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Workforce Enablement

3 Tips for CEOs on Fostering a Data-Driven Culture

Former OkCupid, Tinder innovator offers advice for fellow CEOs on how to build a culture that puts data at the center of decision-making

Data lies at the heart of digital transformation, but many executive leaders struggle to get their entire organizations to effectively use data to shape business decisions. A huge part of that struggle rests in organizational culture.

Earlier this year, a C-suite survey showed that 77% of organizations struggle to adopt data initiatives and only 5% of those said the obstacles were technology related. The report’s results indicated that a lack of data-driven culture was the bigger culprit. Fewer than one in three organizations said they’d instilled a data-driven culture in their workforce.

Longtime CEO Sam Yagan understands all too well how a data-driven culture can make or break an organization’s success. He’s spent over 20 years leading organizations of all shapes and sizes. He was part of the executive team that led OkCupid’s growth and eventual acquisition by The Match Group. He eventually took over that company as CEO and was there to lead the rise of the dating firm’s Tinder app. And several years ago he jumped into a different online arena when he took the post as CEO of ecommerce membership company ShopRunner.

In a recent interview with McKinsey, Yagan explained that when he arrived at ShopRunner, data was his top priority.

“From day one I made it clear to everybody that we were going to make decisions based on data,” he says, explaining that he was forthright with the fact that people who didn’t follow this agenda wouldn’t fit in with the culture he was about to build.

There are three big ways he plans to foster a data-driven culture at ShopRunner in the ensuing years:

Use Data Experience as a Hiring Filter

Just as he warned that there were some people at ShopRunner who’d need to be weeded out due to poor organizational fit, Yagan also made it clear that they’d need to look for new people who’d be an ideal fit. Which required getting the company to start recruiting and hiring based on candidate’s experience with data.

“When we hired people, we used data experience as a selection filter,” he says. “We asked direct questions such as, “How have you used data in the past to make decisions?”

Enforce Data-Driven Decisions by Executives

There’s nothing more powerful than leading by example, which is why Yagan made sure that executives were modeling data-driven behavior.

“When workers see the executive team making data-based decisions, it becomes easy for that kind of decision making to flow through the organization,” he says. “When workers hear the executive team talking about making decisions in that way, they say, ‘Of course they’re going to expect me to make decisions in a similar way.’”

Democratize Data Analysis

Finally, Yagan considers the democratization of business analytics as a business game-changer. His executives expect employees to become citizen data scientists by regularly using the systems the company has put in place to make data easy to access and analyze by anyone.

To get to this stage it’s taken the institution of training programs and processes to ensure every employee knows how to ‘fish’ for data.

“When somebody comes to the analytics team with a request and says, ‘Hey, I’d like you to run this report,’ the analytics team is expected to not just send the report but also teach the person how to run it in the future and make sure that the request doesn’t come in again,” he says.

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1 comment

S Obijiski April 22, 2019 at 4:06 pm

Many businesses fail to see the need for changing the culture and will fail at the implementation of data democratization and advanced analytics. It is imperative that a business that wishes to move to a self-serve business intelligence and analytical environment take the steps to champion the cause, to inform the organization and to support the shifts in processes, activities and expectations that exist in the old culture.


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