Across a wide variety of industries, insights leaders are concerned about the impact they are having. Everyone agrees that a good strategy requires an intimate understanding of your customer, yet, the insights gathered are not making it into the company’s most strategic decisions with enough frequency.
Over the past two decades, Jump has had the opportunity to work with hundreds of insights professionals across a wide range of industries. Through that work, we have seen a subset of insights teams consistently deliver outsized impact on their company's strategies by artfully deploying a few key tactics. Here, we share three tactics that any insights professional can employ to increase the impact of the work they do. Editor's Note: You may also learn more in an interactive workshop Ryan is facilitating with Tara Montgomery of Consumer Reports on May 11 at the all-new NEXT 2017 Conference in New York.
1. Align your initiatives to the company’s strategic priorities.
Sometimes, the most well-intentioned insights projects are sidelined before they’re even started. This isn’t a reflection of the quality of the insights. Rather, it’s a result of the attention span of the organization. Most organizations find themselves with only two or three big priorities that the CEO and the Board of Directors actually care about. These priorities then cascade down through the organization. If your work is part of these initiatives, you’re helping. If it isn’t, you’re a distraction.
In some firms, those priorities are obvious. In others, it can take a little effort to separate the signal from the noise. Do your own research. If you work for a public company, listen to the analysts calls. Read the annual report. Ask business unit leaders what keeps them up at night. The more you know about what’s important, the more you can ensure that your projects are relevant.
2. Frame projects as needs, not solutions.
Too often, projects are scoped in a way that all but ensures modest, incremental results. We’ve all seen projects that are described as “The Future of Yogurt” or “The Next Generation Men’s Pants.” The framing of these projects is not surprising, especially when the project is sponsored by the yogurt division, or the men’s apparel department. People tend to think of projects in terms of the businesses they already have. That can become a problem when the business you have, does not reflect where an industry is going. For example, when a company like Sony starts a project on the future of compact disk players. The very question sets them up to be blindsided by the digital music revolution.
The issue is really one of differentiating the need from the solution. Businesses tend to think in terms of the solutions they sell, like yogurt. Insights teams have to recast projects to be about the needs they serve, like helping people get going in the morning. An easy way to do this is to rephrase a noun into verb. Of course, this will require some extra assurance to stakeholders, but defining your project in terms of needs, rather than solutions, will ensure the results have the greatest possible impact on the business.
3. Create experiences to help stakeholders shift their thinking.
Over time, experienced insights leaders develop a finely tuned sense of what their customers really think. The challenge is getting the rest of the organization to develop a similar intuition, especially when people have limited attention spans or strongly held opinions. Recognizing this challenge, successful insights teams are spending more time on improved experiences. They’re crafting two-hour or two-day sessions where business leaders can watch uncut videos or talk to customers first hand.
Rather than acting as a master storyteller, act as a guide, helping decision makers to come to conclusions on their own. Invariably, the insights teams who do this are leading their stakeholders down a path to conclusions that they’ve already made in advance. But the experience of getting there on their own helps executives own the insights in a way that is difficult for even the best storytelling to do.
Successful insights leaders align their initiatives to the company’s strategic priorities so they won’t seem like a distraction. They frame projects as needs, not solutions so that they don’t get stuck in a box of small changes. And they consciously create experiences to help decision makers reach conclusions for themselves. This overall approach requires managers to be more than just insights professionals. They need to be strategists, facilitators and designers of experiences. While hard to do at first, the result of this hybrid approach ultimately provides lasting impact for the company, and a greater sense of satisfaction for the individuals who effected that change.