Building a Big Data Culture

Data has become a critical corporate asset. Across industries, the potential value to be captured in the variety and volume of data that we are collecting is huge. Yet, according to extensive research, only a fraction of this value has been realised.


In order to unlock this value, organisations are presented with 3 significant challenges:

  1. Data Home. Firstly, organisations need to invest in the technical aspects of this challenge - embedding the right governance, access, quality and controls around your data is of critical importance to getting this transformation right. This is not a small task.
  2. Data Talent. Secondly, organisations need to source exceptional analytical skill so that they can collate, analyse, compute, visualise and translate this data and produce meaningful insights. Again, hard.
  3. Data Culture. The third, and most transformative element in the organisations that are leading in this area, is that of Culture.

Before we explore this further, we want to share with you our view on what is and isn’t organisational Culture.

  • Culture is not what’s written on a wall
  • Culture is not what’s written on a website
  • Culture is not owned by a department or business area
  • Culture is not what’s announced at a company town-hall event by the senior leadership team

Culture is defined by the way that individuals, teams and organisations make decisions every day.

“To change a business’s culture, you need a set of processes—social operating mechanisms—that will change the beliefs and behavior of people in ways that are directly linked to bottom-line results.”

Larry Bossidye  |  Author of “Execution”

Here, we want to share 5 such operating mechanisms that when they become a habit or instinct for your people, your journey towards building a true Big Data Culture can begin.

1. Discovery Driven Leadership
Leaders need to connect their organisation to a vison and purpose. They need to ensure that when people approach their desks on a Monday morning they are clear on what needs to be done. In addition to this, leaders must build, promote and demonstrate a mind-set of exploration and discovery.

Not knowing what Big Data is going to uncover, but knowing the overarching desired endstate, is to create a shared and enhanced understanding.

No Scope. No detailed PowerPoint plan. Less rigidity. This distinctive mind-set shift from all leaders and teams is a critical step to building a Big Data Culture.

2. Mixed Teams
Diversity is our competitive advantage. Teams will need to proactively seek outside views and opionions. This will come from data science and other domain expertise in the business.

This is so that assumptions can be challenged, competing hypotheses can be vetted and A/B testing, devils advocacy, war gaming and outside-in thinking can become daily rituals.

“Rituals form an important part of building a new culture, and they influence behavior without necessarily requiring everyone to be on board initially. Examples include new meeting disciplines, communication forums, and shared techniques for problem-solving.”

Carolyn Taylor  |  Author of “Walk the talk”

3. From Executive to the Team
Authority shifts from the executive to the team. Combing experience with data is the winning combination and is not an either/or debate. Executives and senior leaders need to bring their experiences to data science and be prepared to be challenged and to challenge in a safe environment.

The "Jack Welch organisation" where the executive rules had its day, but is not fit for the data age.

4. Connect and Share
Connectivity and sharing is central to a Data Culture. Leaders must think across functional walls and boundaries. Where a data insight that improved business performance in one team can be quickly shared to another, is where prescriptive analytics within an organisation can flourish to drive performance. Leaders who retain data and insights for "power plays" will not win in this connected world.

5. Everything Starts with Trust
Patrick Lencioni in 5 Dysfunctions of a Team states that everything starts with Trust.

Working with Data Science is no different. Teams need to build trust with their data science colleagues so that they can challenge and debate issues. Not around opinion or bias, but data and facts. This is where Culture drives performance!

This is not about reinventing your culture. Far from it. You're doing something right that has enabled you to get this far. But as we turn into the data economy, leaders will need to build these cultural attributes into their teams to be successful. Combing the experience and knowledge of your leaders with Big Data every day is where the magic happens. This is about Culture.

"I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  |  Sherlock Holmes stories

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