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DataIQ Leaders briefing – Three tips for driving up your organisation’s data literacy in 2022

If organisations are going to survive, and thrive, in rapidly changing market conditions, it is vital that the workforce can understand, question and articulate data-driven insights. At two Leaders roundtables held in December 2021, attendees discussed their current challenges, plans and success stories with regards to data literacy and training initiatives.
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1. Find a senior data champion

People are busy, and it is important that the business recognises that data literacy initiatives aren’t just another tick-box corporate training exercise. For some individuals, it may not be immediately obvious that data literacy is important in their job role. Others may be hesitant to learn new skills that could challenge deeply ingrained patterns of working. As more organisations profess their desire to become “data-driven”, workforces need to understand the importance of becoming data literate – both in terms of the overarching business vision and for personal career development.

An effective method for doing so is to ensure that initiatives are championed by colleagues from outside of the data office, particularly by senior leaders. According to DataIQ research, 44% of organisations believe that greater buy-in to data from the senior leadership team would help to overcome threats to the effective use of data throughout the business.

One Leader, performance lead at a commercial real estate firm, has sought to create a community of champions from outside of his BI team to promote data literacy initiatives. “When we put our programmes into the field, we don’t want people to feel they have to do them, we want them to want to do them,” they said. “We’ve developed an organisation-wide network via an MS Teams site, where people can share articles on data literacy and discuss certain initiatives. This has helped to foster that community, which in turn creates an infectious atmosphere around our training.”

Others have taken a more direct top-down approach. One Leader, head of insights at a leading news publication, explained that they have developed a set of key newsroom metrics to build into staff performance reviews. “It’s always been a challenge to make the newsroom care about data literacy,” they explained. “It’s been useful to ensure we have top-down engagement by getting the editor onside. We’ve since found that everyone is more interested in data literacy, because data directly impacts them.”

2. Consider a tailored approach

The data literacy bubble can quickly burst if participants feel that the content used during training isn’t relevant to them. It is unrealistic to expect your HR team to understand, or care about, advanced analytics. Equally, basic training initiatives could come across as patronising to data-savvy personnel in the finance department.

By first gaining an understanding of the current level of literacy in various areas of the business and then tailoring content accordingly, data leaders can ensure that their training initiatives have the best chance of success. One Leader explained: “Data literacy varies massively across our stakeholder groups, our brands and our departments. That means we have to be tactical from a literacy perspective to land the right messages and get value from what we’re doing.”

Data leaders at a leading trade journal are working with DataIQ to create literacy “personas” throughout the organisation. These personas contain set criteria around data literacy, designed to suit given job roles. Staff will be assessed via a benchmarking survey to determine current literacy levels. In turn, training initiatives will be tailored to ensure that colleagues develop the skills required to fulfil their given persona.

The journal’s data strategy leader said: “People around the business often think they know data well, but sometimes that isn’t the case – we really need ensure that skill sets are at a desirable level, so that stakeholders can read, manage and tell stories from data to inform active decision-making. You don’t want to create feelings of exclusion, and we get around that through dialogue and by getting buy-in from colleagues.”

3. Develop a healthy relationship between the data office and the wider business

Developing data literacy isn’t simply a case of ensuring that key stakeholders can read a pie chart or understand a Tableau dashboard. A truly data literate business is one that can ask the right questions of data, and indeed of the data team. The data office has often dedicated a substantial amount of time to answering “can you just?” requests, wherein the business asks for a specific output without first articulating the problem at hand. Any organisation looking to make better, faster and more impactful decisions through data must challenge this dynamic.

According to recent DataIQ research, 86% of organisations are investing in communications training for the data department, and 42% are implementing similar initiatives for the entire business. One Leader explained that: “As data professionals we’ve often just answered queries without first trying to understand the broader problem, we have to be more assertive, which may not come naturally to the stereotypical analyst.”

By challenging business questions and ideas, data teams run the risk of becoming known as the “Department of No”. In data literate organisations, an effective data office might better be described as the “Department of Why?”. One Leader from a large retailer explained: “We don’t say no, we provide options about what we could do. We’ve built it into our culture that it’s okay for our juniors to challenge requests, and that the management structure will support them and facilitate productive conversations.”

By communicating and collaborating with business stakeholders on broader business issues, data professionals can help to demonstrate data’s power to the wider organisation. Once that power is evident, those stakeholders will begin to instinctually reach for data when an issue arises and, in turn, build a better understanding of what it means to be data literate.

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