Data’s role in innovation: Strengthening business agility through trust and collaboration
In business today, we’re tasked with constantly improving and innovating different aspects of the organization, from operational efficiency and customer experience to actual product performance. The constant hurdle is uncovering where untapped value lies to further innovate.
Business leaders will get the best from their employees if they can create an environment with no judgment on opinions made from data. Using data to formulate and spark debate is a process that should be fostered, knowing there is a sense of safety in the fact that using data for innovation will always be accepted, even when ideas may fail. By constantly testing and pushing ideas using data, it soon uncovers areas of real potential. But how can we create such an environment?
Empower the people with more a sophisticated approach to data
It’s common for employees at all levels to express issues with data access. In many cases, when access is granted, they either can either see all the company data rather than the data relevant to them, or they can’t get access to the data they need to see what is important to their job. Oftentimes, there is someone who sits between the data and the decision-maker as explained by Mohammed Aaser, Chief Data Officer at McKinsey, in discussion with Domo. He said: “We have analytics translators—they understand the business problem and the technology so they can communicate the solution well.” In some cases, this works, but in all cases.
Aaser went on to say that “there is so much to learn from other people and their backgrounds. If you can be the integrator, bringing the concepts together, you can see the new concepts that will create some benefit.” This statement highlights the power and potential of all workers having access to data to make their own decisions. To get to this, the key lies in well-governed data that enables all employees to better understand various situations and opportunities related to their current roles. A more sophisticated system of access to data provides efficiency to the staff, and security to wider business data.
Lay the foundation for collaboration through shared goals
Every position within an organization can be working towards the same set of business goals. Keith Carter, Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore, stated that in his previous role at Estée Lauder, “every member of staff, from the cleaner to senior leadership, should know where a customer’s order is.” Donald Farmer, Principal at TreeHive Strategy, described this way of working as vitally important for business agility as an organization will always struggle to change direction without clear direction. In business, we can change direction quickly when we have a shared sense of purpose.
A key component to becoming more agile and innovative is communicating candidly—and to the point where everybody within the organization is always in the know about what is happening and is clear on how they can contribute to the larger goals. Aaser outlined that it’s the job of business leaders to foster a culture that has license to aim for quick wins without being afraid to fail. He said: “If you can demonstrate value (in those experiments, it creates a snowball effect. People get behind you. They want to be involved. And then it becomes easier to say, ‘Let’s invest more. Let’s do more. Let’s build on this.’”
Build trust through communication and performance through iteration
Aaser talked about some interesting research from Google on creating high-performing teams. A key part of this was based on the idea of psychological safety. “If you can build an environment of psychological safety, where people feel comfortable speaking up, then they can take ideas that aren’t polished and continue to iterate until they are,” he said. This creates empowerment among employees to challenge senior leads in how things can be done differently, using data as the tool to demonstrate.
In this process, trust is built between leaders and employees in how data is used, as a “fail fast” approach sparks curiosity among employees in how data can be used. Farmer underpins this by saying: “The trust that we build is absolutely essential to agility and innovation, the higher the level of mutual trust we have, the more we can innovate.”
The benefits in encouraging innovation through data
Testing the boundaries of innovation, using data insight may involve moving away from your organization’s current remit. Carter outlined a good example of this from Crayola, a brand known for its manufacturing of crayons, yet through its own research and known association with colour, shifted its offering during the COVID-19 pandemic to also manufacture children’s facemasks, with a different colour for each day of the week. Only through trust in data insight and communication would this initiative have received backing from the wider organization.
To learn more about growing innovation and agility in your organization, watch episode seven of our ‘Curiosity: Do Data Differently’ video series, here.