating. It is something that should be embedded within your organizational values. Effective change is ongoing – something which is continually fostered and refined, rather than transactional.
If you want to be a more data-driven organization, start with examining and defining the three fundamentals of a successful change: establishing common challenges, educate employees on understanding data, and reinforce the right behaviors. No technology platform will ever make that happen for you.
We all are faced with a myriad of business problems that every organization wants to be solved quickly and easily. We know not every problem is the same, and we know that some problems are more complex than others. We also know that some problems might be expensive to solve, and some might take a lot of time and resources.
However, many organizations actually hinder their ability to solve these problems by defining the problem incorrectly, and inherently, defining an incorrect solution. By not effectively identifying the right problems upfront, organizations can waste excessive time, resources, money, and worst of all – never achieve the outcomes they’re seeking.
For example, a client we were working with had developed an awards program for faculty, students, and alumni. The goal of the program was to recognize stellar achievements in entrepreneurship. Following the first year of the program, applications were few, non-diverse, and often not representative of candidates the organization knew were outstanding.
They assumed the problem was awareness – that people didn’t know about the program, and therefore didn’t apply. The thought was to amplify marketing and communications, creating mailers, sending announcements, conducting promotions, and trying to build an ‘eliteness’ brand around the awards themselves. Even though these initiatives might generate more interest, the actual problem was much more downstream.
First, the application for the award was very long and required an extensive amount of information (financial statements, etc.). Second, if someone wanted to nominate a person for an award, they needed to provide the same information, which they likely would not have access to. Third, while the award recipients were measured on their impact and level of achievement, the application insinuated that financial growth and organizational size were equally important, if not more.
In short, the application process itself was deterring people from applying or nominating candidates, rather than awareness alone. If the organization had focused first on awareness, it would have brought more people to a process that was cumbersome and restrictive. The problem was incorrectly defined and incorrectly prioritized.
So instead of focusing on awareness building, the team redesigned and rearchitected the application form. They reduced the number of required fields and made the financial data an optional upload that also could be done at a later time. They also created a separate micro-application, to enable persons to make a nomination, where the staff would follow up with the candidate and walk them through the process. In addition, they expanded the scope of the awards, enabling not just entrepreneurs but intrapreneurs to be candidates as well. The changes are also being tested over the coming months to identify new roadblocks and further opportunities for refinement.
When facing a business problem, it is critically important to ensure you’re not only identifying the right problem to tackle but in what order they should be addressed. There are many solutions to a single problem, and your team should stay open to new ways of looking at tackling them. The most common and most obvious answers aren’t always the best. By thinking critically, you’ll likely uncover not only a new approach but maybe a new starting point altogether.