In college, I had a short-lived and hilarious dream that I could learn to play lacrosse. I suppose I was attracted to the glamour of running wind sprints for two hours while being hit with titanium poles.
Alas, the dream was not to be. When I showed up to my first pick-up game, I had no idea what a “slide” was, didn’t realize “clamping” had anything to do with face-offs, and had no idea where “the box” was.
I lacked lacrosse literacy.
The problem’s the same with business intelligence software. Except, data literacy is the key factor.
If you want your employees to use the $3,000-per-license business intelligence software you bought, they need to be data literate first. Otherwise, that BI tool will be as useless as a lacrosse stick was in my hands.
Fortunately, Gartner research can help you and your team get data literate. They’ve come up with multiple strategic suggestions that you can implement at your business.
What Is Data Literacy?
Data literacy means you “speak” data the way you might speak any other foreign language.
Data Literacy Is the Gateway to Business Intelligence
At its heart, business intelligence software is a data-wrangling program.
BI software programs organize all your data sources (website data, CRM data, email data, financial and POS data) and let you see how those data sources interact (for example, did sales increase when you changed the colors on your website?).
So, until your employees are literate with the data your business intelligence tool wrangles, they won’t know how to wrangle their business intelligence tool.
The data literate person knows what data they’re tracking, where it’s stored, and how it fits together. That’s not all they know, though.
Data literacy is also a way of thinking in terms of data. The data literate person doesn’t just think in generic terms—such as, did sales increase? They think in terms of data—did Q1 website conversions among women ages 18 to 34 increase as a result of that email campaign?
How To Teach Your Employees Data Literacy
Most employees, however, probably don’t think in terms of data, which presents you with another challenge: How do you get your employees to start thinking in terms of data?
1. Employees need to know what data literacy is
Becoming literate in any new lingo is challenging … especially when people don’t know that lingo even exists.
Chances are, most of your employees aren’t even aware that data literacy is a concept. So if you want your employees to use your BI software, you’ll have to introduce data literacy first and explain why it matters.
And don’t just introduce the concept of data literacy once. Introduce it repeatedly.
No, “introduce repeatedly” is not an oxymoron. Since learning how to speak (and think) data is a major change, a single introduction probably won’t stick. They may forget at first, and that’s natural.
Case in point: As a one-time substitute teacher, I got several classes to make a major change by introducing that change gradually.
The English teacher I subbed for allowed cell phone use in her classes. Predictably, the students were learning next to nothing, though their Candy Crush scores were amazing, and they Snapchatted all their paper cuts. About a month into the gig, I decided to ban cell phones.
The change only worked because I introduced it gradually—I announced I would start the policy on a set date, explained why I was doing it, and reminded students to leave phones in their lockers.
If students brought their phones with them, they could put it in a plastic box at the front of the room when class started. If their phone rang while in the box, I’d leave it alone. If it rang while on them, I’d answer it in a loud and public fashion, and they’d go to the principal’s office.
Though the notion of spending even 45 minutes without their phones was horrifying for most of them, the policy worked well because I gradually introduced the concept of class without phones.
2. Employees need to speak data
Once employees know what data literacy is, they need to learn to “speak” data.
Gartner analyst Valerie Logan suggests you approach learning to speak data the same way you would any foreign language and even refers to the process as ISL, or information as a second language. (Full Gartner research is available to clients.)
3. Employees need to speak data to each other
Practice makes perfect, so speak data regularly until it becomes a habit.
As Gartner analysts Alan Duncan and Lydia Clougherty Jones suggest, the best data-driven companies focus consciously on this goal. They don’t just speak data, they interact in terms of data. They use data as a way to build inter-team trust, presenting evidence and keeping an eye open for problems such as confirmation bias. (Full Gartner research is available to clients.)
4. Employees need to speak data frequently
Ideally, brown bags and discussion groups will be your first step on the way to data literacy immersion.
Immersion’s the best way to learn to speak a foreign language, and speaking data is no different.
What Are Your Experiences With Data Literacy?
Has your small business successfully learned to be data literate? If so, let me know in the comments below!
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