Creating a Data-Driven Organization Depends on a Data-Driven Culture

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eg_5steps_110816Data Strategy and Business Intelligence aren’t really about data; they’re about the way data is used. The end goal isn’t more silos, with a team that owns the data, the process, and its value. The end goal is a data-driven culture where everyone sees the value in data, understands the importance of collecting good data, has access to the data, and uses the data to support decision-making.

That culture is a total transformation of the way things work in many organizations, where data is owned by the department, or even the person, who collected it, and responsibility for making sure the data is good data lies with the person using it, not the person gathering it.

Creating that big of a transformation doesn’t happen easily; you need to find ways to break through the silos and the barriers. Kelle O’Neal of First San Francisco Partners shared a five-step process to transform an organization’s culture into a data-driven culture at the DATAVERSITY® Enterprise Data World 2016 Conference.

Data Is (Not) Just a Byproduct

One of O’Neal’s key points is that:

“One of the things that is the biggest issue is getting people to change and getting people to think from a data-centric approach, and to think about data as a core part of their job regardless of whether they are the person at the front desk entering the visitors into the security system or whether they’re a data analyst or they’re the Chief Data Officer.”

She pointed out that normally, “To the rest of your organization data is just a byproduct. They don’t think about data as being so important.” Employees work on doing their job function. Collecting data and ensuring that the collected data is quality data isn’t a normal part of their job. It’s not so much that they don’t care about the data; it’s that they don’t even think about the data.

In order to make them care, there needs to be a compelling message that makes employees believe that it’s important to be a data-driven culture.

Culture Exists in all Organizations

Every organization has a culture and the cultural beliefs drive behaviors that affect the results you get. But changing culture is hard. O’Neal cited Dan Barnett, and his concept of “Make or Break Culture.” Barnett based his conclusion on experiments that were done at universities about decision making. They used MRI studies to see which parts of the brain were active during the decision-making process.

They found that gut decisions come from the limbic system, which is the animal part of the brain, the same place that decides “fight or flight.” Higher-level decisions that take more analysis occur in the neocortex, the “human” part of the brain.

“The idea is that your decision-making process is taking some of the activity from your limbic system and communicating with your neocortex constantly. It’s this integration between that animal part of the your brain and the human part of your brain. It’s the interaction between your belief system and your behaviors,” O’Neal said.

As a result, that means that creating a data-driven culture requires creating both beliefs and behaviors that will then result in data-driven decisions. It’s when the gut decisions and higher analysis both value the data that a company’s employees truly care about data as a core part of their functioning. O’Neal went on,

“And so we really want to be getting to the core part of what people believe about the data, about their company, about how the data and the company work together, and their role within that whole process.”

Five-Step Framework Tackling Both Beliefs and Behavior


The framework O’Neal presented addresses both aspects of the culture. The first two steps, vision and purpose, address beliefs, and the last three steps, picture, plan, and participation, affect behavior.

“Once you have all of this, then you can talk about the results and you will be more able to achieve those results because you’re driving the behaviors that you really want,” O’Neal said.

  1. Vision: The vision is the desired future. It’s an aspirational, motivational statement—a “big, hairy, audacious goal.” The vision presents both the aspiration and the value of that aspiration to the future of the business. “If you can get them to believe the reason for the data and the data-driven culture, then you can more easily influence the behavior and get the results you want,” O’Neal said.
  1. Purpose: The purpose is the business reason to execute the vision. It explains the problem, what the evidence is, and what could happen if you don’t act on that evidence.
  1. Picture: The picture represents the future state. It’s often best shown by comparing how things are now, the “before” state, with how they will be in the future. O’Neal explained its importance, saying

“The picture helps to drive behavior in two ways. It articulates what the future state should and will look like and then how are we going to get to that future state via guiding principles.”

The guiding principles for the data-driven future should be tied back to the corporate vision and corporate values, plus any line of business guiding principles as well. The guiding principles articulate the organization’s values and are the basis of decision-making and beliefs that drive behavior. O’Neale pointed out five characteristics a statement of principles needs to in order to be effective:

  • a brief, clear statement of the concept
  • applicable to the enterprise
  • including an action verb
  • clarifying the scope
  • providing additional detail that explains why and how this picture is important
  1. Plan

The plan is a roadmap that helps people understand how the enterprise will get to that desired future state. It should detail the steps and timeline for implementing the necessary changes, including providing people with training and support to transition to the new way of doing things. The plan needs to make it clear for each individual, “what does this mean to me?” In order to do that, there might need to be multiple levels of plans, with an overarching roadmap for the enterprise and then group-specific roadmaps to apply the changes to each group.

  1. Participation

Once the plan is clear, the last step to activating it and making it effective is defining participation, the way people engage and help execute the plan. One way of documenting participation is to use an operating model identifying roles and responsibilities. The objective is to make sure everyone knows what part they’ll play in the future and how they’ll get there. By focusing on this, you help people stop thinking about the past and start working towards the future.

Bringing It All Together

Summing it up, O’Neal said:

“The idea is that if you want to get the results you’re looking for, then start at the top where you’re thinking about things like your beliefs. Your vision statements and your purpose help people to believe and understand why data is important within the organization, and those beliefs will help them behave in a manner that delivers on that vision of becoming a data-driven culture.”

 By following these five steps to provide employees with clear communication about the objectives, the benefits of creating a data-driven culture, and the responsibilities of everyone to participate in that data-driven culture, companies can ease their transition and start building that new culture.


Here is the video of the Enterprise Data World 2016 Presentation:



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