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Practical Steps to Building an Analytics Culture

| Jan 17, 2016 432 views No Comments

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Building an analytics culture in the enterprise is incredibly important. It’s far more important than any single capability, technology or technique. But building culture isn’t easy. You can’t buy it. You can’t proclaim it. You can’t implement it.

There is, of course, a vast literature on building culture in the enterprise. But if the clumsy, heavy-handed, thoroughly useless attempts to “build culture” that I’ve witnessed over the course of my working life are any evidence, that body of literature is nearly useless.

Here’s one thing I know for sure: you don’t build culture by talk. I don’t care whether it’s getting teenagers to practice safe-sex or getting managers to use analytics, preaching virtue doesn’t work, has never worked and will never work. Telling people to be data-driven, proclaiming your commitment to analytics, touting your analytics capabilities: none of this builds analytics culture.

If there’s one thing that every young employee has learned in this era, it’s that fancy talk is cheap and meaningless. People are incredibly sophisticated about language these days. We can sit in front of the TV and recognize in a second whether we’re seeing a commercial or a program. Most of us can tell the difference between a TV show and movie almost at a glance. We can tune out advertising on a Website as effortlessly as we put on our pants. A bunch of glib words aren’t going to fool anyone. You want to know what the reaction is to your carefully crafted, strategic consultancy driven mission statement or that five year “vision” you spent millions on and just rolled out with a cool video at your Sales Conference? Complete indifference.

That’s if you’re lucky…if you didn’t do it really well, you got the eye-roll.

But it isn’t just that people are incredibly sensitive – probably too sensitive – to BS. It’s that even true, sincere, beautifully reasoned words will not build culture. Reading moral philosophy does not create moral students. Not because the words aren’t right or true, but because behaviors are, for the most part, not driven by those types of reasons.

That’s the whole thing about culture.

Culture is lived, not read or spoken. To create it, you have to ingrain it in people’s thinking. If you want a data-driven organization, you have to create good analytic habits. You have to make the organization (and you too) work right.

How do you do that?

You do it by creating certain kinds of process and behaviors that embed analytic thinking. Do enough of that, and you’ll have an analytic culture. I guarantee it. The whole thrust of this recent series of posts is that by changing the way you integrate analytics, voice-of-customer, journey-mapping and experimentation into the enterprise, you can drive better digital decision making. That’s building culture. It’s my big answer to the question of how you build analytics culture.

But I have some small answers as well. Here, in no particular order, are practical ways you can create importantly good analytics habits in the enterprise.

Analytic Reporting

What it is: Changing your enterprise reporting strategy by moving from reports to tools. Analytic models and forecasting allow you to build tools that integrate historical reporting with forecasting and what-if capabilities. Static reporting is replaced by a set of interactive tools that allow users to see how different business strategies actually play-out.

Why it build analytics culture: With analytics reporting, you democratize knowledge not data. It makes all the difference in the world. The analytic models capture your best insight into how a key business works and what levers drive performance. Building this into tools not only operationalizes the knowledge, it creates positive feedback loops to analytics. When the forecast isn’t right, everyone know it and the business is incented to improve its understanding and predictive capabilities. This makes for better culture in analytics consumers and analytics producers.

Cadence of Communications

What it is: Setting up regular briefings between analytics and your senior team and decision-makers. This can include review of dashboards but should primarily focus on answers to previous business questions and discussion of new problems.

Why it builds analytics culture: This is actually one of the most important things you can do. It exposes decision-makers to analytics. It makes it easy for decision-makers to ask for new research and exposes them to the relevant techniques. Perhaps even more important, it lets decision-makers drive the analytics agenda, exposes analysts to real business problems, and forces analysts to develop better communication skills.

C-Suite Advisor

What it is: Create an Analytics Minister-without-portfolio whose sole job is to advise senior decision-makers on how to use, understand and evaluate the analytics, the data and the decisions they get.

Why it builds analytics culture: Most senior executives are fairly ignorant of the pitfalls in data interpretation and the ins-and-outs of KPIs and experimentation. You can’t send them back to get a modern MBA, but you can give them a trusted advisor with no axe to grind. This not only raises their analytics intelligence, it forces everyone feeding them information to up their game as well. This tactic is also critical because of the next strategy…

Walking the Walk

What it is: Senior Leaders can talk tell they are blue in the face about data-driven decision-making. Nobody will care. But let a Senior Leader even once use data or demand data around a decision they are making and the whole organization will take notice.

Why it builds analytics culture: Senior leaders CAN and DO have a profound impact on culture but they do so by their behavior not their words. When the leaders at the top use and demand data for decisions, so will everyone else.

Tagging Standards

What it is: A clearly defined set of data collection specifications that ensure that every piece of content on every platform is appropriately tagged to collect a rich set of customer, content, and behavioral data.

Why it builds analytics culture: This ends the debate over whether tags and measurement are optional. They aren’t. This also, interestingly, makes measurement easier. Sometimes, people just need to be told what to do. This is like choosing which side of the road to drive on – it’s far more important that you have a standard that which side of the road you pick. Standards are necessary when an organization needs direction and coordination. Tagging is a perfect example.

CMS and Campaign Meta-Data

What it is: The definition of and governance around the creation of campaign and content meta-data. Every piece of content and every campaign element should have detailed, rich meta-data around the audience, tone, approach, contents, and every other element that can be tuned and analyzed.

Why it builds analytics culture: Not only is meta-data the key to digital analytics – providing the meaning that makes content consumption understandable, but rich meta-data definition guides useful thought. These are the categories people will think about when they analyze content and campaign performance. That’s as it should be and by providing these pre-built, populated categorizations, you’ll greatly facilitate good analytics thinking.

Rapid VoC

What it is: The technical and organizational capability to rapidly create, deploy and analyze surveys and other voice-of-customer research instruments.

Why it builds analytics culture: This is the best capability I know for training senior decision-makers to use research. It’s so cheap, so easy, so flexible and so understandable that decision-makers will quickly get spoiled. They’ll use it over and over and over. Well – that’s the point. Nothing builds analytics muscle like use and getting this type of capability deeply embedded in the way your senior team thinks and works will truly change the decision-making culture of the enterprise.

SPEED and Formal Continuous Improvement Cycles

What it is: The use of a formal methodology for digital improvement. SPEED provides a way to identify the best opportunities for digital improvement, the ways to tackle those opportunities, and the ability to measure the impact of any changes. It’s the equivalent of Six Sigma for digital.

Why it builds analytics culture: Formal methods make it vastly easier for everyone in the organization to understand how to get better. Methods also help define a set of processes that organizations can build their organization around. This makes it easier to grow and scale. For large enterprises, in particular, it’s no surprise that formal methodologies like Six Sigma have been so successful. They make key cultural precepts manifest and attach processes to them so that the organizational inertia is guided in positive directions.

Does this seem like an absurdly long list? In truth I’m only about half-way through. But this post is getting LONG. So I’m going to save the rest of my list for next week. Till then, here’s some final thoughts on creating an analytics culture.

The secret to building culture is this: everything you do builds culture. Some things build the wrong kind of culture. Some things the right kind. But you are never not building culture. So if you want to build the right culture to be good at digital and decision-making, there’s no magic elixir, no secret sauce. There is only the discipline of doing things right. Over and over.

That being said, not every action is equal. Some foods are empty of nutrition but empty, too, of harm. Others positively destroy your teeth or your waistline. Still others provide the right kind of fuel. The things I’ve described above are not just a random list of things done right, they are the small to medium things that, done right, have the biggest impacts I’ve seen on building a great digital and analytics culture. They are also targeted to places and decisions which, done poorly, will deeply damage your culture.

I’ll detail some more super-foods for analytics culture in my next post!

[Get your copy of Measuring the Digital World – the definitive guide to the discipline of digital analytics – to learn more].

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