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Specific Steps to Create a Data-Forward Culture for Your Employees

Rasheed Sabar, Co-founder and CEO at Correlation One shares the steps to help the organizations who wants to compete more effectively in the data economy.

Your organization wants to compete more effectively in the data economy.  And to do that, you are executing a digital transformation.

Every digital transformation is based ultimately on a data transformation–more effective collecting of data, modelling of data, and making business decisions based on data.  Data is the ultimate digital asset.  

However, building a culture that embraces and enhances a data transformation is challenging.  For organizations in traditional industries, or for firms just beginning their digital transformation, invigorating your culture systematically seems amorphous and more a matter of art than science. 

To help, we offer five specific strategies for creating a data-forward culture for your employees.

  1. Promote Organization-wide Data Literacy

Organizations building their data capabilities often make one key mistake: they hire data literate professionals only within their technology or data orgs. This is a significant lost opportunity.

That’s because data is not a vertical – it is not one job family. Instead, data is a horizontal – it is a skillset that cuts across an increasing number of jobs in every department.  A marketer is a better marketer with data skills. A product manager is a better product manager with data skills. And so on for operations, engineering, sales, management consulting, etc.

In fact, the most valuable data professionals are those who can combine data skills with domain expertise – those who have expertise in (for example) marketing, but who also know enough data science to understand and conduct a rigorous A/B test.  

When building your organization-wide data literacy, it pays to hire data-literate professionals in every department: from marketing to analytics to operations to human resources.  These are the marketers, product managers, and engineers of tomorrow.  They help to unlock business opportunities leveraging data & AI in every department, and create a culture of data literacy throughout your organization. 

  1. Create Opportunities for High-Quality Reskilling and Career Mobility

There are 88 million working adults who need more skills in order to unlock their full economic and social potential (source). The data revolution makes this challenge even more urgent, as automation is projected to displace millions of jobs.

Thoughtful reskilling of your employees is critical. Employers that invest in a culture of learning create more capable employees, and are also more likely to retain them over the long term. Companies rated highly on employee training saw 53% lower employee attrition on average (source), and 93% of employees say they would stay longer at companies who invested in their development (source).

Which training program is right for your business? Massive online learning platforms offer a wide range of courses. However, course completion rates are abysmal, as low as 3% (source). The training content is typically too far removed from employee workflows, making it hard for employees to see tangible benefit for their effort. Moreover, employees cannot be expected to design and manage self-directed learning without employer support.

Bootcamps and tuition reimbursement programs tend to offer better returns on investment (source). Employees can participate in part-time programs that accommodate their schedules, and can be supported by actual engagement with instructors and classmates. 

For any training program, employers should engage with employees by helping them design capstone projects that tie the learnings in the course to actual business initiatives. In this way, capstone projects link training investment directly to measurable business value. They also help employees showcase and celebrate their achievement, which nurtures a culture of learning and employer support.

  1. Create Measurable D&I Progress, not Just Lip Service

You recognize that diverse minds build better products.  And that companies, via corporate social responsibility mandates, are one of the most powerful platforms for social change today.  However, hiring under-represented minorities in STEM-related jobs is challenging for almost every firm.

First, you must develop a transparent and standardized hiring process so that people without personal connections are not disadvantaged. As an example, many companies offer bonuses for employee referrals. These programs may be well-intentioned, but often reinforce hiring biases towards existing networks.

Second, make sure there is intentional sponsorship of individuals from diverse backgrounds.  Employees from under-represented groups should have senior mentors and training opportunities to support their growth and help they move up the corporate ladder.

Finally, you can also proactively sponsor external diverse students as they participate in job training programs, so that you can hire them upon graduation. Build relationships with historically black colleges and universities, and programs like Black Girls Code and Data Science for All.

  1. Take Steps to Manage and Amplify Your Talent Brand

There is so much more to your company’s talent brand than your website and social media activity. Yes, every data-forward company should have a presence on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. But to build a successful talent brand, you also need content and programming that can engage, entertain, and ultimately inspire your target audience.

Citadel, one of the world’s most successful hedge funds, hosts the annual Data Open Championship, a global competition for aspiring quantitative researchers. The program attracts tens of thousands of participants each year, all of whom learn about Citadel and what it’s like to work as a quant.

Meanwhile, Anaplan, a leading enterprise software-provider, provides free training for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds to learn data modelling skills. Anaplan then helps the graduates earn jobs as certified model builders within their partner network.

Programs like these make companies stand out. They show candidates which companies proactively invest in their people and in their culture. Candidates also learn more about the kinds of problems that companies are solving.  In return, candidates apply to their jobs in droves.

Talent branding is like inbound marketing for your people. If you do it well, you will organically attract high quality candidates, and supercharge the effectiveness of your recruiting teams.
  It is especially important for brands that are recruiting in new talent pools–for example, firms recruiting digital or data talent without strong prior history hiring this talent.

  1. Let Business Drive Technology, Not the Other Way Around

Less than 30% of digital transformation projects are successful (source). Unfortunately, companies frequently invest in costly technology upgrades that don’t meaningfully improve business practices.

Successful data transformations have one thing in common: employees at every level are engaged in the change effort. Frontline employees and managers who become data literate can work smarter and identify practical, “boots-on-the-ground” opportunities to upgrade their analytics.

By focusing on simple, frontline business problems first, you can create a series of “quick wins” to showcase within your organization. This will inspire a more data-driven culture, and generate momentum for broader success. 

For more advanced projects, you can support your business teams by pairing them with a Centre of Excellence or R&D lab. They can work together on pilot projects that leverage technologies like machine learning and predictive modelling, and you can scale up the projects that succeed in demonstrating business results.

Ultimately, a business-first approach will help you lead a digital transformation from the ground up. Capital is deployed more efficiently because it immediately addresses real problems. Moreover, your employees are empowered to identify and lead change opportunities within their organizations.

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