What is a ‘data-driven culture’ and how can an organisation build one?

Data is now the lifeblood of a modern organisation. However, growing into a data-led business relies on the people within the business who are willing to embrace a data-driven culture.


This is a contributed article by Zara Hawkins, Head of Data Culture and Transformation, Looker at Google Cloud.

Data has become the lifeblood of an organisation. Data is now more than just tracking patterns, it can transform operations, open up new revenue avenues and challenge a business’ status-quo altogether.

However, to reap the benefits of data, organisations must cultivate an internal data-driven culture where employees trust and engage with its function. In essence, a data-driven culture is a community of individuals who hold the value of data in the highest regard, incorporating it into every workflow to drive decisions no matter what department or level within the business. Those organisations that have failed to communicate the importance of this shift to a data-led ethos, or have neglected to invest in employee data literacy, are struggling to optimise on this valuable resource.

To reach the stage where an organisation’s thinking, compass and DNA is intertwined with data, democratisation of the data is required. Part of this is empowering employees to make data-driven decisions, rather than shying away from its potential uses. Unfortunately, creating a data culture isn’t as simple as telling employees to use the available platforms. It requires a number of steps that organisations must take to gradually foster a thriving internal data community.

Demystify data within your culture

‘Data’ can be an opaque and often intimidating term. From a distance, many believe it’s a language reserved for IT professionals and data scientists.

To debunk potential myths and playfully introduce data, companies can present light-hearted and personal metrics that individuals will want to keep note of. This might involve miles run or cycled as part of a weekend club, hours volunteered, or even commendations amongst colleagues. Tracking simple metrics and presenting them in a fun way helps to cultivate healthy competition and ignites an underlying awareness of data without the stigma. This mindset will create a sense of camaraderie among the workforce and enable employees to be a part of an internal data community.

Attract like-minded talent

Those responsible for human resources and recruitment should be encouraged to include statements like “data-driven” in job descriptions so the business attracts fresh minds who are excited by data from the start. This can also inspire pre-existent colleagues to try out new data-led practices. Aligning job criteria to match data-led objectives further ensures the organisation will only expand, not lessen, its data community as time goes on.

Immerse data-enthusiasts across the business

A culture can be defined as the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a group. A culture is not reserved for a single person or subset. Data-savvy and data-curious colleagues should be dispersed across every department, in order to encourage data positivity and know-how.

One way to achieve this is by forming a ‘committee’ of employees from across the business, with a shared interest in data. Aggregate relevant resources and run interactive workshops that will resonate with their respective disciplines and skill sets. Lastly, take stock of any other wider business initiatives and consider whether efforts can be combined to make the impact of data felt more widely.

A great example of fostering a data-driven culture can be seen in the online automotive marketplace, Auto Trader. The company established a “data academy” to upskill employees with online courses tailored according to their roles and data personas. This cross-company education scheme ensured no department was left in the dark about the benefits of utilising data. From developers building cars to internal users viewing and leveraging pre-built dashboards, the whole workforce is encouraged to integrate data more deeply into their day-to-day jobs.

Data can be explicitly referenced in your aims and values

Concrete objectives that employ direct language shouldn’t be feared. Often non-specific mission statements can fail to unite employees behind a common goal. So, what do data-focused objectives look like in practice? Data-focused objectives should be actionable, accessible and accountable so they can be effectively consolidated into departmental objectives.

Performance dashboards are for all

For employees to find meaning in work - and stay motivated - seeing their contribution to a company’s success is paramount. Making data on revenue, profit and number of clients accessible to employees can help cultivate a feel-good factor whilst demystifying the term ‘data’. Incorporating these in some company-wide dashboards can help to spark end-users’ curiosity and get them more involved in building a data-driven culture.

For employees who are in customer-facing roles, performance dashboards also help generate critical insights. For example, Autotrader worked with its sales team to build impactful performance dashboards to help the business have more data-led, informed conversations with its retail customers. The team can now analyse and implement actions grounded on performance indicators for ads, search appearances, views, quality and leads. Data findings no longer feel like a helpful add-on, but sit at the heart of the business’ decision-making.

Used correctly, there’s no doubt that data creates a plethora of new opportunities and helps create a future-proof business model. Yet, without an organisation’s employees being able to access, understand and use data confidently, it will never reach its full value. With this in mind, establishing a data-driven culture should be high on the list for any business.

Zara Hawkins is the head of data culture and transformation at Looker, the business intelligence (BI) and analytics platform that’s part of the Google Cloud. She is a leader in data culture with a desire to ensure everyone in an organisation has the confidence to utilise data to advance. Her career has been focused on guiding enterprises to implement and roll out SaaS products through both challenging and high-growth phases.