We live in the data-driven digital era, where nearly every organization uses metrics and analytics to guide their decision making. In 2017, the Economist rather controversially asserted that “data is the new oil” — our most valuable commodity, powering our greatest success. The metaphor doesn’t hold to the highest scrutiny, and many have spoken out against the idea, but there is one inarguable fact illustrated: the sheer volume and deluge of data we face daily, both at work and in our personal lives.
In fact, IDC predicted in 2018 that the “Global Datasphere will grow from 33 zettabytes to 175 zettabytes by 2025.” The study goes on to say that “today, more than 5 billion consumers interact with data every day — by 2025, that number will be 6 billion, or 75% of the world’s population. In 2025, each connected person will have at least one data interaction every 18 seconds.”
Data is at the heart of almost everything we do.
In our businesses, how we collect, interpret and leverage it is crucial to our success. However, managing and extracting value from data is one of the hardest transformations for teams to make. Establishing a data-driven culture within the workplace comes down to three fundamental elements: transparency, strategy, and agency.
Transparency earns buy-in
In 2016, BetterWorks released results of an employee survey in which 92% said they’d work harder if they knew company goals — yet 40% of employees admit they don’t understand the bigger “Why” behind their work. Talk about a missed opportunity. When a company is transparent with their metrics and cultivates an environment of engagement, they experience increased employee retention, better job effectiveness, and up to 2.5x more revenue.
Human nature is inherently collective, finding a sense of purpose and belonging in the commonly held values of a group. You can tap into this primal urge to be part of something meaningful and bigger by showing employees how their work contributes to the “Big Why” of your organization.
To be transparent, avoid using too many tools so that your data is accessible to your employees, so they can see how all the moving parts of the business are coalescing toward the company vision. Use technology that allows a shared view across CRMs, resource and project management, time tracking, finance and other systems. Make sure it allows real-time insight, accurate forecasting, maximized personnel utilization, and project timeline/budget tracking.
Once they see the bigger picture, team members can bring their perspectives and input into developing data-driven goals and strategies.
Use data to choose a meaningful strategy
Once you’ve made your data transparent and gotten your team aligned to your company vision, the next step in being data-driven is to, quite simply, let the data power your strategy. Use your valuable resources to reach your goals.
One of the most important things to remember here is to pick a strategy that fits your business. It can be easy to lose track of your goals amid the myriad possibilities of how to use the available data. Your vision should be explicitly defined and your strategy to achieve it should be simple, clear, and trackable.
As you adopt a data-driven approach, start slow by simply adding important data and metrics to your current workflows, as a way to enhance them, rather than creating entirely new workflows. For example, a marketing agency with a monthly customer email might add abandoned cart items to that communication to potentially increase sales.
Once you’ve put data-driven practices in place, make sure you have processes that can scale up or down as smoothly as possible. If things go better than expected, what new measurements can you add? If team adoption is slower, what can you omit to ensure people can more easily get on board?
When employees have real-time insights into the data and a clear vision, they’re far less likely to fall into the trap of surrogation: mistaking the metrics for the strategy and dragging an entire project’s vision awry in pursuit of meeting incentive goals.
If you feel like your strategy is getting off course, or that your goals are shifting, engage the team to find out why that’s so. Perhaps your vision needs to be tweaked to fit the reality of your resources. Or maybe everyone needs to be reminded about your shared core values. When you have a platform that allows data transparency, it’s easy to show (and not just tell) your team how the business is being affected by a current set of circumstances or to demonstrate how a few minor adjustments can dramatically improve outcomes.
Give your team members agency
Using a platform that keeps your employees looped into the functions of the business gives them a sense of ownership of the whole vision, not just their individual roles. Your employees’ sense of belonging and being vital translates directly into profits for your business. Gallup’s State of the American Workplace found that employees with a sense of empowerment and engagement within a company are 21% more profitable than those who aren’t, with a 10% increase in customer ratings and a 20% increase in sales.
Being data-driven isn’t just about tracking vision, goals, and strategies. In a data-driven workplace, internal tools also play a role in employee engagement and retention. Give and Take’s Roundup of 2019 Employee Engagement Facts and Statistics shows that employees “whose managers consistently help them manage their workload are 8x more likely to stay” at a job. In an organization that uses metrics and analytics tools for all aspects of the business, managing employee workload and utilization rate can be as easy as checking the internal resourcing page and adjusting an employee’s availability with the click of a button. It becomes just that simple to improve morale and productivity.
Data is a great resource, and every organization should be doing more to make sure they get the most out of it. But, it’s also important to remember that becoming a data-driven workplace is a very real culture shift that requires more than just adopting new data sources and algorithms. After all, while data may be the “new” commodity, your most valuable resource is — and always has been — your people.
Develop your data-driven culture to increase internal transparency and engagement; your team will love you for it.
Mark van Leeuwen is the CEO of VOGSY, the Google business software pioneers. Mark has held leading roles in software and service businesses on all continents and led growth in uncharted territories for 20 years. He’s also a stickler for simplicity and transparency and doing more with less.