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From Insights to Action: Making Strategic Change Happen

Two of the most common reasons for doing market research are: (1) to identify and size opportunities, and (2) to minimize risk. Often when our clients observe or anticipate changes happening in their industry, they engage in research in order to support decision-making, sometimes to leapfrog the competition and sometimes to ensure survival. In other cases, our clients see concerning changes within their own customer base, and they conduct research in order to respond appropriately to optimize the customer experience they deliver, improve those relationships and generate loyalty.

No matter what the objectives are, how well a study is executed, or how statistically significant the findings are, the following holds true: insights are only as valuable as the action they drive. In other words, even if you identify the world’s biggest untapped market, the value of that finding is only truly realized if you do something about it, such as plan, design and launch a product or service to serve that untapped market and those unmet customer needs.

That said, when companies embark on any strategic effort, “activation” is arguably the most difficult step in the process. We all know that the rubber meets the road at the implementation stage. But all too often, even when research reveals insights that beg for action, organizations sit on the new learning and fail to take the necessary steps to activate meaningful change internally. In fact, it’s estimated that over 70% of organizational change efforts fail. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Through our years of partnering with client organizations in the private, not-for-profit and public sectors to help them research and execute strategic change, we have landed on a tried and tested set of guidelines to help their activation teams get started on the right foot. Below are three critical elements for launching an activation effort that will drive commitment and ultimately contribute to the success of any strategic initiative.

Create a Sustainable Competitive Advantage Through Research, Insights & Action

(1) Inspire affected teams by presenting a compelling vision for the effort.

During any change, people want a clear view of the path ahead and an understanding of how it will affect their world. It is helpful to start with a story that clearly articulates the big picture – why the change is important and how it will positively affect the company long-term. You want to answer these questions:

  • Why are we embarking on this change in the first place?
  • How will the changes we make today help achieve our vision for tomorrow?

A large financial institution we worked with suffered multiple quarters of declining customer satisfaction scores, due in large part to poor customer service within their credit card portfolio. To drive home the critical need to address it, the CEO created a “customer-first imperative." After extensive research that revealed the root of customers’ dissatisfaction, he built an elaborate Museum of the Customer in the lobby of company headquarters, complete with recordings and video of customers from the actual interviews. And every one of the company’s 1,800 employees was required to experience it. The effort dramatically laid the foundation for the significant changes all employees would experience as the company embarked on a customer-centric journey.

(2) Inform and engage with the right message at the right level.

While a Museum of the Customer was an ambitious beginning, every inspiration must be followed by a well-planned information and engagement campaign. This involves carefully analyzing which employees need to be informed and engaged, and to what degree. It’s not uncommon for some departments to need only cursory touches, while others will need a much deeper dive and more sustained engagement.

Once you have determined who will need to be informed and how, designate some level of “air cover” to support the communication and engagement. Just as ground troops are often supported with air protection or “air cover” during battle, intentional messaging by leadership or department heads will serve to support activation efforts. Messaging could range from a simple monthly email of encouragement to activation teams, to company-wide videotaped illustrations of the changes underway. When senior leaders continually model and show they are behind change efforts, the transformation is far more likely to be successful.

(3) Empower employees to make the strategic effort their own.

Fundamental to empowering people to activate change, is giving them the chance to discover and understand how changes will fit into their department and their work world. This discovery happens best by holding smaller sessions for departments specifically touched by the activation. We suggest hypothesizing together how changes will affect their area, and then testing the hypotheses before final implementation. It is equally important to give key groups ownership for setting timelines and organizing working groups for implementation.

Helpful outputs in the empower phase are department-relevant playbooks illustrating different use cases and outcomes, as well as communication and training plans to highlight the work being done.

Another way to empower employees and drive commitment is to recognize those individuals who are truly embracing the change and demonstrating desired behavior. For instance, the financial institution that made it an all-company goal to become more customer-centric introduced a new award given quarterly to the employee who tangibly demonstrated “customers first.” Employees could nominate peers, and winners were voted on by each department and revealed at an all-employee town hall. It not only made role models of individual employees but also allowed the entire organization to become engaged in the process.

While the mantra to inspire, engage and empower may seem simple, it takes thoughtful planning and committed execution to realize effective implementation. And statistics show it is well worth it. According to a Towers Watson ROI study, companies who are highly effective at activation / implementation are 3.5 times more likely to outperform peer organizations.

As experts in strategy and experience design as well as research and analytics, we at Phase 5 have a wealth of experience to offer when it comes to applying insights and making change happen. It’s important to us that clients unlock the value inherent in their research projects, and so we often find ourselves helping to initiate and plan the change management process. And when we see that plans are being developed and actions are being taken, that’s when we see our biggest client success stories.

Struggling to quantify an opportunity, inspire action or drive a much-needed change? Contact us. We’d be happy to discuss your specific challenges and share our perspective.

Written by Suzie Goan

Suzie Goan is a Manager of Qualitative Research and CX at Phase 5. She has over 15 years of experience leading consumer insights and CX projects for Fortune 1000 clients in financial services, healthcare, retail and hospitality, with a prime area of interest in research that taps into unconscious emotion through metaphor, images and storytelling. Suzie has written about CX in Marketing Management, MIT Sloan Management Review and Quality Management. She is based in Minneapolis, MN and holds degrees in Journalism and English from the University of Oregon.