Curiosity the key to unlocking data value

Wednesday, 11 May, 2022

Curiosity the key to unlocking data value

New research from SAP has found Australian organisations that foster a more curious culture1 experience major benefits, including up to twice the levels of employee engagement and up to three times the turnover growth of organisations with a less curious culture.

‘Capitalising on Curiosity’, a survey of senior business leaders and employees across Australia, found that Australian leaders who strongly agree that their organisation has a curious culture, saw annual turnover growth of 20.52% on average over the last 12 months; more than three times the 6% average growth in turnover experienced by those who only somewhat agree.

Business leaders at large organisations2 that are very curious report turnover growth that is 10.67 percentage points higher than those who are not very curious, which could deliver additional growth of $2.5 million in annual turnover, based on ABS turnover data for businesses of this size. Medium-sized organisations3 that are very curious could see an extra $1.7 million and small businesses4 an additional $550,000 in annual turnover5.

More than eight in 10 (82%) of senior business leaders in Australia believe a culture of curiosity is important for their organisation to adapt and grow in a post-COVID world but only four in 10 (44%) strongly agree their organisation has a curious culture. The most common challenges senior business leaders say they would be better equipped to handle with a more curious culture are: employee engagement (41%); being able to adapt to changing market needs (40%); and dealing with staff retention (36%).

Despite the positive link between curiosity and business growth, four out of five Australian employees (82%) say there are barriers to asking questions and being curious in their organisation. More than eight in 10 (85%) of senior business leaders across the country feel the same, admitting that talk about encouraging curiosity is not always supported by action.

Dr Amantha Imber, organisational psychologist and founder of behavioural science consultancy Inventium, said it takes time to create a culture of curiosity.

“Creating and nurturing a culture of curiosity in an organisation takes time, but ultimately it will strengthen your ability to be agile, adapt and innovate. At a time when businesses are experiencing more uncertainty from the pandemic, fostering a curious culture can be hard but it’s essential to build resilience and drive growth.”

Karen Twitchett, Director of Workforce and Technology at Northern Beaches Council, said developing curiosity ultimately improves future performance.

“Building curiosity in your organisation is like building a muscle that helps to keep you fit through all kinds of challenges. We were able to flex our curiosity muscle in real time during the recent floods. We provided the time, space and opportunity for our staff to engage with people in affected areas to proactively identify issues and collect data that will ultimately improve Council’s service offering to the community during extreme weather events in the future.”

Curiosity to attract and retain talent

In a market where the battle for talent has never been tougher, seven out of 10 Australian employees (72%) want to work for a curious organisation, and more than half (52%) would leave their current job for a similar role in a more curious organisation.

While employees are less inclined than leaders to categorise their organisation as having a curious culture (67% versus 89%), the research found clear links between curious organisations and employee satisfaction.

Those employees who believe they work for an organisation with a curious culture are almost twice as likely to say they are satisfied in their current role (81% compared to 44%) and feel engaged at work (83% compared to 42%) than those who didn’t.

Battling fatigue in a world and workplace that is changing rapidly is also a factor, particularly in larger organisations, with one in three (32%) employees from large enterprises saying employee burnout is a barrier to curiosity.

Curiosity essential to data intelligence

The research found that employees in more curious companies are better equipped to answer, and more capable of answering, questions using data than those who say their organisation is not curious.

Employees who say their organisation is curious are twice as likely to say they are empowered and encouraged to use data to answer questions than those who say their organisation is not curious (82% compared to 40%). They are also twice as likely to say that their organisation provides the data and tools for them to do so (82% compared to 42%) and 1.5 times more likely to say they make good use of data and analysis tools (81% compared to 55%).

Business leaders who feel most strongly that their organisation has a curious culture are three times more likely to strongly believe their employees have the necessary skills to answer questions from organisational data (73% compared to 25%) than those who only somewhat believe they have a curious culture.

Damien Bueno, President and Managing Director, SAP Australia and New Zealand, said understanding data and how to apply knowledge leads to better decisions.

“An organisation’s ability to truly realise the value of technology comes down to how well its people understand data and apply human curiosity. Asking the right questions at the right time and being confident to seek out data and draw conclusions leads to better decision making and, ultimately, enables organisations to be bolder in approaching business challenges and able to take action on an idea with an informed approach.

“This understanding and confidence is key to the continued growth, success and transformation of Australian and New Zealand organisations, especially during the period of disruption we currently find ourselves in.”

Barriers to cultivating a curious culture

Australian employees identified a lack of reward or encouragement as the biggest barrier to curiosity while business leaders pointed to too much pressure to deliver on short-term goals.

Almost half of employees (47%) believe they are not rewarded for their curiosity and two in five (43%) feel they are not given time to be curious at work. Meanwhile, over a third (39%) say that asking questions and challenging the status quo is not encouraged within their organisation and this jumps to almost half (44%) of employees working for large organisations in Australia.

“Being able to challenge and debate ideas and assumptions is critical for building a curious culture, but being curious and asking questions instead of jumping straight to conclusions takes time. SAP’s research suggests many Australian businesses are not giving employees the time or the space to be curious.

“Business leaders who are serious about futureproofing their organisation against the current climate of uncertainty need to start role modelling curiosity, giving staff time to explore and experiment, and rewarding curious and creative behaviour within their organisations,” Imber said.

To view or download a copy of the full ‘Capitalising on Curiosity’ report, click here.

Notes on the study:

  1. For the purposes of the research, a culture of curiosity is defined as an organisational culture where employees are encouraged and enabled to ask questions and seek answers to help organisations run better and meet the needs of their customers, employees and the community.
  2. A large organisation is an organisation with 200+ employees. Business leaders from large organisations that are very curious reported average turnover growth of 18.22% over the last 12 months compared to 7.55% for those that are not very curious. A difference of 10.67 percentage points.
  3. Medium organisations are those with 20 to 199 employees. Business leaders from medium-sized organisations that are very curious reported average turnover growth of 21.68% over the last 12 months compared to 6.32% for those that are not very curious. A difference of 15.36 percentage points.
  4. Small organisations in this study are those with five to 20 employees. Business leaders from small organisations that are very curious reported average turnover growth of 22.21% over the last 12 months compared to 1.38% for those that are not very curious. A difference of 20.83 percentage points.
  5. To calculate the potential annual turnover benefit for small, large and medium Australian businesses with a very curious culture, YouGov combined key business estimates for number of businesses and average total income from the ABS, with survey results on the proportion of businesses with a very curious culture and the net annual turnover growth benefit from having a very curious culture.

Image credit: © and Splits

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