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Increasing Data Literacy: 3 Things You Can Do Right Now

Friday, April 10, 2020
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It seems like every article, survey, or report you read about human resources or L&D trends and hot topics includes a conversation about data. Whether it’s driving value with actionable data and insights or learning how to tell a story with data, it’s becoming clear that data literacy is at the top of many wish lists. According to a recent report by Towards Maturity, “High performing learning teams are 5X more likely to have data analytics skills in their L&D teams to help them harness intelligence effectively,” (The Transformation Journey, 2019). Hey, no pressure, right? At Explorance (explorance.com) we counsel our customers on this frequently, so I’m sharing three key areas to consider if you’re on this journey yourself. Get started:

1. Stop focusing on why you can’t do something.

“No one is asking.” “We don’t have enough responses.” “We only have self-reported data.” You must start somewhere and that means with whatever data you have today. By the way, engagement data and customer satisfaction data are all self-reported. Does your company ignore that? Probably not. If what you’re doing today can’t answer the questions being asked by stakeholders, then at least you have a starting point and an indication of where you need to go. Use that to engage leaders and get their help.

2. Ask questions.

Constantly. You can’t wade into your data waist deep, poke around, and hope to find something interesting. You need to go in with a hypothesis. A business question to answer. Something to focus your attention. The main questions you should be asking are: “What business problem are we trying to solve,” “What does success look like?”, and “How will we know?” The answers will determine what’s most important to measure, monitor, and manage. The good news is that you don’t have to provide all the answers. The business (your stakeholders) has just as much accountability for outcomes as L&D. After all, application happens outside the learning solution. Involve stakeholders and business owners in the question-and-answer process. It will promote transparency, accountability, and help focus the measurement strategy. You will also increase your credibility and help drive the value of L&D!

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3. Provide context and narrative with your data.

While a chart or graph should stand on its own, receivers of your story still need help. How many presentations have you sat through with slide after slide of charts and graphs and you’re wondering, “What does all this mean? “Why is the data point important?” “How does it answer the question being asked?” I like to call this “What, so what, now what?” This should feel familiar as the technique is often used in training to summarize content and set up action or application.

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The “what” is usually the business question being asked or perhaps the answer. The so what is why it’s important or what the data is telling us. And of course, the now what is recommendations and next steps. Yes, that’s right—provide some suggested actions. You are the experts here, showing how you provide value to the business. The value chain doesn’t stop with here’s what’s wrong or here is what happened. When you take your car in to find out what’s causing that squeaking noise, you want more than just knowing your heater fan is going out. You want to know what’s going to fix it.

There is a lot more to data literacy and the skills that need to be developed, like visual storytelling, cleaning and analyzing data, and just getting the data can be a big challenge. It’s okay—start where you can, with what you have. Be inquisitive. Ask and answer questions as best as you can and, most importantly, keep driving forward.

About the Author

Steve Lange is a consultant for Explorance, a Journey Analytics Company, where he supports clients with Employee Journey Measurement Strategies, Coaching, and Technology. Previous to Explorance, Steve has spent 20+ years in Learning and development with companies such as MetLife and McDonald’s.

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