If a business wants to become truly data-driven, then its employees need to be equipped to understand and work with data as well as have meaningful conversations around that data. In short, they need to be data literate. And it’s the role of the business leaders, specifically the data and analytics leaders, to ensure their people achieve this. There is great reward in doing so, as Decision Inc.’s CEO, Nick Bell points out:

“Some of the highest impact transformation programmes succeed because the companies shift their focus to building a data-driven culture. They understand that alongside the investment in technology, they need to equip their people to think and act differently to leverage the opportunity of data and technology”

According to the Gartner Annual Chief Data Officer Survey,[1] by 2023, this ability to think and act differently in response to data will become essential to driving business value. Yet sadly, many businesses are far from this with 60-73% of all enterprise data never even being analysed (Forrester).[2] This is not surprising because a recent survey by Accenture of 9,000 employees found that only 21% were confident in their data literacy skills.[3] Miro Kazakoff from MIT Sloan states,

“Data literacy has always been a requirement in successful organisations. It’s just that data illiteracy is more obvious now — or data illiteracy just causes more damage now than it used to”

In data literate companies, data and data literacy aren’t the sole responsibilities of analysts and data scientists. Everyone in the business becomes a data user and is empowered to work with and deliver value from data and make data-driven decisions. Different users have different learning needs and so a data-driven company needs to acknowledge and accommodate this.

To become a data-literate company, there are typically five steps that need to be taken:

  1. Ensure data and analytics leaders are prominent in your organisation

To build a data-literate workforce, a company needs leaders who are focused on this task. Many organisations are accelerating this by appointing a chief data officer (CDO). As of 2019, 58% of organisations have a chief data officer and this percentage is increasing every year. And those companies that do appoint a CDO see their use of data increase.[4] One of the roles of a chief data officer role is to establish and track the necessary metrics to quantify and communicate the levels of data literacy in the organisation.

  1. Determine the current level of data literacy and data access within your business

Once they have data leadership in place, companies need to know where they are starting from. Do all of their employees know how critical data is in their decision making? If so, are they skilled enough to access the relevant data they need and evaluate it to make a decision? Is this process quick and efficient (i.e. Is there a centralised data platform that employees have access to)? Is the process of accessing and analysing data something that every employee is equipped to do – not just the data scientists in your company?

Once the level of data literacy is established, data and analytics leaders can then establish a holistic data literacy programme to ensure gaps are plugged and employees are equipped to make data-based decisions in their everyday roles.

  1. Establish a holistic data literacy programme

To upskill employees on their use of data, they need to be trained using relevant training programmes that genuinely improve their efficiencies in their day-to-day decision-making. Best practice is for these workshops and courses to have:

  • human-to-human interaction,
  • multiple learning pathways – to take into account different roles and use cases;
  • developed healthy communities of practice to continue the learning and
  • leveraged technology platforms to scale up across the organisation.

In running this programme, a company must make data literacy part of the tools and capabilities that everyone has access to. The business needs to look at the roles and capability requirements of each user and how they consume information and then tailored the course and workshops around those requirements. The aim of any program should be to create an environment where learning data and analytical skills and acquiring data literacy knowledge becomes part of the organisation’s culture.

  1. Quantify the success of your data literacy programmes

The next step is to evaluate the success of the programme. By engaging constantly and testing competency within the business, leaders will not only be able to determine if their employees’ capabilities have improved but see how this translates to actual engagement with data.

According to Gartner,[5] the first step in quantifying success is to identify the learning success criteria. This requires leaders to work with stakeholders to define the business outcomes that the training is intended to impact. Next, these objectives need to be aligned to the learner application, creating buy-in from the learners and managers to apply what they are learning into their everyday business decisions. Finally, success should be measured by implementing a phased evaluation approach. The cadence of the evaluation needs to be determined and data collection mechanisms established.

  1. Build a learning culture to ensure that success continues

Part of this success occurs when the knowledge that is gained is codified and stored within the organisation – updating as the business changes. Creating communities of practice is a great tool to support culture transformation. This can be achieved by creating champions who drive excellence around the business and are coached and mentored to keep data literacy at the forefront of people’s minds.

Becoming data literate as a whole company is not something that can be achieved overnight. It’s a journey that companies need to go on. It requires a cultural change to occur throughout the business and it requires the business to move away from a training-based approach to a mindset that embraces continuous learning.

However, if this can be achieved, there is a great benefit. If employees are inspired and empowered to use existing and emerging technology to drive better business outcomes, the whole company benefits.

[1] https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/a-data-and-analytics-leaders-guide-to-data-literacy

[2] https://www.forrester.com/blogs/hadoop-is-datas-darling-for-a-reason/

[3] https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insights/technology/human-impact-data-literacy

[4] https://www.forrester.com/blogs/data-literacy-matters-do-we-have-to-spell-it-out/

[5] https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/a-data-and-analytics-leaders-guide-to-data-literacy

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