The 4 conditions you need to satisfy before starting with a data literacy program

Aug 21, 2023

Based on an interview with Wouter Neef, Co-founder and CEO of Data Booster

How Wouter Neef learned the importance of data literacy

After over 7 years spent in analytics, Wouter Neef learned the importance of data literacy hands-on. “I worked in a business role, within the analytics organization, but I wasn’t data literate myself. This meant that I needed the data analysts to help me out regularly.”

Further in his career, a new employer provided him with a data literacy course that gave him the tools he needed to make data-driven decisions without any help, and in doing so, he became more successful and more efficient at his work.

Wouter is now at the helm of Data Booster, a company that creates custom data literacy courses for all types of businesses with, as he puts it, “data-driven decision making at its core, realized with 3 core values: hands-on, customizable and scalable.”

It has become his mission to make employees at the companies he works with data literate in their own right. Whether they are members of the analytics, product, supply, or marketing teams, through Data Booster they acquire the necessary knowledge to work with a data-driven mindset.

But which conditions need to be in place for a company to start a data literacy program? Neef paints us a picture with some hands-on examples from companies he has worked with in the past and present.

1. How a bank shows commitment to data literacy

According to Neef, the first condition that needs to be satisfied is that of having a lead-by-example management team. “If management or leadership does not see the value of data-driven decision making, you won’t get the budget or time to even get started on a program, let alone to create any type of momentum or awareness for data literacy within your company.”

In his experience, people are not fond of change. They like where they are and where they feel safe. Data often seems like a daunting subject. But, as Wouter says, when leadership shows its commitment by joining in, and by rewarding those who embrace the change, it will ignite a data-driven fire within the company. Wouter points out a bank in Australia, where this mentality shown by the management has proven to be extremely successful.

When following up with the Head of Retail at a bank, we were told: “Within my career, I have seen the positive impact a data-driven culture can have on a company’s success. These previous positive results made it clear to me that this is what I wanted to bring to this bank as well. I joined in the data challenges that were being organized to grow awareness. By doing so, I hoped to show others how data literacy can further the company, but also inspire employees to see the benefits for individual career development.”

Head of Retail at a bank

2. How a logistics company set the right data tools as a standard

Without the data, there’s nothing to go on. Having the right tools that make the data accessible to everyone who needs to use it, is a core condition before starting a data literacy program. Neef: “Using the same tools company-wide is definitely recommended, as this will make it easier to discuss data between different teams within the organization without needing unnecessary translating.”

He continues: “Another thing we always discuss with companies we work with is that there are many good quality tools out there, but we do suggest choosing wisely and then sticking with a tool. Courses can always be altered if a necessary switch has to be made, but it’s a lot easier and clearer for employees to fix this beforehand.”

When we spoke to the transformation manager at a postal services company, she echoed Neef’s thoughts: “It is super important to us to choose the right data tools that can make our data literacy journey smooth and future-proof.”

Transformation Manager at a logistics company

3. How an food delivery platform made its data structured

According to Wouter, having data in itself isn’t enough though. If the data is not clean and clear, and the previously mentioned tools aren’t easily accessible, even data-skilled employees will be unable to find or use what they need. This can cause frustration and demotivation towards using data.

Besides that, it can also cause miscommunication when employees use different sets of data for the same challenges. “There needs to be a clear data structure, with a catalog that everyone knows how to read and use.”, Neef points out. “Different teams will probably need different sets of data for their work. This data needs to be cleaned from irrelevant other data sets that can cause wrongful or relevant insights.”

The food delivery platform has just that: a clear data structure, including an extensive catalog that is clear to use for employees everywhere. The Head of Data and Analytics of the food delivery platform tells us “When our company started growing rapidly, partly due to adding other businesses to our own, it became very important to us to make sure the data from all these different sources would be centralized and given structure. Having a standardized way of looking at data and a clear catalog enabled us to have clean and clear data at hand for everyone.”

Head of Data and Analytics at a food delivery platform

4. How an e-commerce platform created a self-sufficient support culture

“Whether you use data coaches, data ambassadors, or data analysts that can help, it’s of vital importance that there’s a support network for those who work with data.”, says Neef. This can come from the top down but doesn’t necessarily have to come from above.

When we spoke with data experts from the e-commerce platform, they proudly explained their support system with their own data literacy program: “From the very start, data-driven decision-making has been at the core of the organization. It’s in the company’s DNA and is tangible in every aspect of the business. Because it’s a topic that lives within everything we do, there’s a strong data community sense amongst all employees. Our internal data literacy courses are available to all our teams, and employees eagerly join in. We emphasize the importance of asking questions and not feeling any hesitation, even if you’re just starting off your data literacy journey. Due to that fact, internal support can be found on every level: from top-down, to bottom-up. It’s one of our core strengths.”

Data experts at an e-commerce platform

Obviously, this strong sense of data importance is not accomplished overnight. The crucial aspect of their support network’s success is that they encourage questions and that the help is accessible all around you, and with any type of data background (or no background at all). There’s no shaming of less experienced colleagues, only encouragement.

Final thoughts

According to Wouter, there are 4 conditions that need to be satisfied before you can start a data literacy program in your organization:

1. Having leadership that is committed to and sees the value of data-driven decision-making.

2. Having the right data tools as a standard company-wide.

3. Having a structure in place for your most important data sources so that data is clear, clean, and ready to be used.

4. Having a self-sufficient support network in your company for those who work with data.

These 4 conditions should be at the forefront of starting your data-literacy program. If either one of these is not set up right, it’ll be an uphill hike to get momentum and enthusiasm within your company. And after all, enthusiasm is exactly what you need to adapt successfully to this data-driven era we live in.

P.S. if you liked this article, you probably also like our article on the 5 steps to building a data-driven culture within your organization.