While business leaders feel data holds the key to better decision making, only 15% of companies increased their data expertise during the pandemic

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  • Three quarters (75%) of business leaders believe hard data plays an important role in quality business conversations but a quarter (26%) feel the pandemic has caused decisions to be made quickly and without the use of data
  • Executives who think the pandemic had an overall positive impact on business conversations are more likely to have used more data during the pandemic (48% vs. 16% for those who had a negative perception)
  • Not understanding data is the biggest barrier to not using it more to evolve business conversations according to the majority (59%) of UK execs
  • Fewer than three in ten (28%) British C-suite executives believe the pandemic has made employees more comfortable with stats 
  • Only 18% use data analytics platforms on a daily basis to drive conversations around business strategy or transformation.

LONDON - 8 October 2021 - A study of C-suite executives across the United Kingdom (UK) has identified a major concern with data literacy in UK businesses. The YouGov survey, commissioned by Tableau, found that only 28% of executives feel the pandemic has made employees more comfortable with stats, despite Covid-19 putting data analysis high on the public consciousness and forcing businesses to transform rapidly.

The global study questioned 1,977 executives from the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Brazil, Singapore, Japan and Australia, with business leaders from the UK feeling the most pessimistic about employees’ data handling improvements.

Data usage in the business

Despite the majority (75%) of UK business leaders acknowledging data plays an important role in having quality business conversations and decision making, when asked if they are using more or less data since the pandemic as a business, only three in ten (30%) responded they were using more. Again, the UK was the lowest of all European markets surveyed.

Even though seven in ten leaders (77%) said that data reduces uncertainty and drives more accurate decision making, a quarter (26%) of C-suite executives feel the pandemic has caused decisions to be made quickly without the use of data. Interestingly, of those executives who think the pandemic had an overall positive impact on business conversations are more likely to have used more data during the pandemic (61% vs. 28% for those who had a negative perception).


Data usage in meetings

The research outlines that since the pandemic, the physical dynamics of business meetings has changed how data is used. While the biggest positive about remote meetings is the ability to have more people join the conversation (chosen by 62% of respondents), the pandemic has revealed to over half (51%) of UK executives that teams are not sharing data effectively.

When data is shared, it’s not understood. The research unveils that the majority of executives (59%, the highest of any market surveyed) feel a lack of understanding and being unable to generate insights from data (44%) are the biggest barriers to evolving and improving meetings. Perhaps most worryingly, the data shows executives are most concerned about numerical literacy and understanding data in businesses where everyone uses data to make decisions.

Is the boardroom setting a bad example?

The research finds that the pandemic has not prompted business leaders to use more data when making boardroom decisions. Only 15% of UK executives have increased data usage in meetings during the pandemic, the lowest of all nine markets surveyed and the sector where data use the lowest in the UK is retail. Also, only 18% use data analytics platforms on a daily basis to drive conversations around business strategy or transformation. 

Dan Pell, EMEA GM and SVP at Tableau comments: “Executives know data enables better business conversations and accelerates decision making. So it’s no wonder that boardrooms are concerned that businesses are not emerging from the pandemic with data decision making and data literacy at the core. Employees need support accessing, understanding and interpreting data in all meetings - remote, hybrid or in person - in order to empower them to ask questions, and find insights that matter, so the right decisions are made at the right time.

Professor Ivo Vlaev, Professor of Behaviour Science at Warwick Business School, Warwick University, commented: “As a result of the pandemic, data has become a more critical part of decision making, likely due to constant consumer bombardment with data that enable policy makers, businesses, and society to fight the virus and adapt. Yet only a relatively small proportion of managers use data regularly in decision making. Establishing a data culture comes from the top. The research lays bare that business leaders can talk the talk but there’s a long way to go until they fully walk the walk. Until employees see executives making decisions with data and telling corporate stories supported by stats, we can’t expect the wider business to embrace data. A data culture is not created by simply giving employees access to it.”

Vlaev continued: “Today’s zeitgeist is that numbers rule the world, mainly because data allows us to avoid the perils of interpretation. The research confirms that it’s important for business leaders that all parties have access to the same data when discussing strategic business decisions. It’s also important that all departments are able to access data to aid their decision making.  This shared perspective fosters a sense of shared vision, trust, and ‘mutual alignment from stakeholders’. In our Covid/ hybrid working world, it is particularly important that all teams have access to the same data. Businesses need to avoid creating digital islands/ silos where data is not visible if employees are off-site.


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About the research

From 6-17 August 2021, YouGov surveyed 1,977 C-suite business leaders in the UK (217 respondents), France (232), Germany (220), Spain (214), Sweden (215),  Brazil (224), Singapore ( 224), Japan (209) and Australia (222). 


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