Revolutions, it’s been remarked, never go backward. Nor do they advance at a constant rate. Consider the immense transformation unleashed by data analytics. By now, it’s clear the data revolution is changing businesses and industries in profound and unalterable ways.
But the changes are neither uniform nor linear, and companies’ data-analytics efforts are all over the map. McKinsey research suggests that the gap between leaders and laggards in adopting analytics, within and among industry sectors, is growing. We’re seeing the same thing on the ground. Some companies are doing amazing things; some are still struggling with the basics; and some are feeling downright overwhelmed, with executives and members of the rank and file questioning the return on data initiatives.
For leading and lagging companies alike, the emergence of data analytics as an omnipresent reality of modern organizational life means that a healthy data culture is becoming increasingly important. With that in mind, we’ve spent the past few months talking with analytics leaders at companies from a wide range of industries and geographies, drilling down on the organizing principles, motivations, and approaches that undergird their data efforts. We’re struck by themes that recur over and again, including the benefits of data, and the risks; the skepticism from employees before they buy in, and the excitement once they do; the need for flexibility, and the insistence on common frameworks and tools. And, especially: the competitive advantage unleashed by a culture that brings data talent, tools, and decision making together.
The experience of these leaders, and our own, suggests that you can’t import data culture and you can’t impose it. Most of all, you can’t segregate it. You develop a data culture by moving beyond specialists and skunkworks, with the goal of achieving deep business engagement, creating employee pull, and cultivating a sense of purpose, so that data can support your operations instead of the other way around.
In this article, we present seven of the most prominent takeaways from conversations we’ve had with these and other executives who are at the data-culture fore. None of these leaders thinks they’ve got data culture “solved,” nor do they think that there’s a finish line. But they do convey a palpable sense of momentum. When you make progress on data culture, they tell us, you’ll strengthen the nuts and bolts of your analytics enterprise.
That will not only advance your data revolution even further but can also help you avoid the pitfalls that often trip up analytics efforts. We’ve described these at length in another article and have included, with three of the seven takeaways here, short sidebars on related “red flags” whose presence suggests you may be in trouble—along with rapid responses that can mitigate these issues. Taken together, we hope the ideas presented here will inspire you to build a culture that clarifies the purpose, enhances the effectiveness, and increases the speed of your analytics efforts.
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