Following the recent publication of the Forrester Research report Building Data Literacy: The Key to Better Decisions, Greater Productivity, and Data-Driven Organizations, the Data Leadership Collaborative looked at five implications the report spells out for data leaders. 

Tableau commissioned Forrester Consulting to build this report based on surveys in ten countries comparing responses of 1,000 analytics leaders and a 1,000 employees at organizations with more than 500 employees. The survey explored the organizational issues, challenges, and benefits of data literacy efforts, skill-building, and the creation of a data culture.  

Here are some of the takeaways for data leaders: 

1. As a data leader, it’s critical to identify whether you have a data literacy blind spot in your organization. 
The Forrester report shows that some leaders who think they're building data literacy in their organizations have a blind spot, since their employees may not agree. This opens up considerable risk to the organization, especially because nearly 70% of employees are expected to use data heavily in their jobs by 2025. “Data literacy as a shift in mindset can’t be an afterthought,” notes Wendy Turner-Williams, DLC Advisory Board Member. “It must be prioritized by leaders to instill the necessary skills into an organization’s culture.”

2. Data leaders must expand data literacy training beyond data science and advanced analytics teams to more general business users. 
Previous research in this area sponsored by Tableau reveals that although universities have made some progress in data skill development for their students, particularly in business school settings, students who come into companies with liberal arts educations still show a resounding lack of data skills with little plan to develop them on the job. The 2021 research shows that 86% of HR employees 87% of marketing employees, and 90% of IT employees believe that basic data skills are important or very important to their role.  

Yet even in companies with training, Tableau Senior Evangelist Ashley Howard Neville, notes, “the reality is we actually throw people into training way too early. Whenever you’re learning something new, you need to build a mind map of concepts and conceptual understanding versus jumping right into how to use the tool.” She adds that internal communities that focus on real-world case studies can be invaluable. “Internal communities actually allow us to start building our data vocabulary in a way that is less intimidating. I can sit and listen while I eat my lunch to someone else talking about how data was impactful in the organization, and I can use that to build my data acumen.”  

3. Data leaders should actively gather input from employees on data training and education, since only 16% will volunteer this feedback. 
Do today’s employees speak up if they’re not getting the data training they need? The Forrester report shows otherwise. “Not only is the research saying employees want data training and they’re not getting it,” says Howard Neville, “it’s telling us that employees aren't speaking up that they want and need this training.” This puts the onus on data leaders to ask employees directly if they feel they have the data skills they need to excel in their jobs.

4. Employees will become increasingly disengaged if you don’t take data literacy and data skills seriously
The Forrester study shows that if organizations aren't meeting employees’ expectations around data access and data training, they are more likely to go to companies and organizations that are meeting these needs. More than 80% of employees with high data skill satisfaction are likely to stay with their current company for the next five years, versus 53% with low data skill satisfaction. This is particularly concerning, Howard Neville notes, because data leaders “are not only opening themselves up to valuable employees leaving, but they’re also opening themselves up to a lot of employees who are checked out and don't care about having an impact anymore because they don't believe their company believes they can.”

Howard Neville adds that “companies that value data skills and giving employees access to data are the organizations that also value what their employees have to say, because they know that it's backed by data and not just anecdote.”

5. There is a direct cause and effect between increasing data literacy initiatives and making technology investments pay off in a more meaningful way.
Finally, even if you’ve made wise investments in data technology and infrastructure, the Forrester research reveals that organizations can make much more of their investments by launching specific data initiatives. How many is enough? “If we go back to previous research,” Howard Neville says, “we know that the 8% that are doing data literacy and culture well have seven different initiatives to engage employees in improving their data skills. These include lunch & learns, internal conferences, data days, viz competitions, and technology training camps. So if you want to accelerate the returns on your investments, it's really by focusing on data literacy.”

The Forrester research shows a 39% gap between leadership’s perception of employee data literacy and employees’ own perceptions of it.

The Forrester research shows a 39% gap between leadership’s perception of employee data literacy and employees’ own perceptions of it.

Explore all the data sets in the Forrester research by country, department, industry, revenue and more at