Who_Data! What the Bengals Can Teach You About Becoming Data Champions


What makes an organization successful at being data champions?


A recent survey sponsored by Tableau and conducted by IDC identified five common factors of the data culture at data-driven organizations. Not surprisingly, these factors are commonly discussed in locker rooms and were a large part of the dialog and coverage of the Bengals as they made it to the Big Game this year. Here is what the AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals can teach you about becoming data champions.

1. Talent

There is no question that this year’s Cincinnati Bengals had a number of talented football players. But talent is based not only on outstanding physical characteristics or once-in-a-lifetime gifts. “Football IQ” is a term that is often associated with several of the Bengals’ star players. Beyond their physical gifts, great players understand the game, its concepts, and its fundamentals. A select few have a natural instinct for it or are born into football families, but the rest is learned from experience with some help from coaches, mentors, and their teammates. Similarly, your team should strive to build your “Data IQ,” or what is also referred to as data literacy. Just like on the football field, data literacy is about your confidence and competence in applying data to support decisions and solve problems. Everyone across the organization should be able to analyze, interpret, and communicate with data; understand various data assets and their uses and values; and have a working knowledge of methods, techniques, and applications related to data and analytics. In other words, being a data champion is a critical skill for every role on your team.

2. Trust

Football plays involve proactively taking action in expectation of something else happening. A quarterback releases a ball, and a receiver takes a route with the expectation the ball will end up in his hands. We saw Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase make this look easy time and time again, connecting for 81 receptions and 13 touchdowns this season. The road to a data championship also needs this key ingredient of proactive planning. Your team needs to be confident that the data they need to do their jobs is going to be there when they need it, and that it can be trusted. A strong data governance capability is the key to ensuring the delivery of high-quality, reliable data with minimal friction. Establishing the policies and standards that allow your team members to utilize data with ease and confidence serves as the foundation for your data-driven culture.

3. Mindset

How did the “Bungles” turn around to show up as the Bengals this season? The team ended last year with a 4-11-1 record. Their star quarterback suffered a season-ending knee injury the previous year. And they had a young, unproven coach. The experts in Vegas put the Bengals’ chance of going to the Super Bowl at 100:1! Yet, they made it to the Super Bowl. The answer is simple: The Bengals had a winner’s mindset. They changed their motto from: “Why Not Us?” to “It is Us.” When they began to believe, that mindset took over the fans, the city, and even yours truly – this blog’s author. If you were anywhere near Cincinnati at the beginning of the year, you saw signs saying “Who Dey? We Dey!” So what does a data-driven mindset look like, and how do you infuse that into an organization’s culture? First, data needs to be everyone’s responsibility, not just IT’s. In addition, you should spell out the connection between data and strategy across all areas of the business. Demonstrate how data solves problems at all levels of the organization, and use specific use cases wherever possible. Appoint evangelists to promote successes, and keep the conversation alive about the need to actively manage data like any other strategic asset.

4. Sharing

During the exciting run-up to Super Bowl LVI, the Bengals’ leaders, coaches, and players consistently reinforced how the team’s locker room cohesion and relationship-building would seed the winning mindset and culture to carry them through the season:

  • Receiver Tyler Boyd told Fox Sports: “[Guys are] not caring about their individual stats. Guys are not selfish. That’s what’s driving this team.”
  • Joe Burrow echoed that this level of bonding and chemistry doesn’t exist without active effort, robust communication, and trust: “It’s something we worked really hard at – creating relationships in the locker room. One it’s a rare thing. And two, it’s one of the top reasons that we’re in the position we’re in.”
  • These quotes are supported by stories of team and position group dinners, cigar celebrations, an infectious positive vibe, and the team’s performance both on and off the field.

Similarly, organizations must put community and collaboration at the center of the effort to build a strong, data-driven culture and becoming data champions. Data initiatives don’t have final delivery dates or mission-accomplished banners. As with a football season, data initiatives are dynamic and require continuous effort and attention to achieve success. Maintaining momentum requires creating a culture where everyone supports and encourages one another to be data-driven. Like with the Bengals, this can arise organically as people unite behind the desire to win. Organizations can further solidify a strong data community by providing tools for internal communication, scheduled time for office hours, training, team interest groups, and events that bring employees together with the internal and external data community.

5. Commitment

A little over a week after the Super Bowl and still recovering from a knee sprain, Joe Burrow was back in the gym – demonstrating his commitment to his team and the winning culture they built. Bengals owner, Mike Brown, extended the contract of his young coach Zac Taylor, and pledged to make further investments to keep the Bengals’ newfound success and winning culture intact. In the same way, your organization’s commitment to being data-driven has to be both top-down and bottom-up. Your leadership cannot stop with approving an investment in data and hosting an inspiring kickoff. Rather, leaders need to actually use data to make decisions and require their direct reports to do the same. Demonstrating a commitment to using data provides the momentum and support for the rest of the organization to start winning with data. At any given snapshot of time, football champions and data champions sometimes make it look easy. However, changing culture is never easy. Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Focusing on the five pillars discussed here – talent, trust, mindset, sharing, and commitment – will help increase your chances of success. Just like in the game of football, the transformation into a championship data organization is a marathon, not a sprint.  The good news is that, just like with Joe Burrow’s off-season workouts, you can get started today. From a lifelong Cincinnati resident and Bengals fan, and from all of CoStrategix – congratulations to the 2021 AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals! We all look forward to watching you again in 2022! Who-Dey!

If your organization is looking to become more data-driven, contact us at CoStrategix about a Data Strategy Workshop or our Applied Data Quality and Governance services.