How to develop a data literate organization




Author: Lohic Beneyzet

In my previous blog about data literacy, I elaborated on what data literacy is and why it is important for organizations and people to become data literate. To recap, organizations are realizing that they can be more successful if they use data adequately. Therefore, they need people that are able to refine data and make it valuable, people that can make sense of the data, examine correlations, depict bias and communicate using those data. So, how to develop this skill within an organization?

Skills required for data literacy

Since data literacy is defined as “the ability to read, understand, create, and communicate data as information”, skills as analytical thinking, critical thinking and also ethical thinking are crucial. How can you make sure that your people ask the right questions and draw the right insights, so the right decisions are made? Only this way you can create value out of your organization’s data.

Developing a data literate organization

Becoming data literate is a process, it is merely a change of mindset. Taking a course does not mean you are a skilled data literate the next day. Especially if a whole organization wants to become data literate, this needs to be handled as an organizational change, because behavioural change takes time. But in the end, to develop a data literate organization, the whole organization should eat and breath data literacy.

Let’s apply Jeffrey Hiatt’s change management framework ‘ADKAR’ to show you what is needed to create a data literate organization. ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement) is a model for change that is highly focused on people. So, how do you get the whole organization on board to become data literate?

Five mainstreams for creating data literacy

Awareness of the benefits to change

First make sure that the organization understands what the benefits are of becoming data literate. To prepare this, it helps to create a organizational vision with a group of ambassadors on this matter. At least these four aspects should be addressed to do this successfully:

» Define the organizational goals on data literacy.
» Define the measures for success.
» Assess the initial maturity.
» Identify possible gains for the organization for every layer in the organization, from top management to the “what’s in it for me” for employees

The group of ambassadors is a key success factor in this journey. They will among other help spread the message, get internal buy-in faster, help to convince sceptical persons (and change always unlocks many…), and help train other employees. This will accelerate the implementation of the change organization-wide. This hub of ambassadors should be representatives from different parts of the organization, and already have or share this interest for data literacy.

To create true awareness, the vision, goals and benefits must be shared with as many employees as possible. Let me give you three suggestions on how to start:

• Organize a kick-off for the group of ambassadors.
• Communicate frequently about the initiative organization-wide, through intranet, internal newsletters, etc.
• Organize a roadshow throughout the whole organization.

Desire to participate and support the change

At that stage, it is crucial to make sure that the employees understand the need for change: the benefits for them and for the organization to become data literate should be made clear for them. To achieve this, use all the assets you already have in your organization:

» Encourage the management team to use data in presentations when informing the organization.
» Encourage ambassadors to use data when developing new products, to experiment with data.
» Organize an hackathon to demonstrate the power of data.

Knowledge on how to change

Organizations should never enter this phase before everyone knows how the change will be carried out, what it means for them and how to fulfil their specific part in that process. With your ambassador group, define further a data literacy program in which a set of further actions:

» Assess the maturity level in detail
It is important to understand the level of knowledge of the people in the organization regarding data literacy and the data tools that are used as well

» Define and organize data literacy courses
Based on the data literacy maturity assessment, it might be needed to train people on the topic. Training can be developed in-house or be facilitated by a specialized training academy. Also, there are a lot of online training courses on the subject you can make use of as an introduction.

» Define and organize software courses
Important part of becoming data literate is the ability to work with data tools. So, make sure that everyone can work with the data software used within the organization. Be aware of the fact that doing this without some either internal or external experts on data, you might be giving the wrong directions in the process. You will only get the right results when the set-up is right. Also, if the organization uses outdated tools or badly supported ones, upgrading your data (business intelligence) software is actually also a first requirement. There are many good and affordable alternatives nowadays.

Ability to implement required skills and behaviors

After finishing all preparations, the organization is ready for the next stage: execution. Data literacy and software training courses take place. During this period, the organization starts to gain more data literacy:

• More employees regularly use data in their decision-making
• There will be more ideas (or even projects) popping up to make processes more data-driven.

After six months it is time for a new maturity assessment throughout the organization to identify your progress and possible gaps. Be sure you keep on communicating the benefits of this change end-to-end.

Reinforcement to sustain the change

After one year, when the gross of the effort has been done to increase the data literacy level of the organization, ensure that all those efforts stick. A couple of things can help here:

• Implement incentives and rewards for employees or teams embracing data-driven decision-making.
• Promote the ambassador team to an intelligence “virtual” team and let them. dedicate a part of their time to continuous improvement on
data literacy.
• Continue assessing data literacy maturity regularly.
• Make data literacy and tools training courses part of the onboarding of new employees.
• Encourage employees to take part in advanced data tool training courses.


Taking care that an organization becomes data literate is quite a journey for the whole organization. How much effort it will cost in total depends on the size of the organization and the current level of data literacy. Of course, the effort needs to be in balance with what an organization can achieve by creating a (higher) data literacy rate. So, for enterprises that could mean assigning an end-to-end program to a fulltime employee, for smaller companies working on let’s say project level in with different people working parttime on managing this would make more sense. This also counts for hiring external expertise, which is mostly crucial to succeed because organizations mostly do not have that in-house. Large organizations would need external data experts fulltime on the program, while smaller organizations would need way lees hours from these data experts.

Besides having skilled people organizations should carefully choose their ambassadors. It requires, (data-)driven and enthusiastic people to drive a program like this successfully. For any data literacy program I would recommend at least three to five ambassadors to get the necessary internal buy-in, but also highly skilled people to set set-out the roadmap.

This could be the beginning of a great adventure leading to more learnings and great organizational improvements, to in the end become more data-driven as an organization. This way it can act more agile on change and the people within the organization will have endless means to unlock new opportunities.

What are you waiting for?

Lohic Beneyzet

Insights & Visualizations

Lohic is een analytische en onder- nemende dataconsultant. Hij is gespecialiseerd in business intelligence, data warehousing en performance management in multi-unit enterprise-omgevingen en in marktspecifieke analytische systemen.