The secrets to building a positive data culture

by | Feb 2, 2021 | Culture

The secrets to building a positive data culture. 

This is a guest piece by Michael Brennan, a self-employed researcher, writer and consultant. Michael is a specialist in research, data, insight and strategy across multiple business sectors. 

Amongst so much else, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for a new approach to Digital Transformation (DX). This is especially true when you look at the reliance we now have on various technology to support communication and collaboration during remote working. However, too much of the hype surrounding DX has been exclusively about technology, systems, and platforms.

DX should be about harnessing people, data, and technology to create value for the organisation. Because it involves people, it involves culture. And transforming cultures takes time and work.

Many will have experienced a crazy scramble to stay operational, rather than a well-planned DX strategy – inconceivable without the dedication and support of engaged employees. No matter how we got here, that’s where we are today and we need to capture this collaborative spirit to build a sustainable platform for an uncertain future.

This makes 2021 the ideal time to look at the deeper implications of digital connectivity and what it enables. Creating value is achieved by harnessing quality data to effective analytics, developing insights that inform hypotheses, conducting experiments, and ensuring you have strong feedback loops in place.

But the critical ingredients for success are the people involved. It’s not a question of technology, it’s a question of culture and leadership. You will, of course, need to embrace data and technology – but also to embrace your people and their potential.

As such, data should be made available across the organisation. To the frontline as well as the back office and boardroom, it should be a unifying feature of the employee experience. It should be a catalyst for the development of a true learning organisation.

Here we present 10 simple steps toward developing a positive data culture that your employees can support:


  • Clearly explain and position the approach, the benefits, and the implications
  • Address upfront employee concerns around skills, automation, and their futures
  • Highlight and emphasise how this will change (senior) strategic decision making
  • Highlight and emphasise how this will change management roles and approach
  • Highlight and emphasise how this will positively impact frontline roles
  • Develop an approach to improved data literacy at all levels – how to interpret data
  • Adopt a design thinking, iterative, approach to the development of apps and dashboards
  • Actively foster and demonstrate the use of data in decision making at all levels
  • Create new paths and processes to support optimisation and innovation – feedback loops
  • Reward and celebrate positive contributions and successful decisions made


The approach should promote the growth of a learning culture at all levels of the organisation, engendering a commitment to continual improvement, while encouraging and rewarding ideas, insights, and innovation.

What it should also enable is the holy grail of contemporary business – agility – made possible by effective decision-making at speed. In the context of the pandemic, the ultimate expression of agility has become The Pivot (to new business models, products, services, and ways of working).

Important within that is the need to put diversity at the heart of our decision-making processes. Data needs to be interrogated from multiple perspectives if we are to surface the insights that drive efficiencies, innovation, and yes, transformation.

In taking this approach, we have deliberately bypassed the need for an effective data architecture, strong data governance, and for a single source of truth across the organisation. These are the technical and IT requirements, along with robust cyber-security and enhanced data protection, required for success. They are essential to ensuring that you are working with quality, trusted, data.

This can only ever be the briefest of introductions to this critically important subject, but the takeaway should be that a positive data culture requires a better, more human, workplace. One that enhances the responsibilities and skills of workers at all levels, and that increases autonomy and flexibility.  Not one that begins with employee surveillance!

Data must be positioned as an enabling and empowering asset, improving the speed and quality of decision making, mitigating human prejudices and biases, supporting new insights and opportunities, and unlocking value to the benefit of all.

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