A new year is often a time for developing goals and setting intentions, both personally and professionally. Leaders kick off the year with strategy sessions, outlining company-wide objectives and communicating their ambitions for their organization.

Those focusing on their digital transformations in the new year will likely be looking at three key pillars: technology, processes and people.

Learning leaders may have attached similar weighting to these three areas in previous years. This year, though, the coronavirus pandemic-induced challenges of talent attraction and retention, termed The Great Resignation, will position the “people” pillar as a top priority.

With 69% of U.K. workers feeling confident to move into a new job in the next couple of months, organizations already struggling to attract tech talent will need to double down on their upskilling initiatives to retain their current workforce.

A NewVantage Partners survey  found that, despite increased investment in data, only 29.2% of Fortune 1,000 businesses reported achieving their digital transformation business outcomes in 2021. For the fifth consecutive year, leaders reported that cultural challenges, not technology ones, represented the biggest barrier to success.

Building a data-driven culture can help businesses succeed in the age of digital transformation. Here are five priorities to consider in pursuit of this goal.

1. Create Data Leaders

Equip your business leaders with the skills they need to confidently develop a strategy that enables a data-driven culture.

Train leaders to understand the language of the technology landscape and the true value of data. We talk about data being “the new oil,” but we need to know what the opportunities are for our sector in order to harness that value.

Leadership training in this area, particularly when delivered at scale, can have a profound impact. In one case, a major global bank set out an ambition to develop into an all-digital “bank of the future.” The bank is training 3,000 leaders who are working toward the same goal, with a  shared language and understanding of how to harness the potential of emerging opportunities, such as open banking.

2. Raise the Bar on Data Literacy

It’s important to prepare your workforce for the future of work and bring them along on your digital transformation journey. Not everyone needs to be equipped with technical data analytics skills nor proficient in coding languages. However, it is important to establish a baseline of data literacy that allows teams to work together effectively and efficiently.

One example of building data literacy is teaching learners how to ask a good data question. A marketing team, for instance, can transition from asking their data team, “How can I increase sales?” to “Can you predict the sales of candles, perfume and knitwear in 112 stores within city centers during December, based on historical season sales and customer sentiment?” This information enables employees to make data-driven decisions, rather than relying on gut instinct.

3. Harness Data Storytelling

Today’s business applications provide a wealth of data. With the shift toward self-service analytics and business intelligence, the pool of people generating insights is expanding beyond analysts and data scientists. Throughout your organization, people will be sharing data daily through spreadsheets or data management tools or systems.

These tools are more powerful than ever, and they are generating an unprecedented amount of insights for users. However, leaders in various sectors, including finance and retail, are finding that poor communication is preventing employees from translating these insights into meaningful change because they aren’t aware of their value.

Better data storytelling could provide a real-step change within your data culture. These skills will help your team craft engaging narratives to communicate insights. Visualization and infographics can be used to help illustrate key messages for decision making, and, importantly, they will be able to recognize and avoid misleading data visualizations that can cause costly distractions.

4. Develop your Data Champions

A successful shift to a data-driven culture means no longer relying on siloed teams of data experts. With transformation goals harder than ever to meet, businesses need to identify change agents across the organization.

Data champions can develop key data skills to gain deeper insights, learn how to ethically experiment with data and use it to automate their day-to-day work. By creating data champions in key functions, learning and development (L&D) teams will be able to use data to better understand learners’ motivations and measure the impact of training, procurement will be able to evaluate suppliers more easily and marketing will be able to develop a data-driven understanding of their customers, and so on.

This large cross-functional audience can develop immediately applicable skills, driving efficiencies and delivering value to your organization, while reducing the requirements on data teams.

5. Empower the Next Generation of Data Talent

With almost half (48%) of businesses struggling to recruit roles with hard data skills and the need for these skills growing, it’s clear that many businesses in traditional sectors are going to struggle to attract talent in the numbers required. Businesses that have seen real success have mitigated the need to attract in-demand technical talent by developing advanced data skills in house.

By embedding a data-driven culture throughout your organization, you free up your data team to work on complex challenges such as using advanced machine learning analysis. In one case, an engineer in an energy company, responsible for the start-up, shutdown and front-line maintenance of power generation units, was able to use machine learning (ML) analysis to discover that a particular type of steam circuit within a unit would routinely leak – which had not been picked up by the data analysis techniques previously used. This discovery was estimated to save the company $100,000 per year in water costs alone.

Providing your data specialists with access to further training and upskilling together with the ability to work on high-value opportunities will be critical in the fight to retain sought-after data talent.

In conclusion, businesses that will truly thrive this year are those who develop a data-driven culture throughout the whole organization. By adopting the five measures above and committing to them, they will be able to retain talent, make data-driven decisions, maximize their investments in technology and processes, as well as achieve their digital transformation objectives.

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