5 Ways To Get Buy-in For Your Data Initiative

Getting everyone on board is a challenge, but a worthwhile one


In a recent survey of 2,165 data professionals commissioned by KPMG and conducted by Forrester Consulting, 49% of respondents expressed a belief that their C-level executives don't fully support their organization’s data and analytics strategies. Without C-suite buy-in, it is basically impossible to get your initiative off the ground, as the C-suite is essential for getting the investment in resources and time necessary to make it work. However, it is not just important to get buy-in from the C-suite. For a data initiative to be successful, all employees must be on board and put data at the heart of their decision making. Analysis by McKinsey of more than 250 engagements over a five year period revealed that companies that put data at the center of the sales and marketing decisions improved their marketing ROI by 15%-20%, and similar results have been reported in every department. As Robert Lanning, People Analytics Lead at Tesoro Corporation, notes, ‘Without a data-driven culture, you are throwing money away and wasting your team’s time.’

However, getting buy-in for your data initiative is no easy task. Changing the culture of an entire company is incredibly difficult. In a survey by NewVantage Partners, just 40.2% of executives reported success in implementing a ‘data-driven’ culture. Cultural transformation does not just happen. You have to constantly drive home the expected change until it is completely ingrained in the fabric of the company, incorporating it into every aspect of business strategy based on business goals, company culture and business intelligence landscape within an organization. We’ve outlined 5 things you will need to remember when looking to get buy-in for your data initiative.

Visualize Your Data

Duncan Bain, Senior Data Scientist at Scottish Power, says, ‘Being able to visualize complex processes in a way that simplifies understanding and facilitates action is key to C-level sponsors who often have limited time to devote to any individual project.’ Data visualization essentially gives your data into a narrative, which helps draws an impactful response from the user and reinforces it with numerical evidence. The way the human brain processes information means that presenting data as a story gives everyone in an organization a better understanding of it, and enabling a greater range of people to make sense of what it’s saying is often likely to lead to more insights and a greater understanding of its power.

Nicole Mills, VP of Strategic Planning at Suffolk Construction, notes ‘We focus heavily on the data visualization and user experience so that people who don’t have a background in advanced statistics and analysis can clearly understand the story that the data is telling. We have developed a 'brand guide' and 'UX Guide' for all of our analytics solutions, so regardless of the business question that we are trying to answer the end user will have the same easy, and intuitive experience to navigate through the solution and fully leverage the insights!’

Tailor Your Sales Pitch

Think of those you are trying to get buy-in for as consumers looking to buy your product. Any experienced salesman will tell you it’s important to understand who your audience is. You have to speak their language, avoiding technical terms and focusing on the things that they care about - solving business problems, not technical ones. Persuade them of its value, make it feel like it’s their idea to adopt analytics software and they will have more ownership of a data project. Find ways to relate to people so you can determine where and how to aim your efforts to show how data analysis can help them make better business decisions.

Demonstrate Value

According to the KPMG survey, only about 34% of business leaders said are 'very confident' about the insights they get from data. This needs to change. They need to have trust in the data they have or they won’t use it and it won’t work. You need to demonstrate how analytics is already helping both other departments within your organization and the same department within other organizations. This can also be achieved by implementing an initiative incrementally and showing results as it progresses.

Charlie Ewen, CIO at the Met Office, argues that ’there is a degree to which belief needs proof. It is tempting to try to apply data-centric approaches to large business problems in order to demonstrate the principal. Without long-term committed sponsorship, this is unlikely to work as resources and commitment from senior stakeholders will not be significant enough, for long enough, to show results. A better strategy is often to take on a meaningful but constrained pilot and demonstrate a small benefit for which there is a scalable methodology.’ Lead Data Scientist at Direct Line, Aki Matsushima agrees, adding that, ’Organizations looking to take a data-centric approach shouldn't boil the ocean, and focus on delivering value. They should start with a concrete use-case that's high ease and value, i.e. the low-hanging fruit, to actually experience delivery of a data-centric project, then build on its success by capitalizing on the buy-in and skills built from the experience.’

Involve Users Throughout The Process

Nicole Mills, VP of Strategic Planning at Suffolk Construction: ‘Our team spends an incredible amount of time partnering directly with our analytics consumers and making them a core part of the process. Each solution is routed in a critical business question that the consumer is trying to answer, and therefore there is an immediate demand for the solution before it is even created. As we start conducting our analysis, we make certain to check in with our partner at regular intervals to share interim findings, and get direct feedback and input. By the time the final solution is completed, there is a vested partner waiting to receive the insights, who shares joint ownership over the outcomes!’

Robert Lanning an HR specialist, uses similar tactics at Tesoro, noting that: ‘A data-driven culture is best achieved by partnering with the HR CoEs and HR Leadership (including the HR Business Partners) in the design/development and deployment of the analytics/insights/research function (including tools and policies). Having regular meetings with everyone and training on latest developments, new tools, and new ways to use existing tools are easy ways to begin to change the culture. Having one-on-one training and 'lunch-n-learn' sessions are helpful as well. Also, new hires coming into HR should have 'data-driven culture' assessed during interviews. I’ve even seen HR analytics pros who are part of the interview process for every new hire in HR, regardless of position.’

Don’t Overhype The Project

Gartner research has found that over half of analytics projects fail either because they aren’t completed within budget or on schedule or because they fail to deliver on over-optimistic features and benefits that were agreed on at their outset. It is important to be realistic when making your sales pitch and to emphasize that it will not all be plain sailing. There will be challenges and setbacks in its implementation, and immediate ROI is unlikely, or there is a risk people will grow frustrated if they aren’t getting value and give up on it before really giving it a chance.


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