The data deluge has arrived, and the world is overflowing with new and potentially valuable information. Yet, we are at a crossroads.
Organizations have access to big data that can transform their cultures for the better, but they don’t know what to do with it. Far too often, potentially insightful data is ignored out of fear, ego or pure disorganization.
Before we go further, let’s define big data. According to David McJannet, vice president of marketing for Hortonworks, in an article for Information Week, here’s a practical take: “Big data is about building new analytic applications based on new types of data in order to better serve your customers and drive a better competitive advantage.” McJannet doesn’t mention company culture, but it’s as critical a business benefit of big data as any.
Businesses have access to more data about their operations than ever before, but most organizations use only a fraction of it to achieve tangible business results. The primary reason for this is that data doesn’t lie and tends to reveal unpopular truths. Humans performing the analysis often pass over what they don’t want to see and select data that supports a favored direction.
Whether your analytics technology touches every aspect of your business or you're limited to the free version of Google Analytics, here are six ways you can leverage your data to enhance your culture by leaps and bounds:
1. Target and share. The questions we ask our analytics program are often numbers-focused, and it’s all about the formulas. But measurement for the sake of measurement won’t do you a drop of good. As with any major strategy, your analytics approach should begin with the important cultural question you want to answer. Then you can effectively devise an analytical methodology that will address this issue. Once the data starts to come in, don’t hoard it. Distribute it to different departments and individuals so that a richer picture of the results emerges.
2. Let go of hierarchy. In his recent article for the Financial Times, Richard Walters says that in order to take full advantage of big data, personal working styles have to be overhauled—starting at the top. Managers accustomed to making gut decisions have to learn the humility that comes from being led by the data. This might mean that a junior analyst has a better handle on the best solution than a senior manager does. To ease the ego blows, reiterate big data’s benefits to your senior team. For instance, it relieves uncertainty and allows an organization to be more competitive.
3. Encourage innovation. There are many ways to slice and dice data, and you should be open to all approaches. Don’t allow your organization to fall into a rut. New technology and new forms of data are emerging all the time, so you must be nimble. Always ask questions that will lead to critical insights for your culture and business, such as “Why did employee engagement ratings drop this year?” and “What will happen to customer satisfaction ratings if employee engagement continues to drop?” Then be willing to act swiftly on these insights.
4. Get someone who knows what they're doing. Of course, smart leaders know they don’t have to do it all. Hire someone skilled in managing and analyzing big data. Admittedly, this is easier said than done, as there's a significant global shortage of trained data scientists. Fortunately, this is being addressed. The Financial Times tells us that several universities and online training companies such as Coursera have launched data science curricula.
5. Consolidate for greater clarity. Look for ways to bring your data together in one place. “Big data gives us the power to translate data into action, but when data is stored in silos and locked in spreadsheets, managing all the fragments can get in the way," says Mark Kovscek, president of marketing intelligence firm Capsaicin. "Organizations need a single platform that integrates disparate data so that your team can grab hold of meaningful intelligence and run with it.”
6. Communicate your vision. As with any cultural shift, you want to clearly delineate the path forward. Tell employees where you're heading, why and how. Tell them how it affects their daily work. When presenting your direction, don’t cloud the picture. Use simple reports and graphics to distill the main messages and implications.
With just a little effort, you can use big data to your advantage to change your company culture for the better.
Read more articles on company culture.