How to foster a culture that values data privacy

Data is embedded in every world-class company’s strategy. In its 2019 Annual Report, JPMorgan explicitly states that data is embedded in its strategies not only for innovating products and services, but also improving employee programs, employee privacy and community investments. Similarly, Lockheed Martin indicates data protection and cybersecurity as focal points in its strategy to improve operational efficiency and gain competitive advantage. In its 2020 letter to shareholders, Adobe declares that using data and insights to improve customer experience is a key pillar to its growth strategy and innovating data privacy and security is a priority for the year.

Each of these organizations are leading and influencing the global markets. They put data at the forefront of their strategies to get ahead of competitors. However, Gartner predicts that by 2022, 90% of corporations will specify data as a critical component to their strategies and by 2023, improving data literacy will be included in 80% of data and analytics strategies. All organizations strive to catch up with these mature, global market leaders.

Data is an asset. To become a data intelligent organization, organizations must work to generate insights and value of their data assets. To incorporate data into daily tasks, data must become part of the culture, vision and strategy. The leading organizations mentioned above certainly understand that data is a valuable asset, but they move beyond just using it as a simple tool. They embrace not only the value of data as a resource, but also the cultural, ethical and operational impacts of data privacy. And notice that they discuss data privacy and protection without mentioning regulations. In order to become a data intelligent organization and sustain data privacy management effectively, companies need to think beyond regulatory compliance and enforcing guidelines. They need to embed data privacy in their ethics and culture.

What makes this hard? 

Simply put, people are resistant to change. Organizations are investing in data because they see it as a business driver. Data leaders recognize that data privacy is a business imperative, particularly in this climate. Data privacy affects every single line of the business, but the data teams have difficulty getting stakeholders to embrace the changing view of data. Data leaders have spent hours, days and months implementing standards, policies and processes to improve privacy. They have spent thousands, and often millions, of dollars on privacy-enhancing technologies to make privacy practices easier for everyone. Nevertheless, nothing seems to stick.

What happens when privacy is not done right?

There’s no question that poor privacy practices result in poor business outcomes. We’ve all seen the headlines that show some of the most influential global brands being hit with whopping eight-figure fines due to noncompliance with GDPR. We saw Facebook’s share price plummet by 40% after the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018. Numerous studies have shown that consumers care about the way that organizations use their data. In fact, the UK Data & Marketing Association conducted a survey in which 88% of respondents indicated that transparency about how their data was collected and used is important to them when sharing data with an organization. If more consumers don’t share their data because of privacy concerns, then you’ll have less data to use to improve their experiences. Moreover, privacy impacts operational efficiency. If your employees can’t adopt standards, policies and processes, they may work negligently and fail to meet optimal productivity.

Change perceptions to transform your culture

The two biggest roadblocks for data leaders are fostering a data culture and improving data literacy. In order to create a data-driven culture that values privacy, data leaders need to continually engage with the community to improve data literacy and clarify the business benefits of data privacy. Here are some steps we recommend for transforming your culture:

  1. Learn from the past – Likely you’re not the only one who sees data as an asset and you’re not the first one who has tried to make changes. Ask your teammates what efforts have been made before, what worked, what didn’t and what roadblocks presented themselves.
  2. Get new perspectives – Listen to what your teammates have to say. People across different departments have different expertise, insights and experiences that can help you build a solid strategy and influence people in the organization.
  3. Define your vision and objectivesIt is essential to clarify specific desired business outcomes, and scope problems with stakeholders before proposing data and analytics solutions.
  4. Evangelize strategically and constructively – Go beyond tactics and build a strategy that supports the entire organization. Gartner found that one of the biggest mistakes that data leaders make is that they focus on tactics rather than the blend between tactics and strategy (see figure below). Think less about implementing rules and processes and more about training, coaching, teaching and enabling. Think less about just fulfilling requirements from stakeholders and legislators and more about engaging and consulting with them. Less delivery, more strategy.
  5. Meet the business in the middle – People are often resistant to change and are even less likely to make changes to behaviors on their own. Meet your business users where they are and make your data strategy fit their needs. Educate them about how data privacy affects their day to day roles. Train them and test them on changes to business processes.
  6. Spark conversations – Behaviors and practices won’t change a culture, but changes in thinking and approaches do. Invite people to the table and encourage them to think critically about data privacy, allowing them to engage in thoughtful, insightful and impactful conversations.
  7. Embrace collaboration – Recognize that collaboration is key. If people have challenges, hold office hours, ask to be part of their projects, and find and embrace new use cases. Listen to others’ opinions and obtain feedback. Remember you are one team.

Gartner found that one of the biggest mistakes that data leaders make is that they focus on tactics rather than the blend between tactics and strategy

Achieve optimal outcomes

By taking steps to change your company culture and perception around data privacy, you can truly transform your business. The changes in culture, thinking and behavior will drive:

  • Risk mitigation – privacy compliance, policy enforcement and vendor risk management
  • Operational efficiency – product/inventory efficiency, service optimization, increased speed to outcomes and workflow automation
  • Revenue growth – customer acquisition, product innovation, promotion analysis and pricing optimization

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