One of your toughest jobs as an insights leader is to bring together a team that consistently performs on a superior level and produces insights that get action. Team members bring different experience levels and skill sets to the table and its your job to maximize their potential while making sure that the projects in which they are engaged match the business objectives of the company. You may feel there isn’t enough time to train or develop newer team members, but their communication, strategic thinking and reporting skills as well as the research and analysis methodologies with which they are familiar are key to consistent performance.
With the number of projects on your plate, taking time for high level strategic thinking and coaching members on a one-on-one basis seems counterintuitive. But this leadership approach is exactly what’s needed. The best leaders are teachers. Better team performance and better alignment of insights and objectives starts with the team. The team starts with you. Here’s how you can incorporate teaching and coaching to improve team performance while better aligning insights and business objectives.
Relevant and Useful Lessons
In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Sydney Finklestein shared what he learned from studying stellar leaders over the last ten years. The common thread that wove these leaders together was the amount of time they spent teaching practical lessons in professionalism, life, and points of their craft. Here are a few ways you can lead by teaching.
Professionalism. Aligning insights with business objectives means team members must ask deep, probing questions. That’s not easy for junior team members or even seasoned members with a deferential personality. Provide coaching on how to ask business partners challenging questions. Share the best methods for effective listening and how to deal with all different personality types. Your team will be better prepared to take a more collaborative approach when developing the insights brief and deliver research that better matches company objectives. By simply investing the time to teach and reinforce these tactics, you’ll be rewarded with higher level performance and business partners will receive actionable insights.
Points of Craft. Your team may be able to organize the facts, beliefs, and thoughts necessary to prepare an insights brief, but can they craft a brief that builds expectations about the outcomes of the research/analysis? They can if you teach them. Show them how to develop questions that are focused on the business needs before addressing the research needs. If the team is going to deliver insights that get action, they must be taught to identify the objective that the business has identified for the study; whether it’s improved profitability, or increased sales through market extensions. Share your experience with them.
Life Lessons. You’re a leader, not a parent. Why should you teach life lessons? Effective leaders are mentors. Mentors share innovative thinking and stories about conquering difficulties. At some point we have all experienced post research regret. Share your stories with your team so that they may build on your past experiences. Teach them how you’ve learned to take a situation and manipulate it so that you can see it from various angles and perspectives.
Always Be Teaching
Teachers are always teaching. Whether it occurs naturally in the office or in designated times, almost any time is a time to teach.
On the Job. You should always look for teachable moments and be ready to respond. Whether you operate in an open office environment or have a more traditional work setting, make sure your team members know you are accessible. Practice management by walking around. This allows you to observe your team members in action. Always be open to brief, but in-the-moment coaching conversations, even if they occur in the hallway or elevator.
Designated Times. Great leaders create time for teaching, they don’t just wait for it. Tommy Frist, Jr. is an avid pilot. When he was CEO of HCA he invited his proteges up in his airplane. You don’t need to take to the skies but taking a team member to dinner can provide time for one-on-one conversation. You’ll improve team performance when you take time to teach.
How you deliver is almost as important as what you deliver. Over 2,000 years ago Cicero said, “The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk.” It’s still good advice today. Choose conversation over pontification. It will be more effective every time.
Customize. Tailor the lesson to the individual. People learn in different ways and have different needs. Your teaching should match both. For example, a team member with a differential personality may need coaching to feel more comfortable in uncomfortable situations such as challenging business partners at a higher organizational level about project assumptions. Role-play. Others need to be pushed to break old habits. Draw on your personal experiences to teach these team members how exploring what’s not included in a project reveals underlying and unstated assumptions. Show examples of how the company benefits when they deliver insights that match company objectives.
Socratic Method. Take a tip from classroom teachers. Use the Socratic method to ask sharp, relevant questions. Instead of pointing out weaknesses in a draft brief, ask “Do you think your business partner has thought through the problem thoroughly?” or “What additional questions might you have asked for more clarity?” Questions are also a great way to educate yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to find out what team members think.
Modeling. Sometimes just seeing the right behavior is all a team member needs. So, be sure to lead by example. And don’t limit modeling to yourself. Inventory individual team member strengths and create situations so others can learn from them. Does one team member have a great way for eliciting underlying biases and hypotheses of business partners? Is one team member particularly adept at translating business objectives to research objectives? Have other members shadow these skill experts and learn through observation.
Even the best teachers utilize teaching aids and great leaders know how to use tools to work more effectively. That’s why DecisionAdvancer comes complete with coaching resources to improve team performance through insights and business objective alignment. These tools include definitions, how to’s and examples for such critical skills as:
Understanding what and how decisions will be made. Going beyond stating the business objective of an insights-based project to identifying the business decisions that will be made. Learn to identify whether it is a “go-no go” situation or if the information is needed for another stage of development. It’s much easier to recommend the right research and analytics objectives and methodologies if you understand what and how decisions will be made.
Identifying the criteria on which decisions will be made. Going beyond stating the research/analytical objective to identifying the criteria on which decisions will be made. For example, would the percent likely to buy a proposed solution be enough upon which to base a decision? Or would the decision require more rigorous proof, such as that based on an in-market test?
Identifying the hypotheses and expectations of business partners. Business partners may have beliefs or expectations about the resulting insights and information. For example, they might have some information from the sales team or a distributor that leads them to have certain beliefs as to the popularity of a competitive product. Identifying these hypotheses and expectations gives the insights team a leg-up in analysis and reporting.
Teaching Can Improve Team Performance while Aligning Insights and Business Objectives
The greatest leaders are teachers. It’s true no matter where you are in a company. In the Insights Department, great leaders teach their team to produce projects that address business objectives as well as research objectives. They arm them with the techniques and tools that increase individual and team performance. In the end, if you aren’t teaching, you aren’t leading.
Want to see the Olivetree Insights coaching tools in action? Contact Us or call 513-321-3483 for more information or to schedule a 20-minute demo.