Amplify Strategic Decisions

Keys to Ending Research Regret and Delivering Actionable Insights

This is the final in a three-part series on avoiding research regret and delivering insights that get action.

In the first two installments, we reviewed the root causes and costs of research regret. We also shared a case study about Jason, the Insights Director for an ice cream manufacturer, and revealed why complete clarity on the business problems and opportunities before research begins is so critical. It’s the only reliable way to deliver insights that get action.

In this post, we’ll reveal ways to avoid research regret.

Download our free ebook, Research Without Regret for more tips to end research regret and deliver actionable insights.

Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert would have made a great insights professional.

Every research professional knows that it’s important to align research with business needs. Otherwise a vaguely defined study can lead to poor quality results. But how research is aligned with business needs varies widely. Some research departments rely on informal probing and others utilize a more formal insights brief process.

At Olivetree Insights we interviewed corporate insights leaders to identify best practices. We discovered that more rigorous approaches for aligning research with business needs were more effective in yielding actionable insights. In fact, a rigorous approach tended to result in fewer projects per researcher over the course of a year and a more selective focus.

So, let’s look at the key technique that Jason could have used to avoid his research regret.

The Power of Checklists

All skilled craftsmen have a set of go-to tools in their toolbox. The Power Dozen Checklist questions are your power tools. And as Atul Gawande explains in his book, The Checklist Manifesto, well designed checklists improve outcomes no matter how expert you are in a subject.

Checklists improve efficiency, consistency, and quality in fields as diverse as healthcare to aviation. When used properly, checklists are not just a ‘to do’ list, they are a powerful communication tool that can connect interdisciplinary team members around complex tasks.

DecisionAdvancer took the best practices from Fortune 500 insights departments and applied the Checklist Manifesto philosophy to create the Power Dozen Checklist. This is a list of questions to ask during the design phase and they are organized into the following 10 topics:

Business-Needs Focused Objectives

For example, you might start by asking your business partners “What is the current situation that is triggering the request for research /analysis?” This can be a good lead-in for probes related to the business objective(s) being addressed (e.g., improved profitability, increased sales through market extensions).

Next, add dimension to the business objective by defining how the information will be used, whom in the organization will be affected (and might need to be brought into study design), and the existing beliefs regarding the possible results.

Once the business objectives are clear, it’s time to move on to the research needs.

Research-Needs Focused Objectives

The remaining questions focus on clearly defining the research objectives and how they will meet the business needs.

First, start by considering what’s currently known about the focus area. This enables the team to avoid duplicating prior efforts while leveraging past learnings. Once this is done, the research/analytics objective converts the business objectives into research language. The final items on the list clarify the research objectives in more detail.

Download our ebook to get the Power Dozen Checklist and more ideas for avoiding research regret.

Benefits of Using the Power Dozen Checklist

The Power Dozen Checklist has been field-tested and proven to work.

Corporate researchers who’ve used this checklist methodology report improved dialogue that assures that all parties in a study/analysis are on the same page when it comes to objectives, methodology, and deliverables.

In addition, insights teams using the Power Dozen Checklist report that it:

  • Ensures that the study results adequately serve the primary business needs.
  • Reinforces a more efficient use of funds and resources for limited research dollars.
  • Confirms that decision makers and stakeholders are prepared for potential results (positive and negative) in advance.
  • Provides quality control guidelines.
  • Brings more consistency across the Insights Department – so all team members can perform at the same high level and your stakeholders know what to expect when engaging with the Insights team.

Two Ways the Power Dozen Checklist Would Have Helped Jason

Many of the problems Jason and Patrick encountered could be traced back to the design and planning phase of their ice cream flavor project. Had they used the Power Dozen Checklist to create a Smart Insights Brief here’s just two examples of what they would have uncovered:

Hypotheses & Expectations
Patrick clearly missed unstated expectations that weren’t revealed until the report was presented. If Jason’s team had known that brand leadership expected the chocolate latte macchiato flavor to lead the pack because it was an award winner, he could have discussed the differences in expert versus consumer judging of flavors during the design and the reporting stage of the project.

Out of Scope
An exploration of what’s NOT to be included in a project can reveal underlying, unstated assumptions. In fact, what’s left unsaid can contribute to misunderstanding as easily as something that is misstated. In Jason’s case, an exploration of what’s out of scope might have revealed that competitive flavors should have been considered as part of the study.
Identifying what is out of scope is critical to avoid misunderstandings about deliverables. It also eliminates some of the second guessing that can happen at the end of the project. “We should have asked…” regret is replaced with actionable insights.

It’s time to stop regretting and start getting action on your insights.

Want to learn more about how Olivetree Insights can help you research without regrets?  Our proven technology can align your insights to better support business needs.  Find out how. Email us at ask@olivetreeinsights.com or call (513) 321- 3483 and arrange for a free demonstration today.

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When Good Research Goes Bad

This is the second in a three-part series on avoiding research regret and delivering insights that get action. In the first installment, we looked at the cost of research regret and learned to identify the types of research regret. In this article we’ll get to the root causes of research regret.

Jason had a terrible, no good, horrible, rotten day. When we last saw him, he was lying in bed reflecting on how it had gone so wrong. He knew his project had been a success; all the way up to the time he began to present his insights that is. “Why weren’t competitive flavors included? Why didn’t the chocolate latte macchiato flavor do better? Were the right people in the study?”  The questions were like a barrage of bullets and Jason had no cover.  Instead of staring at the ceiling, if Jason wants to research without regrets, he needs to dig deep and find the root causes.

When he does, he will find five main drivers.

1.  Acting Instead of Planning

Speed is everything in business. Customers expect almost instant gratification, and insights clients aren’t any different. If business isn’t nimble or lacks the ability to evolve and grow quickly, it will be outpaced by the competition. Evolve or die is the new normal. But the pressure for speed comes at a cost. This desire to “do something” leads to “do anything”.  In the rush to “get ‘er done” the design and planning stages of the project are rushed. Jason and his client partner equally feel this pressure and their reactions are only human.

The Human Bias Towards Action

When faced with problems, humans naturally respond with action. The natural urge is to take action, even when it is counterproductive. A found that while a goalie the highest chance of stopping a penalty kick if they stay in the center of the goal versus diving left or right, goalies only stay in that spot 6.3% of the time.

So, why don’t they stand where they should? Because it feels and looks better to take action, even if it means diving and missing the ball.

The bias towards action is based on emotion and it must be resisted.

Jason isn’t a soccer goalie, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t biased towards action. When the Harvard Business Review surveyed participants in their executive education classes, they found that managers feel more productive executing tasks than planning them. If there is a shortage of time (and when isn’t time in short supply?) these professionals perceive time spent planning to be time wasted. The bias towards action is based on emotion. It must be resisted. It is a key reason organizations don’t learn and is a root cause of post research regret.

Consequences of Action

This bias toward action has two unintended consequences that lead to post research regret.

Staff Overload. In a recent Quirks corporate researcher survey, almost 60% of insights professionals cited ‘too many projects for our staff’ and 50% reported “too many projects for budget” as often being pain points for their departments. No wonder people feel overworked.

And to add to the stress, over 40% of those same insights professionals said, “not completing a project fast enough” is a challenge. Like you, when Jason feels overworked, his tendency is to work harder – to take even more action – when taking more action might not be the best course of action.

Lack of Strategic Thinking. If Jason’s company culture doesn’t support strategic, forward-thinking research, his department may be spending too much money on one-off projects with limited long-term value. Jason and the company would be better served investing in projects that are able to guide the company’s direction.

Fortunately, Cambiar’s 4th Annual Future of Research Report (chart below courtesy of Cambiar Report) shows that insights professionals are increasingly impacting the C-Suite and other corporate strategists. Unfortunately, 30% of those same marketing researchers feel say that “business decisions are being made faster than we can provide input”. If Jason and other corporate researchers like you are going to take on a greater role as a strategic partner, they must have time to think strategically.

2.  Accepting Not Probing

Jason delegated the new flavor research study to a new but trusted member of his team. Patrick is a skilled and savvy researcher with extensive supplier-side experience. Jason was confident in his ability to design and complete this project.

However, because Patrick is new to the company, he is just getting to know the business team members. He didn’t feel completely comfortable asking what he thought might be too many probing questions during the design phase and was unsure of his authority to do so.

Unfortunately, Patrick didn’t feel comfortable second guessing the list of flavors provided by the brand team. Nor, did he ask about what was out of the scope of the project.

After all, he was getting more background on this project than he had ever received at his previous employer on the suppler-side.

Asking probing questions, such as clarifying probes (tell me more about…) and elevating questions (let’s take a step back….) are critical for aligning insights projects with business needs.

In fact, most professionals have a ‘favorites” list of probes they use while designing a study.

However, too often what’s “outside of the scope” isn’t discussed based on the mistaken belief that once what’s “in” a project is known, the rest is “out.” Yet, missing this exploration often leads to scope creep, the bane of insights professionals!

Exploring what’s NOT included in a project is vital to success

Exploring what’s “out of scope” often reveals underlying, unstated assumptions. In addition, this exploration not only reduces the risk of scope creep, but can also reduce misunderstandings about the desired outcomes and the second guessing that can happen at the end of the project (e.g. “We should have asked about the competitive flavors…”).

3.  Ignoring Decision-Maker Disconnect

“Delegation is the passing on of actions, not responsibility” as Eric Edmeades so aptly reminds us. Delegation is important for all managers, but not all managers are effective delegators. Part of effective delegation is clearly defining, communicating, and confirming goals.

Everything just works much better when a leader can define and communicate their goals than when they leave everyone guessing.

In Jason’s case, his team was working directly with a brand manager on the research project design. The insights team assumed that the brand manager kept the VP in the loop and vice versa.

What you don’t know that you don’t know can sink your project. Engage decision makers to clearly define and confirm project goals.

Unfortunately for Jason, Patrick, and everyone else involved, this wasn’t the case. During the entire planning period, the VP was in Europe, busy hammering out new expansion plans.

The VP delegated the project to the brand manager and then disconnected. The brand manager didn’t have the opportunity to verify key assumptions, such as which flavors to include in the project.

In addition, Jason delegated the project to a new team member and then re-directed his energies to the many other projects coming across his desk.

This was the ‘easy one’ after all!

4.  Not Expecting the Unexpected and Status Quo Bias

Unexpected results are inevitable. Be prepared. Jason wasn’t. The brand team didn’t like the chocolate latte macchiato scores. They wanted the flavor to win. Unexpected results are tough.

Uncovering “bad news” is part of the job. It’s why you do research. Insights identify risks and opportunities. If all research just confirms the known, it is meaningless.

The brand team had practically decided to include chocolate latte macchiato in their new lineup. Jason and Patrick didn’t know that the brand team was talking to retailers, who were excited about the flavor. When the flavor didn’t win, the research was questioned.

This is a perfect example of status quo bias.  It’s when managers prefer past practices or past decisions because it’s an easy and comfortable default. Jason and Patrick should have known prior flavor decisions were based on flavor trends and retailer input. The brand team trusted this method. Researching flavors with consumers was new, so they were naturally uncertain about it. People resist change because they fear change. People fear loss of control, the unfamiliar and uncertain, and ripple effects. Jason should have assured them of the process in the beginning and throughout the project.

5.  Ignoring Changing Dynamics

Many research studies can take from 6 to 12 weeks before the results are presented. In a rapidly changing environment, lots can happen in that time frame. It’s imperative that the research team be kept informed of any major external market factors that change during this critical period.

Insights professionals are increasingly being called upon to provide actionable insights at a moment’s notice in an increasingly dynamic environment. New research and analytical technology has helped to speed up the process, but do not replace human intelligence.

During Jason’s ice cream study, a competitor might have launched a new flavor, or a key retailer could have indicated a different flavor preference. Either one of these circumstances could have significant influence on the study analysis and report.  If the research team isn’t kept in the loop during this critical period, this context would be lost, and research regret would ensue.

 

Now that you’ve seen discovered the root causes of post research regret, are you ready to learn techniques to deliver actionable results time and again?

Stay tuned for the third article in this series or Download our FREE e-book “Research without Regrets”.

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Research Without Regret – Creating Insights that Get Action

 

This is the first of a three-part series on avoiding research regret and delivering results that stakeholders act on.

Get our FREE ebook, Research Without Regret, download it here.

 

While insights professionals increasingly have access to the executive leadership table, the ability to spark business partners to make decisions and take action on the insights they provide is still a struggle. Every researcher experiences post research regret based on their inability to inspire action at some time. No matter how well you think the project went, in the end the users didn’t get the research results they expected or would use. And you’re left wondering why.

To avoid post research regret, you’ve got to understand what it is, why it happens, and the actions you can take to prevent it. In this series you will earn how to identify different types of research regret, the root causes of research regret, and discover proven techniques to research without regrets.

Research Regret Wastes Resources

Quirk’s recent corporate research report found that the biggest pain points for managing and conducting research were:

  • too many projects for the budget
  • too many projects for the staff

Sense a theme? Resources are scarce. When resources are scarce, it is critical you maximize their value. According to ESOMAR 2016, the global spend on research was almost $80 billion dollars. Yet the Quirks report showed that almost 85% of researchers aren’t able to get action based on research insights at least some of the time. In fact, half say this is often a challenge.

Half of all researchers say getting action on insights is often a challenge

 

Research Regret Shakes Confidence

Additionally, projects that fail to deliver actionable results lead business partners to lack confidence in marketing research.

Couple this with the challenges of demonstrating ROI and it’s no wonder research gets a bad rap in business press.  Forbes has articles like “Why So Much Market Research Sucks” and Harvard Business Review tells the C-level that “Real Leaders Don’t Do Focus Groups”. But what these business writers are really saying is “don’t waste money on bad research or research you regret”. We agree.

Jason’s Research Regret

Jason is having a hard time getting to sleep.  He lies in bed, staring at the ceiling and reflects on his day. It was tough. And as he contemplates the texture of the plaster above his head, he wonders how he could have avoided the situation and what had he done wrong.

Every project that ends in regret wastes time, money and human resources

He thought he had a big success.  After all, consumers really liked several of their new proposed ice cream flavors. Except, the meeting had spiraled out of control pretty quickly. He had faced a barrage of questions. Why weren’t competitive flavors part of the study? Why didn’t the chocolate latte macchiato flavor do better?  Was he sure the right people were in the study? It just didn’t end.

Does Jason’s experience sound familiar?  Every researcher has had this experience. Just like Jason, you end up with post research regret and wonder where it all went wrong.

Get your free ‘Research Without Regrets’ ebook – download it now! An easy-to-read guide that identifies stakeholder post-research regrets, their root causes, and tips for achieving regret free research successes.  

Expressions of Research Regret

Research regret is most commonly expressed in four ways.

Missing information

In our case example, Jason was challenged on the decision to exclude competitive flavors from the study. Upon reflection, Jason realized that they had received the list of flavors to include from the R&D department and the list of flavors had been approved by his brand team contact. However, he did not vet the flavor set with the channel group. No wonder he was caught off guard when they asked questions at the report stage. At that point it was a little too late! So, Jason’s team was missing vital information.

Told Us What We Already Know

This wasn’t a situation that Jason faced, but in some cases researchers might hear that the research “told us what we already knew.”

In some cases, research that confirms internal beliefs can be very useful. Those beliefs turn into facts, which is particularly important when investments against those facts are being made.

In other cases, however, this might point to situations where the results did not reflect the types of learnings that a decision-maker needs.

Wrong Conclusion

Jason was happy to report that several flavors in the test had done very well. But instead of the news of the winning flavors being met with enthusiasm, the team didn’t believe the conclusion that chocolate latte macchiato was not among them.

Unfortunately, Jason didn’t know this flavor had been awarded “new flavor of the year” by experts at an industry food event. Executives were sure they had a winner. No wonder they were surprised at the results.

The Quirk’s report also revealed that half of all researchers are faced with the challenge of not delivering expected results at least some of the time. Learnings not aligning with expected results is typically a problem only if the news is bad. Usually no one minds when the results are better than expected. That’s good news. Everyone hates bad news, but that’s why you do research in the first place.  Bad news is good news. The sooner a company knows it is on the wrong path, the smaller the sunk cost.

Wrong Process

The first three expressions of regret are based on the outcome of the research.  The fourth expression is based on the process and if heard, typically follow the “wrong conclusion” expression.

Jason was asked if the right people were in the study. Why? Because the results were unexpected, decision makers start to ask about the process; in essence questioning the validity of the research. Partner regret is particularly troubling if it erodes trust in the ability of a marketing researcher to do their job.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” – Stephen Covey

Their reaction put Jason in a defensive position and tonight he’s starting to question the process too. How could he and his team could have been clearer and collaborated better with the decision-making team?  Before he tries to solve the problem, Jason’s now ready to consider the root causes of this situation.

Ready to get to the root causes of research regret? Stay tuned to read our next blog.

Download the free ‘Research Without Regrets’ ebook!  An easy-to-read guide that identifies stakeholder post-research regrets, their root causes, and tips for achieving regret-free research successes.
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