Data Literacy Learnings: One is the Loneliest Number

It feels appropriate that I waited to start writing this until Valentine’s Day – a day often about unrequited love. Or, in this case, the unrequited love of data literacy initiatives and the frequently uttered phrase “what the hell did I get myself into?” (she mutters to herself repeatedly). After reflecting on my own experiences, even in my own company – the navigation of politics, red tape, egos, ambition, and so much more, it is time to acknowledge others’ reality in this space. As easy as it is to get in the weeds and lost in our own experiences, sharing helps us feel less isolated. Here’s my love letter; to all the people struggling to be heard and drowning in the cacophony of corporate initiatives.

First, some clarification. My job is not focused on data literacy. It’s a component, to be sure, but it’s not really in my job title, nor is it part of the goals by which I am measured. Instead, I choose to make it part of my job and gently (some would disagree) persuade others about data literacy benefits. Those who know me know how much I care about these benefits. My problem is my execution. Tell me if you have heard this before or feel it personally – you feel called to do the right thing.

All the time.

And let’s be honest, it can really suck. Who needs a Jiminy Cricket on their shoulder all the time? Watching people leverage data literacy to move an initiative forward is physically painful when it has nothing to do with data literacy. Moments like these diminish data literacy to washed-out terms rather than a purposeful movement. Now that we have established data literacy is not my day job, and I can be a bit quirky, let’s discuss some experiences for those in similar spaces. Side hustles, anyone?

The Slightly Anxiety Inducing Best Practices Request

I get a lot of questions about data literacy. From emails to LinkedIn requests, it’s a daily process. The most frequent question I am asked is how to execute a data literacy program. Mostly from strangers and people tasked with building programs who have never done so before. This is very normal and has been for several years, and should be another post on this website. In the case of data literacy, typically, I provide education program building blocks such as:

  1. Assessments
  2. Persona building
  3. Feedback loops
  4. Modality
  5. Scaffolding
  6. Agility
  7. Funding
  8. Resources (people and technical)

And let’s be honest, all of the above points are sound practices for executing a data literacy program. Yet, some of my other training from lean six sigma keeps coming back to me in the past month. The tiny cricket sitting on my shoulder saying – you can do all these things, except…your efforts aren’t landing, and you are struggling; why?

The obvious hit me:

If Resistance > Data Literacy
Then ‘Failure To Adopt’
End

Resistance is Futile, or is it?

I talk about this a lot, especially in the data world – if Resistance is greater than the desire to change? Immediate fail, but why? Typically for data literacy programs, we have targeted individuals who NEED data literacy. Which, let’s be honest, is everyone, though some more than others. It’s all about the power, baby. Some positions have way more influence than others. It is a fact of life, sadly. In the case of data literacy, though, If we target groups for education who do not have power, individual contributors tasked with the doing, not the deciding, then the above formula emerges. And to paraphrase a pretty infamous movie, “Houston, we have a major effin problem.”

Yes, I know some of you think that many managers and above – the powers that be – are not roadblocks. And you would be right. Some power players openly embrace change, especially when it’s in the form of recommendations from their employees. Let’s be honest, though; there is an employee with a story to tell for every boss who has ignored innovation. Employees leave leaders who do not embrace what could be, rather, what was.

So I ask myself – how can we genuinely persist data skills if we are not effectively educating leaders? The honest answer?

We can’t.

Every Harvard business simulation I’ve taken fails me immediately if leaders are not bought in, and this situation isn’t any different. If organizations do not start with leadership levels for data literacy efforts – or have them totally 100% bought into the motion – data literacy efforts will fail.

End of story, budget, good-bye.

As with every rom-com, since this started as a Valentine’s day post, true love always wins in the end, right? If we do the right things and follow our best friend’s advice, eventually, twue wuv wins, and we ride off into the sunset.

Maybe.

Change Isn’t a Dirty Word!

Here are some considerations about change management I learned in my program management courses:

  1. People view the risk of change as greater than the risk of standing still.
  2. People feel connected to other people who identify with the old way of working.
  3. People have no role models for the new activity.
  4. People fear they lack the competence to change.
  5. People feel overloaded and overwhelmed.
  6. People have a healthy skepticism and want to be sure the new ideas are sound.
  7. People fear hidden agendas exist among would-be reformers.
  8. People feel the proposed change threatens their notions of themselves.
  9. People anticipate a loss of status or quality of life.
  10. People genuinely believe that the proposed change is a bad idea

People (read, adults, and those with power, and my parents) hate change. At the heart of change resistance are people who want to feel a part of something important. How can you accomplish this? If I had the answer to this, I wouldn’t have four cats and try to live frugally. Perhaps I don’t have the answers, but I am seeking them and researching new ways to help people. And this is why I wanted to write this – if you feel frustrated, alone, and unsure why your program isn’t working. It may be you’re targeting the wrong group, and you need to educate the gatekeepers first. Maybe then they will provide you with the opportunity to effect real change, and hopefully, that change can be meaningful for others through data skills.

Maybe then the formula will be:

If Resistance < Data Literacy
Then ‘Adoption’
End

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