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The Data Culture Catalyst

Carlos Rivero, Chief Data Officer, Commonwealth of Virginia
Carlos Rivero, Chief Data Officer, Commonwealth of Virginia

Carlos Rivero, Chief Data Officer, Commonwealth of Virginia

Cultures exist in all organizations and while no two are the same, the underpinnings of a strong culture share the common denominators of psychological safety and trust. Culture precedes performance so before data governance, data sharing, analytics, or a data culture can take shape, the organizational culture will need to establish trust by respecting and valuing the contributions of the individuals in the enterprise. Culture plays a key role in how willing people are to share, analyze, and believe in the intelligence derived from data.

There is a psychology to changing the behavior of individuals and two critical components that can move the needle include fostering understanding by identifying why the work is being done and having structures and processes in place to guide how the work gets done. If stakeholders and those involved in data programs believe in the why they will be inspired to support the change required to implement the how. “Why” is a driver by providing meaning and value to the work people do and the products and services they produce.

Once an organizational culture establishes trust and purpose, others feel comfortable engaging with it and even start to become curious about the work. That is when the door opens to begin building a data culture. In essence, a data culture is developed when individuals throughout the organization make the governance, management, sharing, and appropriate use of data their personal responsibility where leaders play a particularly critical role in promoting a data culture.

 Once an organizational culture establishes trust and purpose, others feel comfortable engaging with it and even start to become curious about the work 

The organizational leader serves as a facilitator and catalyst for data initiatives that contribute to developing the data culture. The big picture and the factors driving the organization, including its existing culture, must be understood first. This assessment of the current culture is an initial step in defining the vision for the organization, the new culture they wish to create, and what strategic action will get them there.

The importance of executive support and leadership cannot be understated. It is imperative that C-level executives walk the talk with regards to data culture. Leaders demonstrate the behaviors they expect from others and set standards that provide a rules network with appropriate role-modeling. In addition, effective leadership encourages a culture of continuous improvement not perpetual crisis management. For the data culture to develop, employees need to see organizational leaders actively engaged in the governance process and accept full responsibility for data quality within their respective business units. Leaders must understand the business first, before they can effectively leverage technology solutions that will drive the organization forward. Data is a business asset, not a technology asset and should be governed as such. Furthermore, collecting and managing data is not enough. Leaders must derive intelligence from the data assets collected to make actionable informed decisions.

If data programs and initiatives are to be successful, start with people. A data culture begins with people understanding the importance and value of data within the organization and then matures into people engaged with and utilizing data to make informed decisions. The next step to transform data and information into actionable intelligence involves inspiring the engaged workforce through communities of interest and practice. People feel more connected and engaged when they are part of a larger community. The sense of belonging fuels a deeper level of engagement. 

A critical skill for building communities is relationship management through collaborations, coalitions, and over communication. Data cultures begin and end with people; data is just the currency that increases in value the more it’s shared. People, processes, and technology in that order.

Whether it is a new data-sharing platform, a data analytics project, or a governance framework, the catalyst that can move it all forward is people. Creating the awareness about data ignites data discovery that leads to engagement, which fosters inspiration to create the change that empowers people within the organization to become data-driven decision makers.

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