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Get Proactive: 5 Strategic Leadership Skills Insights Teams Need to Embrace

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Insights teams sit at the forefront of strategy-led decision-making across an enterprise. But today, it’s no longer enough to take action on currently available consumer insights, market conditions, or behavioral trends. Leaders also need to be successful at anticipating upcoming opportunities and challenges, so their businesses can stay ahead of the curve.

At TMRE Digital Week, Fuel Cycle’s Chief Revenue Officer Calista Corley outlined five areas where insights leaders should start sharpening their skills and capabilities now, so they can effectively adapt and respond to whatever is headed their way next.

1. Anticipating change (in direction, volume, and velocity)

Predictive decision-making hinges on having the ability to detect both upcoming opportunities and potential threats to business success. Market researcher experts are highly skilled at knowing the right questions to ask and the right techniques to use for generating timely, direction-setting insights. But their jobs become a lot harder when the answers they’re seeking aren’t knowable yet.

As we’ve seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, disruption can sweep in and change the game at any time. That makes it critical to be able to look beyond the conditions a business is operating under today and proactively probe a variety of sources for signs that new trends and behavior shifts are on the horizon. For this, Corley suggests that the most valuable approach may be to simply listen to customers in your communities and take your cues from what they’re focusing on.

“[Our community] members are often thinking about things that, as brands and researchers, we haven’t yet considered,” said Corley. Listening to the conversations they’re having – and the content they’re contributing – on her platform has helped her team discover exciting new ideas and opportunities. “When we have the ability to dive in and listen to them in really organic, authentic ways, we can find those nuggets of information, which that we can follow up on through our other quantitative and qualitative methodologies.”

2. Challenging current thinking and assumptions

It’s also difficult to adapt your business to emerging market conditions when you’re filtering your decision-making criteria through legacy knowledge and prior assumptions that may not be easily translatable to new situations. As Albert Einstein is often credited for saying, we can't solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. “To me, that really is the essence of strategic leadership: asking, how can we think differently and move quickly, so that our strategies can evolve,” says Corley.

Corley feels this is where the right technology can really make an impact on your outcomes: “Visualization technology allows you to dive into the data and challenge your executive team’s thinking through storytelling. Show them the person, show them their face. Show them the data in a way that is really going to make them understand why their strategy may need to evolve to stay successful,” she said.

3. Using sound methodologies to interpret and analyze complex data

Though the insights industry has come pretty far along in its use of quantitative research, Corley says she often hears that properly analyzing qualitative research remains a challenge.

This is no doubt compounded by the ever-increasing complexity of the data landscape, in general; and clearly, the ability to test data-driven hypotheses is an important factor here. But given how powerful and versatile the results from qualitative analysis can be, Corley encourages strategic leaders to explore the latest methodologies that make this type of data easier to work with. “There’s great automation technology today for reporting qualitative insights. You can do sentiment analysis, you can dive into keywords… it makes your ability to analyze very seamless,” she says.

Yet, Corley also suggests that a huge part of evolving your strategic vision hinges on how successfully you can democratize the data behind your decision-making – i.e., how skillfully you enable other functions and team members to easily understand what stories the data is telling, so they can apply that information in their own area of focus.

“It makes me so happy when I hear one of our brand customers say, ‘Our CMO is tapping in to check out that data that you guys conducted last week.’ That's democratizing data – people being able to interpret through meaningful data without having to wait weeks, or feel like they need a Ph.D., to get a clear understanding,” said Corley.

4. Balancing decision-making rigor with speed

Insights leaders need to be confident that their methodologies are sound, so they can challenge assumptions through data, show the story, and help others in their organization understand the “why” behind their recommended course of action. But they’re also challenged to provide that required rigor at warp speed, so their strategies can evolve at pace with what’s happening in the broader marketplace.

This is an area where Corley says automation technology and templatized research tools can be invaluable to speeding up key parts of the insights process.

“A lot of people may not realize there’s very good technology out there that allows you to break down qualitative data,” she said. “Some of the incredibly complex methodologies will, yes absolutely, still need a [hands-on] researcher involved. [But having] the ability to actually tap into them in a more streamlined and automated way means that you have [more options] when time is short.”

5. Bringing your organization into alignment

In Corley’s view, the ability to secure enterprise-wide alignment on our strategic recommendations is just as important as anything else we aim to accomplish through our insights work.

Once again, Corley points to visualization technology as a lever for accelerating progress towards this goal. “To me, that alignment comes more easily when you have the ability to be transparent. And that transparency comes when you feel comfortable in the ways in which you can display the data that you have come up with, show why you are making the decision to adjust your strategy, and help other individuals understand where they fit into the equation,” she said.

Next steps
Whether you are leading a team of market research experts or operating as a team of one, the insights function has a powerful role to play in any organization. Increasing your ability to think and act as a strategic leader in these five areas will be a massive asset to you as a person, as well as empower your business to continually evolve its customer value.

For more ideas on how to leverage consumer insights to stay on top of the emerging trends and marketplace disruptions on the horizon, register to join the All Things Insights exclusive meet-up on April 21: TMRE Connects: Brand, Insights & Innovation.


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