Creating a data-driven culture: part 2 | Executive buy-in

Brian LaFaille, Customer Success at Looker

Jul 6, 2020

Welcome to the second installment of our five-part blog series on how to create a data-driven culture at your organization. In our first piece, we looked at the challenges companies face when trying to create a data-driven company. For this post, we’ll talk about the importance of getting top management bought in and on board with the transition towards becoming a self-service organization.

Why executive buy-in important

Theoretically, anyone within an organization can take actions that catalyze a shift towards becoming more data-driven. For instance, a customer support manager could choose to start sharing her team’s ticket activity dashboard with the product group to better align product updates with customer feedback. And while that would certainly be a step in the right direction, at some point, you do need to get upper management on board, preferably a C-level executive, or best case scenario, the CEO themself.

Why? Simply put, having a top executive advocating for a culture shift focused on success driven by data will increase the chances of successful cultural change-management practices towards the goal. Transitioning towards a data culture requires high-level decision making about specific initiatives like budgets, strategic vision & future company goals, and understanding the pulse of the corporate culture - all of which an executive can help address.

Knowledgeable stakeholders, upfront costs, and routines

When it comes to the person(s) spearheading the transition, it’s extremely beneficial if they’re already knowledgeable about the various applications of data and analytical techniques that can be leveraged in business. For organizations that are just getting started with their shift towards becoming self-serve, this may require bringing on an entirely new position like a Chief Analytics Officer or Chief Data Officer, so they can help lead the transition.

Becoming a self-service company also requires some upfront costs. These include things like purchasing a data platform, allocating time for training employees on how to use the platform, and developing a strong internal leadership team who can help the company get past the inertia and fear of change.

With the appropriate technology and stakeholders involved, the scene is set for a successful transition to a more data-oriented company culture. But it’s important to keep in mind that at the core of these digital transformation efforts is the goal of being able to gain insights for business value from data. For that, you not only need someone at the top who understands analytics, you need to start developing routines within your business that emphasize data usage throughout the entire organization. Not everyone needs to be a data expert, but everyone should eventually feel comfortable with the company using data to shape it’s decision making.

Getting an executive on board

If you’re having trouble getting executive alignment, consider leveraging data to demonstrate the potential impact a culture driven by data could have on your company’s position in your industry and competitive market, like statistics like these from a Forbes Insight study:

  • 64% of business leaders say self-service business intelligence can create a significant competitive advantage for a company
  • 71% say that self-service data analytics has accelerated learning and responsiveness within their organizations
  • 63% of study respondents share that users within organizations are able develop more visually interesting analysis with distributed analytics in place at the company

A McKinsey Global survey also notes that high-performing executives rank senior-management involvement as the factor that has contributed the most to their analytics success.

This sort of top-down approach signifies the expectations and outcomes of creating a data-driven culture. Embracing change throughout the business requires leadership to lead by example and champion the change.

Embracing change and creating a data culture at GoCardless

A great example of a global organization that’s embraced change and implemented a corporate-led data culture is GoCardless.

Between processing over $13 billion annually and working with over 50,000 customers worldwide, the GoCardless teams knew that they had huge opportunities to use data to make the lives of their merchants and customers easier.

Before they implemented a BI platform, GoCardless CPO Duncan Barrigan noted that teams would often find themselves “looking at multiple versions of the same number before important meetings” due to legacy processes that were time-consuming and not readily scalable.

With Barrigan and the head of business intelligence, Jon Palmer, as some of the executive champions leading the culture shift, GoCardless went from limited data availability and time-consuming reporting to 75% of all employees using data in Looker on a monthly basis.

“We wanted to foster a culture in which everyone has access to data to inform decision-making, as well as ramping up efficiencies” — Jon Palmer, head of business intelligence at GoCardless [learn more]
“As we continue to grow, I’m also working to create a ‘self-serve’ ethos — making sure that each employee has access to the data that is relevant to them and their role.” — Jon Palmer, head of business intelligence at GoCardless [learn more]

Championing change

Creating a data-driven culture can be catalyzed by anyone, but with the right technology in place and an executive championing the transition, your organization will be all that much closer to becoming a self-serve data analytics company.

For our next installment in this series, we’ll discuss why selecting the proper technology is a crucial part of the transition towards data-driven success.

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