Data has the power to be transformative. We know that. Most of us are believers in the message that information is power. Armed with data, solutions are found to the business problems that challenge us.
In both the healthcare experience and nonprofit administration spaces with which I am familiar, the last decade has seen a tremendous investment in software and IT teams in an effort to harness this transformational power. With sincere intention to find solutions to business problems, the data has piled up and we continue to pile it on.
Over the next few years, the world is expected to produce data at a phenomenal rate. According to an article in Statista the total amount of data reached 64.2 zettabytes in 2020 and is expected to grow to more than 180 zettabytes by 2025. One zettabyte is approximately equal to 1,000 exabytes or 1 billion terabytes. It is hard to get your head around the sheer volume.
Videos like this one on You Tube make a good attempt to break down that immensely large number so that you can start to understand what a number that size really looks like!
Information IS power. Data DOES have the power to be transformative. But anything truly transformative gets everyone involved. Data has emerged as the new language of business.
Fifteen years ago, it may have been prudent to have the data collection and analysis relegated to a handful of organizational analysts who told the rest of the organizational leaders what to focus on. Having a few interpreters worked to translate the data for the whole, but the landscape has changed.
Data is now expected to drive decisions at every level, making it necessary for every leader to become more fluent. Data literacy and becoming fluent with data is something we can pursue as individuals. Being data-driven is something we can pursue at an organizational level for all decision makers.
In healthcare, the amount of data being collected to improve the experience of care has not resulted in any dramatic needle movement. A recent podcast episode from the Healthcare Plus Solutions Group explored "Why HCAHPS Scores Aren't Improving" with industry leaders. This has come up as a topic discussion as of late with much speculation as to why. Perhaps it has to do with the measurement tool itself or maybe it is an outcome of organizational governance, but I would like to suggest that we perhaps part of the problem is that we haven’t equipped enough change agents with the tools and autonomy to be more effective. We can do more to empower leaders at all levels to be data driven decision-makers?
Empowering decision-makers organization wide to understand, analyze, work with, and communicate with data is part of building data culture. And developing better data culture is essential to harnessing the power to drive meaningful change.
WHAT IS HEALTHY DATA CULTURE
An organization that empowers decision-makers at all levels to go, "hmmmm, I wonder what the data can tell me about...X and Y", is an organization that exhibits a data culture.
Creating a data-driven culture is about replacing gut feeling with decisions based on data. The main aim is to empower all employees to actively use data to enhance their daily work and to reach their potential by making decisions easier and more strategic.
A healthy data culture means that everyone recognizes that they are either a creator or consumer of the data. The safety and quality of the data is a shared responsibility in a data culture where there are high levels of data literacy.
WHAT A COMPANY SHOULD DO TO DEVELOP BETTER DATA CULTURE
Organizations can foster an environment that is more or less conducive to data empowerment. These organizations have environments in place that celebrate intellectual curiosity, innovation, and the iterative process. For your organization to be truly data-driven, be sure that the culture embraces these three qualities:
🧠 intellectual curiosity 💡 innovation 🔁 iteration
Organizations with a healthy data culture are ones who encourage their decision makers to grow and develop. Intellectual curiosity is the desire to learn something new, figure something out, or to make a discovery. Exhibiting intellectual curiosity means admitting that you don’t have all the answers.
It also means accessing the resources needed to satisfy the thirst for learning. Learning is an active process that takes energy and resources. The provision of training, mentors, and sabbaticals are offered along with the time to engage them.
Innovation is the introduction of a new method, idea, or product. The purpose of innovation is to come up with new ideas and technologies that increase productivity and generate greater output and value with the same input.
Organizations will a healthy data culture encourage their team members to come up with new ideas and ways of thinking that are outside-the-box out-of-the-box. I once worked for an organization that awarded innovation mini grants to encourage the development of new initiatives and programs by team members from any level of the organization.
Innovation is the exact opposite of doing things a certain way because that is how they have always been done. Entrenched processes, resistance to change, and risk-aversion all run counter to the innovation.
The iterative process embraces the fact that this is not a short-term quick fix. Intellectual curiosity leads to innovation, but it’s not likely to be the perfect solution right out of the gate. All too often, organizations go with one-and-done in the interest of saving time and money and are then surprised when it does not yield expected or immediate results. Embracing iteration requires a certain level of failure acceptance.
A data-driven business solution is likely to need to go under several evolutions before it is refined. Organizations that embrace iterative processes need to release pressure on their workers to have perfectly designed solutions right out the gate.
Have you heard of The Marshmallow Challenge? It is an exercise made famous by Tom Wujec in a Ted Talk . It is a facilitated group exercise in design, innovation, and prototyping. And what it shows time and again is that Kindergartners perform better at the iterative process than MBA’s. Why? Because the latter feel like they must have the correct solution before even trying a single design whereas the littles just start playing with design immediately. The Kindergartners outperform the MBA’s by doing and failing and doing again rather than wasting time in the limited planning phase.
Intellectual curiosity, innovation, and iteration all involve a certain level of vulnerability. Not having the answers and fear of failure are real threats to the professional ego.
In order to develop a culture that embraces these characteristics, members have to feel safe from psychological attack. And for members to experience psychological safety, a supportive communication climate needs to exist.
On the other hand, a defensive communication climate discourages openness and vulnerability. In a defensive climate, organizational members feel that they or their ideas will be criticized or judged.
A supportive communication climate fosters healthy organizational cultures, data or otherwise. I think we can agree on that! So, what hinders it? The communication behaviors expressed by those in the organization are what make the difference.
The following is a list of supportive and contrasting defensive behaviors with a sample statement for each. This is adapted from Communicating in Groups (Adams & Galanes), a text I am familiar with from teaching small group communication courses at the college.
DEFENSIVE VS SUPPORTIVE BEHAVIORS
Evaluation vs Description
Evaluation fosters defensiveness through the use of “you” language. Judgment and disapproval are indicated through words and tone of voice. “That’s a pretty dumb idea!”
Description minimizes defensiveness by seeking to understand the other’s point of view without making the other person wrong: “Tell me more about how your idea would work.”
Control vs Problem Orientation
Control is an attempt to dominate or change a person by insisting that things be done your way: “I want to do it this way, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
Problem orientation is an honest attempt to search for the best solution without having a predetermined idea of what the solution should be: “What ideas do you all have about how we might solve this?”
Manipulation vs Assertiveness
Manipulation is an attempt to use ambiguous or deceptive communication to achieve your own goals: “Don’t you really think that it would be better if we did it this way?”
Assertiveness is reacting honestly, openly, and freely: “I really like that, and here’s something else we could do….”
Indifference vs Empathy
Indifference is having little to no regard for the feelings or welfare of other group members: “We don’t have time to hear about your job issue right now; we have work to do.”
Empathy is communication that demonstrates, through word and action, care and concern for others: “You’re having an issue with your job? Is everything okay? Is there anything we can do to help?”
Superiority vs Equality
Superiority is communication that maximizes power and status differences by pulling rank: “Well, I am your supervisor, I believe I can make the final decision about how we do this.”
Equality communication minimizes power differences by treating all members of the team equally: “I know that I am your supervisor, but the solution belongs to everyone on the team. Don’t give my ideas any more weight than anyone else’s.”
Certainty vs Provisionalism
Certainty is dogmatic, know-it-all communication that indicates no debate is warranted because your way is the correct one: “I know exactly what we ought to do here, so I’ll take care of it.”
Provisionalism is being open to considering other’s suggestions fairly by being tentative in expressing your own opinions: “I have an idea I think might work….”
A healthy data culture empowers leaders at all levels to work with data effectively. A healthy data culture is fostered in a climate of supportive communication.
So, what should a company do to develop better data culture? The answer is to invest in the people. Organizations that have learned how to create healthy data culture exhibit three characteristics: intellectual curiosity, innovation, and iterative process. These three elements flourish in a supportive climate. Communication behaviors that foster a healthy data culture are essential for empowering leaders to be change agents for the human experience.
Roseanna Galindo, ECBA, CAVS
Roseanna Galindo is Principal at Periscope Business Process Analysis and a champion for data literacy, the human experience in healthcare, and leaders of volunteers everywhere. Learn more about Roseanna and her blog, The Periscope Insighter, by reading the opening post, Venn The Time Is Right.