The Importance Of Data Literacy Across The Organization


Employees, leadership, and executives need a common understanding when it comes to talking about data. In the same way a single person speaking Spanish in a meeting doesn’t allow for others to participate, having only one or two people who understand data leaves out the ideas, questions, and solutions of the rest of the team. It limits discussion and debate, and it makes it impossible for factual, data-based decisions to be made.

Data literacy is quickly becoming essential in driving business value, demonstrated by its formal inclusion in over 80% of data and analytics strategies and change management programs. Data can be an incredibly powerful tool, but only if everyone in the organization is able to speak the same language.

Data Literacy – The Second Language of Your Business

Data literacy is the ability to collect, manage, evaluate, and apply data in a critical matter.  Data literate individuals can ask and answer relevant questions using data, interpret, understand, and question the results of data analysis, and put these results into the context of the organization’s larger strategy and objectives.

Most importantly, data literacy makes it possible for people to argue with data. Armed with data, team members have the ammunition to support their case and avoid the negative conflicts that can come from passionate discussions. Data literacy lets people have strong, positive, and productive debates based on facts, not emotions.

It also allows people to make decisions that are different from their initial gut feelings or instincts. It’s similar to how, in debate class, you may have been asked to debate for the side that you didn’t agree with. Forced to look at data, statistics, and facts, it’s possible to have a more structured conversation while taking personal feelings out of the argument. Likewise, in business, sometimes the best decisions aren’t the ones that you make with your gut, and having the right dashboards, metrics, insights, and understanding of what the data is telling you allows you to make these decisions more confidently.

Facilitating Data Literacy Across Your Organization

How, then, can organizations improve data literacy and incorporate more data into their decision making and innovation processes?

Increasing data literacy is something that will take time and intentional effort. While it is certainly possible that an organization’s data literacy will improve organically as new employees join the team or team members improve their own skills, it is far faster and more effective to do so with a purpose and as part of the larger business strategy.

Many large organizations, such as Airbnb, have created their own in-house data training programs. These data universities are headed by specialized teams and intended to improve data literacy across all teams and all employees. Through big investments, they can implement large-scale changes that reach thousands of people.

While this is a viable option for the largest companies, it may not be as realistic for small and medium businesses.

Instead, these companies should identify who in the organization already has a natural inclination toward data. These are the people who bring data into conversations or ask questions about data and how it can be used. By encouraging these individuals and giving them inherent permission to have these conversations within their teams and across teams, they can become data champions who serve to get more people involved and thinking about how data plays a role in the company.

Next, organizations should look to educate employees through training programs and online resources. These don’t need to be as sophisticated as the “universities” created by large companies but can instead be based on information that’s available, including trusted and reputable online sources.

Finally, organizations should start looking for ways to create cross-functional teams that bring ideas, data, and insights out from silos and into conversations. Data should be accessible and available when it’s needed. By giving people the right software and capabilities and the ability to interpret and understand what they are seeing, data can become a useful tool when discussing how best to proceed.

No matter which approaches you take, metrics should be put in place so that it’s possible to track progress and show how employees are improving with respect to data literacy. By benchmarking where you are now, where you want to go, and how you will get there, you’ll be able to evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts and adjust for continuous improvements.

Improving Data Literacy for Better Organizational Performance

Not everyone needs to reach the same level of fluency as a Data Scientist, and the level of data literacy required for each employee will vary depending on their role. However, it’s important that everyone at the table can feel confident when participating in conversations involving data. By increasing data literacy in all employees, not just a select few, you’re able to bring new ideas to the discussion and have productive, positive debates that lead to better decision making and new innovations.

Need help assessing how data literate your team is or wondering which steps to take to make your company more data literate? Check out Three Steps to Make Your Company Data Literate or talk to Shift Paradigm today.


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The Importance Of Data Literacy Across The Organization

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