Why better business conversations are rooted in data

For many employees working across a wide range of industries, such as retail, manufacturing, telecoms, and financial services, the ability to interpret data is now an everyday, essential task. Once only the dominion of those within data analytics and business intelligence teams, employees across an organisation, whether from the finance, HR or marketing departments, are now having to develop a wider understanding of data, using shared numbers and dashboards to make collective, informed decisions.

The fact that employees across organisations of all shapes and sizes are now having to deal with data on a regular basis should surprise no one. It has been a quiet revolution but a revolution none the less. The issue for many businesses is not whether they have the data, or even whether it’s accessible, it’s about ensuring that anyone, in any part of the organisation, has the ability to get value from it. And in most cases, the value is not in the data itself or even in the insights that can be derived from it, but from the decisions that are made on the back of it.

For most organisations this requires a real transformation. It means taking the data beyond the analyst teams and into the business. However, such a transformation can’t happen without encouragement from the top, nor will it be an overnight shift. C-suite executives must be the drivers for change, promoting a culture of data literacy that enhances business conversations. In time, data-driven organisations will produce data literate employees that embrace insights to help their respective businesses sharpen their competitive edge in a recovering global economy, but it will require encouragement.

The issue for many businesses is not whether they have the data, or even whether it’s accessible, it’s about ensuring that anyone, in any part of the organisation, has the ability to get value from it. And in most cases, the value is not in the data itself or even in the insights that can be derived from it, but from the decisions that are made on the back of it.

Whose responsibility is it to promote a data culture, and why is it not happening already?

Data use should be driven top down, and bottom up within a business. There is a common misconception that underlying advanced data skills are required, and that is where things have changed - with the democratisation of data. It’s the combination of data skills, technology and human insight that businesses need to efficiently utilise big data sets and find for insights.

The research found that the reasons for a data culture not existing already are as follows:

  • 52% state that there’s a lack of understanding surrounding existing data
  • 41% believe there’s a lack of ability to generate insights from data
  • 34% lack trust in data
  • 31% think that there’s too much data

Ultimately, managers that are overloaded with information are trapped in a decision paralysis. There is an overwhelming challenge of breaking down data silos across large businesses, with data from different business divisions becoming stranded on disparate digital islands. This issue was exacerbated during the pandemic.

There is a common misconception that underlying advanced data skills are required, and that is where things have changed - with the democratisation of data. It’s the combination of data skills, technology and human insight that businesses need to efficiently utilise big data sets and find for insights.

Attitudes towards data

Recently, Tableau commissioned a piece of research which looks at attitudes towards data among C-suite employers. The research, which polled 1,098 C-suite executives across Europe, found while more than half (56%) of UK business leaders believe the ability to understand insights from data is one of the most important skills for driving quality business conversations, only 12% believe that storytelling is important - suggesting that many senior executives are now prioritising hard facts over narratives when making key business decisions. It’s a strategy that can transform businesses, as data-driven conversations build loyalty with a workforce that’s energised and empowered by investment in their professional development.

Interestingly, 37% of respondents said formal conversations are most important, followed by 32% combination of formal/informal, and 31% informal. The pandemic has had a negative impact on all of these conversations whether formal or informal, people can’t pick up on non-verbal cues, gaps in information sharing, but mostly informal chats have suffered.

To encourage personal growth and energise employees, workers need space and information to accurately reflect their thoughts. Effective business conversations promote an efficient working environment, and business leaders should be looking to encourage them at any opportunity.

What are the barriers to productive business conversations?

To encourage personal growth and energise employees, workers need space and information to accurately reflect their thoughts. Effective business conversations promote an efficient working environment, and business leaders should be looking to encourage them at any opportunity. According to Tableau research, one of the biggest barriers to productive business conversations is a lack of data (33%). A lack of data impacts the trust employees have on business conversations, as there’s no information to justify their point. It leads to an impact on a businesses ability to work efficiently if gaps in information sharing are present.

Clearly, business leaders feel data in business conversations is important, but very few have well established data cultures in place at their organisations. According to our survey, only 19% of businesses report that everybody uses data in decision making.

Why is data so important?

Data and analytics can help a business predict consumer behavior, improve decision-making, market trends and determine the ROI of its marketing efforts. The clearer you can see your consumers, the easier it is to reach them. Our research shows that respondents believe it reduces uncertainty, helps improve accuracy (77%), keeps people focused (76%), and builds trust by demonstrating knowledge (76%).

Clearly business leaders feel data in business conversations is important, but very few have well established data cultures in place at their organisations. According to our survey, only 19% of businesses report that everybody uses data in decision making, a concerning stat that needs to be resolved through C-suite encouragement.

Practical solutions to boost data capabilities

Businesses must promote a data-first culture and make sure that board-level executives are educated on how to handle and process even the most basic sets of data. Only when a strong data culture is embedded, will businesses begin to see a positive impact on their bottom line.

Our research shows that businesses are losing valuable momentum due to inadequate data literacy skills. The onus is on businesses to promote a data-first culture, which includes educating at every level how to handle and process sets of data. Only when a strong data culture is implemented, will businesses begin to see a positive impact on their bottom line.

This blog is based on a piece of research commissioned by Tableau and carried out by YouGov, which looks at attitudes towards data among C-suite employers.

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