There are many different definitions of culture. Another Oxford Dictionaries definition, which is particularly relevant to organisations, is: “The ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society.”
Culture isn’t a documented collection of rules and procedures. The culture of an organisation, made up of a collection of people, is defined by the behaviour and actions of the people within it.
This means that what people actually do defines a culture, not what an organisation says it does, for example, if documented procedures aren’t followed then the culture of an organisation is different from its documentation.
The culture or an organisation is important as it provides the implicit guidance on what to do and what is expected during our working day.
Information, or data, informs everything we do, from a supermarket shop to a business purchase. Much of this information is contained within our brain, it has developed through the outcomes of previous actions, good and bad.
Organisational decisions are made by individuals using available and accessible information. When objective external information is not available and a quick decision is required, our decisions tend to be made using empirical data from our previous experiences. But, if relevant data had been readily available, could the decisions have been better, would they have resulted in better outcomes?
There are clear examples of where not only can such data-driven decisions provide better outcomes, but they can also save lives. Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, details an example from 1996 where Brendan Reilly at Cook County Hospital in the US, introduces a data-driven checklist to assess how to deal with patients with chest pains. The problem used to be that it was difficult to separate those who were having a heart attack and required urgent treatment from those who had another condition. Correctly identifying those with a heart attack would enable a hospital’s limited resources to be directed at the most urgent patients.
The accuracy of assessing a patient using medical judgement alone resulted in a correct heart attack diagnosis 75%-89% of the time. But, by using a simple data-driven algorithm approach, correct diagnoses were increased to 95%, a significant improvement. The effect of this data remains in widespread use, correctly assessing heart attacks and saving lives every day.
The Cook County Hospital heart attack diagnosis produced significant benefits. In many cases the benefits may be small, but when all the outcomes are added together and compounded, by continually improving our decisions, the benefits are significant. The data becomes valuable, it can improve outcomes that result in efficient ways of working, reduced costs and prevent wrong decisions.
It is the development of an organisational culture that views all its data as valuable – and emphasises the methods of collecting and making data available – that will future proof your organisation.
If everyone understands the importance of data, and takes actions to collect and use data in an open way, you will have a data-centric culture. It will make sure that everyone in your organisation is thinking about how data is collected, the format and its potential uses and objective, evidence-based decisions will be made using the available data.
A Harvard Business review, The Evolution of Decision Making: How Leading Organizations are Adopting a Data-Driven Culture, (2012), states that organisations that can “make accurate and timely decision” can “identify challenges, spot opportunities, and adapt with agility”. The review conducted a global survey of 646 executives, managers and professionals across all industries and found that: “More than 70% of the organizations that had deployed analytics throughout their organizations reported improved financial performance, increased productivity, reduced risks, and faster decision making. Organizations with less widespread distribution of analytics access were typically 20 percentage points less likely to report such benefits.”