Four Questions You Can Ask To Evaluate Your Data Culture

Dr. Jonathan Reichental
4 min readJul 18, 2023

Every organization has a data culture.

Even in the absence of any effort, a business will organically develop its values and behaviors. While it’s fair to say every organization has a data culture, that’s not the same thing as claiming every data culture is high-performing. In fact, some cultural behaviors that form around data could be detrimental to efforts. For example, an organization may rely on a set of reports, but fail to have a formal, periodic process to review and update those reports when it becomes necessary.

Data Culture is Necessary for Digital Transformation

In an era of digital transformation, businesses are investing trillions of dollars upgrading and replacing their systems, but according to research firm, IDC, 70 percent are struggling to succeed. Why? Because they are often introducing these new systems and processes into environments that aren’t ready. A large part of this lack of readiness is a data culture ill-prepared for the change. Yes, data culture.

To determine the extent of work required to build the data culture your organization desires will require an assessment of its current state. It will provide a sense of the gap between where things stand today and where you want them to be. Bridging the gap will be where the building takes place.

What is Data Culture?

Data culture is the overt manner in which an organization demonstrates how it values data and how it manages and uses it. There’s a big difference between simply using data as a consequence of running a business and considering data central to most operations and decision-making. If the former is a zero and the latter a ten, what number would you give your organization?

While many aspects of data management and governance can be evaluated quite quantitatively, an assessment of data culture will err towards qualitative analysis. There’s certainly going to be a subjective nature to it. Interviews, observations, and surveys are all approaches you can take. Comparing your organization to your competitive peer group, where possible, will help too.

Evaluating Your Data Culture

1. Is Data Being Prioritized?

Let’s begin with the acknowledgement of the importance of data to organizational success. One way to measure this is to determine how often leaders talk about and communicate the role of data. In addition, look at the extent in which leaders trust and use data in decision-making, the amount of investment they commit to managing and governing it, and the degree they use it to power the back and front office and innovation efforts.

2. Are Staff Empowered to Leverage Data?

Explore employee empowerment. In this area, you’ll need to consider the skills and training of leadership and staff. Who has data skills and what level are those skills at? You might also ask, who should have data skills, but don’t have them? The answers to this question can be sobering. Those that need the skills have often not acquired them. Asking each employee is a great starting point. Empowerment also includes whether employees can find and access the right tools and datasets when they need them.

3. Are Decisions Data-Driven?

Now let’s look at the decision-making process. Organizations that rely heavily on data-driven decision making and achieve positive results are inherently considered higher performing data cultures. Too many businesses still rely on the opinion of the HPPITR — that is, the Highest Paid Person In The Room. I know you’re smiling because you know it’s a real thing. In addition, gut feeling, instinct, and guesses all have their place, but they aren’t at the same level as data-driven decisions. It’s no overstatement that data culture is decision culture.

4. Do You Trust Your Data?

Finally, evaluate the extent in which the organization trusts data. This is a big one. If employees don’t have confidence in datasets this can point to some major problems that include quality and system issues, broken interfaces, data that isn’t being kept current, dubious and unreliable sources, and a whole lot more. It can also mean that leaders are relying only on experience and other inputs rather than data for making decisions. Employees easily pick up on these signals.

Assessing the maturity of a data culture isn’t easy, but it’s the right place to start before you consider any actions to create change. When you know where to start, the journey can begin.

Dr. Jonathan Reichental is an award-winning technologist and educator. This post is adapted from his popular online video course on building data-driven cultures. You can check out many of Dr. Reichental’s popular videos here:

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Dr. Jonathan Reichental

Multiple award-winning technology and business leader. Best-selling author. Professor. Idea machine.