Data Advocacy: 5 Ways To Champion A Big Data Transformation

As a data advocate, you can champion efforts to give employees  the skills they will need to power your company's data transformation.

Data Advocacy Ways to Champion a Big Data Transformation | Correlation One

Is your company investing in data-driven transformation? Future-proofing your organization’s workforce depends on it. The acceleration of digital transformation relies on data, sure, but ultimately it’s your people who make, process, and contextualize the data so that it creates value for your firm. 

In 2022, data literacy is a fundamental professional capability for all workers. Organizations that fail to systematically develop data literacy through targeted upskilling risk being left behind. 

Surprisingly, most organizations are already lagging. A 2022 Forrester survey found that 82% of corporate decision makers expect all their employees to have at least basic data literacy, but just 40% of employees say their company has trained them on the data skills they need. 

How Are Most Companies Training Employees on Data? 

Although employee data literacy is critical and many employees want to build their data skills, most companies are not providing the data training that their talent needs. When they do try to tackle data training, the end result is often lackluster, owing in part to a shortage of quality corporate data training solutions.

To address this problem over the last decade, employers have turned to online learning resources and MOOCs to help  their workforces develop essential data skills. 

Yet it’s no secret that the completion rate for these self-paced, non-personalized learning platforms is chronically low. Expecting workers to log into generic training modules on their own time, practice skills to acquire a professional competency, and then identify ways to apply these tools and skills in their day-to-day workful is unrealistic.

Are you nodding your head? Are you imagining what could be possible if all your colleagues were on the same page when interpreting data? Are you thinking about projects that could go faster if cross-functional teams knew how to use the data tools available to them? 

If so, then you may be the data advocate your company needs to bring about a data transformation. 

What Is a Data Advocate?

Within their respective organizations, data advocates spark critical conversations with decision makers and leaders about the need to create a data-driven culture. 

As internal influencers versed in a specific company’s mission, goals, and strategic objectives, data advocates are well-positioned to align key stakeholders to create a data culture and unlock their tech stack’s full potential. 

What Role Can Data Advocates Play in Big Data Transformations?

In a perfect world, the drive for employee data training would come from the top. Alas, that’s not usually the case. Senior leaders are often far removed from the day-to-day challenges business units face when applying data to their problems. Some may also lack necessary skills to fully understand the value in data.

At Correlation One, we meet many employees who are personally motivated to elevate their organizations’ data capabilities. Willing to go beyond their remits to push for positive change, these voluntary data advocates are dedicated to addressing real challenges their colleagues and subordinates face.

When they first reach out to us, internal advocates often share that data transformation has stalled in their companies, especially in organizations where data is seen as IT’s obligation rather than everyone’s responsibility. (In fact, if all your data knowledge is concentrated heavily within your technology teams, your data transformation probably has stalled already.)

The idea of lobbying leaders to tackle data literacy improvement may feel like a tall order, especially if you lack experience in L&D or organizational change management. 

The good news? We’re here to help new data advocates.


5 Ways to Champion a Big Data Transformation

Below are a few road-tested advocacy ideas for how data advocates can kickstart a data culture movement with their organizations. 


1. Identify specific examples where data-driven projects have already added value to your business.

By itself, “data literacy training” may be a difficult budget line item to justify, especially in an uncertain economic climate. 

For instance, did your SalesOps team have a breakthrough using Salesforce Einstein Analytics? Perhaps they identified a strong correlation between buyers who read a specific white paper and larger contract sizes? 

Great! Now, share that story with your boss, helping her to understand how this finding came about. Highlight who identified the opportunity. Underscore what skills and projects helped. Invite your boss and other key stakeholders to imagine what would happen if more staff were prepared to make those discoveries.


2. Explore promising data-driven projects that came up short.

Keeping with our example from above, after SalesOps found its “breakthrough insight” did your sales team act on this insight? Or did they fail to take the necessary steps to convert insight into action?

For every staff member attuned to possibilities data can unleash, there are probably 3x more people who are skeptical or downright opposed to acting upon said insights. Established business professionals often feel threatened by ideas that challenge their “tried-and-true” methods. When an incredible opportunity is perceived as a threat, non-data literate workers become more entrenched in their ways.

Plus, when data-driven insights are presented as “black box” solutions, non-data literate workers will be skeptical. They may be uncomfortable admitting their lack of understanding, feel intimidated or frustrated, and even go so far as to work against their best interests. In a changing environment, established workers may seek to maintain their authority by digging in their heels against data transformation.

As a data advocate, however, you can work to help leaders see that broad data literacy training holds the promise of nurturing understanding and growing confidence. When your business experts and your data experts are aligned, your organization is ready to build data culture. 


3. Take a hard look at that expensive data platform — and consider why it never lived up to the hype. 

We’ve all heard the pitches: 

“A magical new software just hit the market that will transform everything about your business. By transitioning your workflows to one, unified platform, valuable insights about your business will be available for everyone from the frontlines to the C-Suite, transforming the way you do everything.”

Yet after a lengthy InfoSec approval process, a six-month integration, three months of user onboarding, and two-year subscription … your organization is still doing most of its analytical work in Microsoft Excel siloes. 

Now, your counterparts who chose to invest in new tools were probably on the right track: Fragmented pools of data housed in departmental silos and inconsistent data governance can create an environment where it’s virtually impossible to see the big data picture. Many modern, cloud-based data tools provide incredible opportunities for organizations to unify their data and establish org-wide data governance.  

Agnostic of the tool, however, if users are not properly taught how to use new tools, or worse yet, if users are afraid to make mistakes in these new tools, then the world’s best tool will never live up to its promise.

Yet when all relevant employees have the data skills they need, feel confident using the company’s data analytics tools, and grasp how to interpret and communicate about data, then everyone will be poised to find value in the data, extract it, and use it to advance organizational goals. 


4. Ask questions that connect business challenges with the need for improved data literacy.

Data advocates see the connection between operational pain points and data literacy, and they help others do so by asking great questions, including:

    • Can staff communicate effectively using data?
    • Do data professionals within your organization understand how data is being used by the business? 
    • Does your organization use consistent terminology with respect to data? Or are different teams using different language(s)?
    • Are there standardized processes for data collection, storage, and interpretation?  Do all employees understand these processes?
    • Can leaders and managers distinguish between general and specialized data skill sets? Where are skill gaps evident in the workforce?

5. Develop a cross-functional data advocacy team.

As you begin to talk about these concerns, you’ll likely be met with a mix of resistance and acceptance. Lean into the later group with an eye to recruiting like-minded souls. Create a team of data advocates aligned across business functions.

Gain alignment by puzzling through some of the strategies above to determine which ones will gain the most traction internally. Share articles and resources that illustrate how other businesses and various functional areas (e.g., HR, sales, marketing) can use data to meet KPIs and advance business goals. Host lunch and learn sessions. Conduct surveys. Meet together with possible training providers. Nurture excitement, interest, and demand to build momentum.

By working with what each of you knows about the company, your leadership, your subject areas, and the potential data holds, your advocacy team can present a stronger, more compelling case for change.

Where Might Your Data Advocacy Lead?

When you first begin championing data transformation, you may feel like you’re at the bottom of a steep learning curve. Even if you’re confident about what’s possible, you may feel anxious or worry about possible blockers to success, both seen and unseen. 

Remember: Bringing about dramatic change to culture, attitudes, and skill sets takes time, patience, and courage — especially when it comes to data advocacy. Gradually, company-wide competence and confidence with data will start to spark an appetite for better, stronger data.

This will help drive excellence in the core data science team, promoting deeper insights and innovation. Flywheels start moving. People show signs of engagement. At last, your company’s big-data transformation is officially underway.

As the data advocate who saw the potential for change months or years before anyone else, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you played an important role. By driving early, internal conversations about what “data driven” means, you will have taken the critical first steps toward helping everyone discover what they can contribute toward data transformation. 

Want more ideas, tips, and strategies for championing your organization’s Big Data transformation? Talk with us.