Developing a Data-Centric Leadership Culture


Developing a data-centric leadership cultureDespite the fact that they may have the appropriate technology in place, and even suitably skilled people to drive it, a lot of businesses are still struggling to extract business value from the investments they have made in their data. Data-centric organisations tend to place a focus from top level management on developing the data culture within the organisation. This ensures that the entire organisation understands the seriousness of this approach to data and what value it can provide to the entire organisation.

In a previous post, I discussed some of the technologies used to improve customer-centricity and the CIO’s role in customer analytics. Both these underscore the adage that the ‘customer is king’ – still to this day. Becoming more customer-centric is key for any organisation to remain competitive in the 2016 business landscape. But what does it take to become more customer-centric in this age? One of the key areas, I believe, lies in becoming “better” data–centric.

The rationale for this is quite straightforward. At the end of the day, executives need to make informed decisions. They rely on their teams who analyse data to obtain the “best” information and derive the “best” insights possible. As analysing customer data becomes a crucial requirement for business survival, businesses will need to start focusing on improving their business data culture, to ensure they understand and harness the value that the customer data offers.  This will affect how employees view and embrace data. Especially data about the customer.

According to research undertaken by the EIU and Teradata, becoming a data-centric or data-driven business occurs in three key areas:

  • Tools and technology – investing in tools and technology to ensure that the business is able to effectively collect and analyse the available data in order to provide useful information and insights for decision making.
  • Talent and expertise – recruiting and training the right skill sets to not only use this technology effectively, but very importantly, people that understand the data and its implication and potential benefit to the business.
  • Leadership culture – developing a leadership culture around data – that is, to drive a data centric organisation.

It is interesting to note that the referenced report states that in a perfect world, the above three “stages” should, in fact, occur in the opposite order when creating a data-centric organisation. Whereas I whole-heartedly agree with that, the reality is that it doesn’t always happen that way. In some cases the technology and skills are required internally (albeit on a smaller scale) to “prove”, “market” and “sell” the concept to management. In such a situation, you may need to establish a small pocket of the technology and skills first, in order to use it to get the necessary buy-in, before the leadership culture can be established.

However, how do you developing a data-centric leadership culture?

Well, essentially, it is about changing the organisation’s cultural mind-set. This can only be done through ‘top-down’ leadership. Having buy-in and support from top level executives is fundamental to developing or changing the mind-set of the whole organisation and its employees. The executives first need to be convinced about the merits of a data-centric organisation and the value it provides, before the business can actually become one. This vision needs to be clear and must transpire in everything that top management does. This means that the management team need to show their employees that they rely on the information and results that they gain from data to be able to make better informed decisions – and thereby improve the overall business.

When this penny drops, a number of activities should be triggered:

  • The term “Information” or “Insight” (or something similar) should start appearing in strategic goals.
  • Top management should start using more information and insights in their decision-making and day-to-day management processes.
  • Top management should actively promote better employee engagement with data.
  • Customer-engaging employees should be enabled with information, that is, information should be provided throughout the organisation into all business processes that deal with any aspect of customers.
  • Information should be used more and more in business processes, for example in customer engagement, as well as in employee and business performance management.
  • Beneficial data that can add value to the broader organisation should be disseminated to everyone that can make good use of it.
  • Top management should start discussing the value of data.

Further to this, and often viewed as a challenge, is the approach of employee engagement (bottom-up engagement). This should be promoted and encouraged by top management. Once the data buy-in is achieved, management needs to focus on motivating employees across the business to use data and to manage it properly. The organisation can implement internal training programs to achieve this. Communication channels through social media, discussion forums and interest groups can also be established. Investing in the employees’ growth in this area will show employees that top management are serious about the data-centric organisational approach – and, as a result, the employees should be too. Eventually, once bottom-up engagement has been established, data-related KPIs can be added to the employees’ performance management scorecards.

Concluding remarks

First building a leadership culture around data within an organisation will definitely go a long way in getting employees’ buy-in into the idea. Formulating a data-centric organisation should ideally be done prior to investing in skills and technology. What is the point of investing in technology and skills if it is not central to the organisation and driven from the top? How do you even know you’re investing in the right technology and skills? Considering the above as a first step, the next key step is to empower the appropriate employees to build out the data-centric culture. That is the topic of a next blog post.


The Virtuous Circle of Data, Engaging employees in data and transforming your business, EIU white paper, sponsored by Teradata.

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