Written by

Bernard Marr

Bernard Marr is a world-renowned futurist, influencer and thought leader in the fields of business and technology, with a passion for using technology for the good of humanity. He is a best-selling author of 20 books, writes a regular column for Forbes and advises and coaches many of the world’s best-known organisations. He has over 2 million social media followers, 1 million newsletter subscribers and was ranked by LinkedIn as one of the top 5 business influencers in the world and the No 1 influencer in the UK.

Bernard’s latest book is ‘Business Trends in Practice: The 25+ Trends That Are Redefining Organisations’

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How Can You Improve Data Literacy?

2 July 2021

Most organisations around the world are grappling with data literacy shortfalls in their organisation. This is something I see every day in my work with companies all across the globe. While many companies collect more data than ever before, they aren’t using it to its full advantage because all employees aren’t trained to use data to make strategic decisions. I have helped many of the world’s best-known brands improve their data literacy, and with this post, I want to share five key elements that will help any organisation improve its data literacy.

The goal: data literacy

The true objective of data literacy is to give everyone access to the data so that every business unit can use it to make better decisions that will lead to success for the organisation. It’s not just about being able to read numbers, graphs and charts, but extrapolate useful meaning from data and the various visual representations that are used to make it easier to consume. 

So, if helping everyone in your organisation become more fluent in data is the objective, how is that done? 

While this might take a different shape for every organisation, here are some key elements that lead to data literacy success.

1. Identify data advocates  Identify individuals in your organisation who will be strong data leaders and who can help craft a data literacy programme. This group should be a cross-functional team who can help champion the benefits of data literacy to those who are not entirely convinced. They can also help determine what business units are missing opportunities because they aren’t using data effectively and prioritise those groups for the data literacy programme.

2. Be the change The shift to making your organisation’s culture data-focused needs to start from the top. When you and other company leaders model data-informed meetings, decision-making and expect your teams to do the same, it shifts the culture. An essential part of helping the rest of the team understand the power of data is to share data success storeys with employees so they can see how data influenced real-world outcomes.

3. Determine systems and tools to allow broader access to data If you don’t already have the systems in place to share data effectively across your organisation, your data scientists and analysts will remain a bottleneck to progress. Figure out how every employee could gain access to the data and what tools you might need to invest in to make that happen. Whatever tools you use should give non-technical people the ability to manipulate the data and extract information that’s most important to them. If it’s not self-service enough, it won’t be used. 

4. Train employees While granting all employees access to data is certainly an important step to data literacy, if employees never use the data, it won’t do much good. Employees must understand how vital data literacy is to the success of your company. Those that understand why data matters and how it’s crucial for your business objectives will be less likely to resist gaining additional knowledge about how to interpret data. Training on critical thinking and data skills can be fun and casual. In fact, the more fun you make it, the more engagement you will see. It’s crucial that every employee knows to ask:

  • How the data was collected
  • What can be learned from the data
  • Consider the reliability of the information

While data should represent facts, bias can be introduced into it, it can be misrepresented, the sample size of data might be too small to make strategic decisions from it, or it can have other issues that make it unreliable. Those trained to think critically about the data will learn how to inquire about these concerns. Employees must also be trained on the safe handling of data to prevent data breaches and any ethical guidelines your organisation has developed for data. 

5. Start small and continually assess your needs The most successful organisations who make the most data literacy improvements recognise that it’s an iterative process. Prioritise which group needs training the most, and then learn and adjust for the next group. Get feedback from your group about what’s working and what’s not so that you become more effective as time goes on.

There is a real corporate data literacy shortfall around the world. The urgency to build data literacy within every organisation is intensifying. Simply get in touch if you would like some help in boosting the data literacy in your business.


Data Strategy Book | Bernard Marr

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