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The Impact of Culture on Data Analytics Adoption During COVID-19

Jordan Morrow, Global Head of Data Literacy, Qlik


The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the need for flexible and engaging leadership.

For leaders serious about establishing a data-driven culture, they must lead from the front and prioritize education and empowerment

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on the need for flexible and engaging leadership. Most of the recent leadership-themed articles focus on how to bridge the remote-only workplace relationship gap, the importance of increased engagement and empathy, and the need to provide technology that empowers and provides a more equitable work/life balance.

Surely, these are all relevant and important conversations. However, there is a growing issue that can undermine the benefits of this shift to a more engaging and personalized leadership style. It centers around the culture’s ability to be data-driven, and leadership’s role and willingness to invest in fostering a data-driven culture, even during this extended crisis.

Many of the technology tools being deployed to help foster remote work are introducing even more data and complexity into employees’ daily working lives. This is increasing pressure employees were already feeling pre-COVID, which comes from the gap between leadership’s push for widescale data-driven decision-making and the workforce’s ability to meet that goal.

A pre-pandemic report from Qlik and Accenture called “The Human Impact of Data Literacy” shows a disconnect between how leadership and the workforce perceive their readiness to be data-driven. The survey showed:

  • 75 percent of C-suite level respondents stating that all or most of their employees can proficiently work with data.
  • 79 percent of executives believing their employees have access to the tools they need to be productive.
  • That contrasts with 74 percent of employees reporting feeling overwhelmed or unhappy when working with data.
  • And, only 37 percent of employees reporting that they trust their decisions more when those decisions are based on data, with almost half (48 percent) frequently deferring to making decisions based on gut feeling over data-driven insight.

Employees today are being asked to do more with less, driven by a hyper focus on cost efficiencies to sustain business through uncertain economic conditions. Many employees now have even less time, less resources and less training available to effectively derive more value from data in their roles – all during the exact time when strategic use of data is vital to finding efficiencies, staying more engaged with customers, and discovering hidden opportunities that can help the business both survive and position for a return to growth.

Leaders can espouse the benefits of a data-driven culture and the value of data literacy skills. But, if employees have no interest or are limited in exploring data, they’ll be very unlikely – and, potentially, even actively resistant – to use it in their decision-making processes. Leaders must prioritize and continually refresh a curiosity for data in their employees through proper training and structural support even during these uncertain times.

There is no one tool or course to develop this organization-wide curiosity for data analytics. It takes several technical and cultural factors to create the kind of environment that can lead to valuable data-led breakthroughs.

Improved data quality and accessibility – Every business has data, but that doesn’t always mean its accessible or usable. Without access to relevant and high-quality data, any initial interest will lead to distrust or frustration that creates in-action or resistance.

Data literacy skills training – Data literacy is about developing the ability to read, understand and argue with the results of analytics platforms or processes to uncover insights both obvious and more hidden. It does not mean being a data scientist or having mastery of advanced statistics.

More intuitive tools – Thankfully, organizations can take advantage of advances in AI and user experience through modern analytics tools that are highly intuitive and adaptive to user needs. The improvements in augmented intelligence and ease of use via analytics encourages users to experiment and explore.

Encourage exploration time – Organizations must leave room for the exploration of analytics if they want employees to succeed with data. Encouragement should come from senior leaders so that every layer of the organization understands the importance of analytics exploration to the enterprise culture and performance.

Celebrate breakthroughs – When a valuable insight is uncovered, it can be tempting to assign intention after the fact. However, insights developed while following an initial data-driven hunch should be celebrated and held up as examples of what is possible by using human imagination alongside data analysis.

Taking these steps will help drive a data culture that can have tremendous bottom line impact. The Data Literacy Index, commissioned by Qlik, shows large enterprises that have higher corporate data literacy – the ability of the workforce to read, analyze and utilize data for decisions and communicate with data – experience $320-$534 million (3 to 5 percent) in higher enterprise value.

For leaders serious about establishing a data-driven culture, they must lead from the front and prioritize education and empowerment. A culture that encourages curiosity and data exploration will help the workforce more confidently embrace data, make more data-driven decisions and drive more bottom line value to successfully navigate COVID-19 and set the stage for longer term growth.