How to make data-informed decision-making more rewarding for your organization

Brian Suh

Brian Suh

Global Head of Products

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I’ve seen first-hand the frustration felt by data, analytics, and insights teams when the hard work they put in to create robust models and recommendations to improve marketing effectiveness is misunderstood, ignored, or rejected by colleagues elsewhere in the business. 

 As sought after experts in their fields, they feel frustrated for several reasons. The data is telling them that their recommendations are right, and no one likes to feel that they aren’t being listened to or that their work isn’t valued. What’s more, businesses love to talk about how important data is but come across as paying lip service to it when it’s not used. 

 Such feelings do not happen in a vacuum. The wider business also suffers if investment decisions are not informed by and actioned according to the best possible data and insights. Advanced insights-driven businesses are eight times more likely to report revenue growth of 20% or more, according to research by Forrester, for example. 

Why you need to incentivize and evaluate

Ensuring that data, analytics, and insights employees feel fulfilled, and that the business utilizes data-informed decision-making to drive growth requires time, effort, and commitment. One of the most impactful things you can do to make it rewarding is to incentivize and evaluate employees for using data and insights appropriately in their work.  

However, many marketing teams are struggling to do this: 41% of marketing practitioners are not evaluated and incentivized based on how well they use data to inform the business decisions they make, according to Accelerating growth with marketing effectiveness: A playbook – a new white paper from WARC and Gain Theory. 

This means businesses risk leaving growth on the table. The white paper also found that 40% of marketing practitioners do not agree that the majority of marketing investment decisions at their organization are supported by data or insights. This is a worrying insight for those of us who believe that all business decisions should be informed by data. 

 So, what can you do to incentivize and evaluate employees to use data and insights? I have three recommendations.

1. Focus on meaningful KPIs

Reward schemes such as bonuses or profit shares can be an effective way of incentivizing marketers to use data and insights. However, it is imperative that such schemes are measured against meaningful KPIs. By meaningful, I am referring to KPIs that ladder up to departmental or organizational goals and clearly demonstrate business impact. These could include the average time employees spend on data analysis or the percentage of goals achieved with data-driven decisions.

Many organizations make the mistake of choosing KPIs that are easy to measure. Often, these KPIs can negate the impact of the incentive and hinder your ability to achieve your wider goals. For example, driving more traffic to your website is an easy goal to track, but if the traffic is bots or people leave the website immediately then that traffic is worthless, and you’ve incentivized your team to spend money on useless traffic just to get paid a bonus.  

One way to improve the likelihood of incentivization and reward schemes being successful is to involve your colleagues in the process of choosing meaningful KPIs. The more they understand why they are being asked to do something, the more likely they are to do it. 

2. Remember that an incentive doesn’t always have to be monetary 

While financial incentives and rewards are important, they’re not the be all and end all. Don’t forget that your colleagues are human beings with feelings whose emotional intelligence can be harnessed to encourage changes in behavior. Company-wide recognition – think awards, perks, or praise – is a great way to motivate people who already do a good job of data-informed decision-making to want to do it more.   

For example, a member of the c-suite could send a company-wide email that highlights how an individual’s or a team’s work helped to achieve a strategic business goal and follow that up with a call to the individual or team to thank them personally. This mixture of public and personal recognition can be very powerful. It is important to note that senior individuals must genuinely take the time to understand the impact and meet with the individual or team that accomplished the goal. It isn’t truly recognition, nor does it have any emotional impact, if the senior individual is just going through the motions. 

For those who are yet to embrace data-informed decision-making, company-wide recognition has the added bonus of showcasing what ‘good’ looks like to those in the wider organization. Seeing colleagues winning awards for using data and insights, for example, can be a good way to motivate others to change behavior. 

 3. Evaluate continuously

However you incentivize and reward employees, continuous evaluation is crucial to ensuring that a data-driven culture becomes embedded in your business over the long term. A structured process of regular, constructive feedback is one way to help you achieve this.  

Formal feedback sessions should be scheduled in which employees must demonstrate how they have used data-driven decision-making in their work. These sessions should feed into discussions about pay rises and promotions to ensure changes in behavior occur where necessary. 

Informal feedback should also play a role to help reinforce the right objectives. These sessions will be more successful when managers require employees to bring examples of how they are using data and insights to make decisions in their work. These examples can celebrate successful work that has been achieved by the employee or turn into workshops in which challenges the employee faces are discussed and steps put in place to overcome them. In turn, employees will build muscle memory about how to achieve data-informed decision-making. 

This carrot and stick approach to evaluation will improve your ability to motivate employees already using data and insights and help to change the behavior of those who are not. 

Building a strong data culture

It is important to note that there are several other areas you need to focus on to build a strong data culture. Establishing a program of training and upskilling and developing a strong governance structure that democratizes data and clearly outlines how data can be used and by whom are two key areas, for example.  

But by making it a rewarding experience for employees through incentives and evaluation, you can take a big stride towards ensuring decision-making improves, your strategic goals are met, and your data, analytics, and insights teams feel more valued. 

Contact Brian to discuss how you can make data-informed decision-making more rewarding for your organization.

This article was originally published in Performance Marketing World.

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