Evolving Into a Data-Driven Culture


By Ylan Kazi, CDO, Children’s Mercy Kansas City

Most organizations are attempting to evolve into a data-driven culture. The manner and process in which they do that is variable and leads to poor results. There is a focus on the data, technology and skillsets in the organization that will help this journey. But these areas aren’t complete.

From a culture standpoint, there are lists of common areas to focus on, that help aid in this journey. Achieving executive leadership support, focusing on delivering value, and many others are essential to a data-driven culture. Without these core focus areas, the journey doesn’t progress.

There are three key areas that are either glossed over or not mentioned around evolving into a data-driven culture. I’ve included them below with explanations on why they are essential to this journey and how you can get start in implementing them.

Psychological Safety

Any type of data-driven transformation requires continued questioning of norms and killing of sacred cows. Easier said than done. Think about the analyst that creates insights which go against an existing narrative in the organization. In many cases, it creates conflict and a “shoot the messenger” type mentality.

Not only does this stall the transformation from an organizational perspective, but it also creates talent management challenges. As a data leader, you want to encourage your team to bring insights forward that are uncomfortable. Even having a few instances like the previous example will be detrimental to progress and you’ll create a team environment where people are afraid to speak up. Additionally, those top performers that are needed to rock the boat end up leaving because they don’t feel supported.

Creating psychological safety starts in your immediate team environment. It starts to mature when that same environment can be expanded to include close partners and champions, and then eventually many leaders and stakeholders in the organization. Speaking your mind should be a rule and not an exception.

Comfort Using Imperfect Data

There is the perception that if data is going to be used in decision-making, it must be 100% perfect. Yet in most cases, it is impossible, as there aren’t unlimited budgets for data quality and even the data collection process can have variability. This is a culture change in many organizations in trying to change perception.

Getting stakeholders to make decisions using imperfect data is hard, particularly in healthcare organizations. The alternative, though, is going with our gut or based on limited experience. This is an area where leaders can model this type of behavior and encourage their stakeholders and partners to do the same. Conflict may still come about when determining what data is “right”; however, practicing this behavior will start to infuse it within the organizational culture.

Start in a safe space, with a low-impact business decision. Even imperfect data is much better than nothing, and by practicing with lower impact business decisions, stakeholders become more comfortable with this skill. Eventually, it turns into a habit and can be applied to even the more high-impact decisions, as the value of this behavior becomes recognized.

The inclusion of data-driven culture metrics in performance reviews will quickly show employees that an organization is serious about their data culture.

Aligned Incentive Model

Are people incentivized to be data-driven in the work that they do? This is a central question in most organizations and can’t be answered in a straightforward way. It shows up as a common gap in the data-driven culture journey.

If there aren’t shared organizational incentives around data, each team will continue to operate in silos and go on with business as usual. Alignment around incentives is challenging when applied to data teams and organizations. Even simple actions like recognizing individuals that use data to disprove commonly held assumptions can be a great start. Don’t underestimate trying different incentives and iterating.

There is also a maturity level to incentives in a data-driven organization. While these incentives may start off more qualitatively, eventually, there could be incentives where data literacy trainings are required as part of every role. The inclusion of data-driven culture metrics in performance reviews will quickly show employees that an organization is serious about their data culture. Even getting to a point where strategic decisions aren’t even considered without supporting data can send a strong message of support.

A Step Forward

There is the recognition that evolving into a data-driven culture is an aspirational goal. No organization will ever get to perfection, yet we must keep striving to get there. As a data leader, there will constantly be more things on your task list that come up. Focusing on the culture components separate the mediocre journeys from the successful ones. Being intentional about these three areas mentioned will go a long way in making your data-driven journey successful.

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