By Mark Nelson
March 20, 2022
Leaders looking for competitive advantages in every facet of their business—from operations and sales to recruiting and retention–cite employees’ data skills as a top need. But when it comes to providing those data-training opportunities, companies keep failing.
Recently, my company, Tableau, commissioned Forrester Consulting to explore organizational issues and challenges in data literacy and cultures. The research found that nearly 82% of decision-makers expect every employee in their department to have at least basic data literacy. Yet, less than half of the workers surveyed say they have been offered data training by their organization.
Even more surprising: Nearly three-fourths of decision-makers hold the optimistic—if unrealistic—belief that employees should improve their own data skills, pushing them to pick them up through ad hoc means, like on-the-job knowledge from coworkers as well as just their own practice.
It’s time to end the talk and commit to upskilling your people with data. The question of who is responsible for providing data skills and closing the gap should be no more.
One thing business leaders and workers agree on: the value of data. Forrester found that decision-makers and employees in every department consider basic data skills the single most important skill needed to drive employee success. By 2025, nearly 70% of employees are expected to use data heavily in their jobs, nearly doubling since 2018.
This is not restricted to the traditional realm of analysts and data scientists; it’s applicable to every worker in every role. So, where does one start?
Here are three ways employers can invest time, resources, and training to help their employees understand and work with data.
Formalize an in-house data literacy program
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, implementing company-wide data skills training, even starting a data literacy program in-house if possible, is the first step. Top leadership needs to buy in and set an example. Learn these data skills and start every meeting with data. Everyone in management positions should use data to support their decisions and explain why and how they used them to come to those conclusions.
Customize data training for people’s roles
A sales representative doesn’t need the same level of knowledge as a data scientist, but they both should be able to use data in their roles. All current employees and new hires should be offered training. Consider strategic partners for data training to help ease the process. Consulting partners, technology vendors, data literacy specialists, and others can supply a wide variety of on-demand, in-person, individual or group training for specific technologies and roles tailored for your organization.
Foster a strong data culture throughout your organization
While implementing a training program is imperative, it needs to be backed by a truly committed, holistic approach. Organizations should explore and pursue powerful training complements, like “office hours” with data experts who can help colleagues with questions and challenges. Every decision should be based on data, with everyone seeing, sharing, and using the same data sets.
By encouraging data use and starting conversations with data, the transition to becoming a truly data-driven organization becomes possible and part of the day-to-day workflow.
Investing in data skills is worth it
Investments in data are happening across all industries, with leaders including Jaguar Land Rover already seeing tangible returns from their data initiatives. Clive Benford, the company’s data officer director, identifies the long-term value of data as “existence”—noting 96-fold returns on their data investments. He’s even gone as far to say, “If you don’t become a data-driven business, I don’t think you’ll be here in 20 years.”
Data has also proven essential to business operations for the Seattle Seahawks, whose CRO Amy Sprangers associates winning with their “data-driven culture” and the ability to analyze areas for betterment.
You can’t argue with the numbers. Organizations that commit to data literacy efforts see benefits, such as enhanced innovation, greater customer experiences, better decision-making, reduced costs, improved retention, and increased revenues.
When it comes to investing in data skills, the question is no longer who is responsible—it should be how do we fast-track our way to becoming a data culture by getting everyone onboard.
Mark Nelson is president and CEO of Tableau, a Salesforce company, which is working toward its 10 Million Data People initiative to train at least 10 million people with data skills over the next 5 years.