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Transformation Secret: Transform the What, Not the Who

By Jim Bryson

On September 22, 1986, two young guys hung out a shingle with the goal of establishing a research firm focused on the delivery of outstanding research and a relationship-building commitment to serving clients.  That was the day 20|20 Research was born.  Thirty years later, that qualitative consultancy and facility company has transformed to become a firm committed to a technology focus in addition to our traditional business.  Throughout each change over 30 years, our cultural commitment to relationship-building service has never wavered.

Earlier this year, Jeff Resnick, Managing Partner of Stakeholder Advisory Services recorded the key to 20|20’s long-term success in Greenbook’s ebook, “Transformation IQ.”

Stay true to who you are. One of the most important decisions made by Jim Bryson was NOT to become a software company. 20|20’s roots and strengths are in the area of qualitative research, not software development. This led to a strategy of providing innovation coupled with a very strong service offering rather than a company focusing on selling software.

Over the years 20|20 Research has transformed what we do – but through it all we have stayed true to who we are.  The most significant example occurred in 2007 when the company decided that research technology was a key strategy for its future.  The decision was to shift our product development focus from face-to-face services to technology-based solutions.  While many in the industry pursued SaaS-based technology products, we made the decision to stick to our services model with a technology overlay.  That decision has served us well for almost 10 years.

Every company is different.  However, a company’s key to long-term success is its people and the culture that guides employees’ actions and priorities even when no manager is looking.  Long-term success is impossible without a strong culture that guides the small and large decisions each employee make every day.

Culture is what makes transformation possible.  With a strong and consistent culture, companies can change products, services, and even industries.  However, changing culture is incredibly difficult because changing culture means changing all the rules, even the ones you can’t articulate.  It means changing the answer to the question, “Who are we?”  It is a process fraught with peril and likely to fail.

When executives consider new products or new markets, they look at business needs – strategy, market gaps, value propositions, and the like. They often overlook the company’s culture.  This is a mistake.  Even the best market strategy is likely to fail if it does not fit the firm’s culture.  Conversely, a weak strategy that is aligned with culture has a significantly higher chance of success.

20|20 is not a high-flying technology firm.  But we have lasted for 30 years and transformed our business significantly, but we have never abandoned our culture.  As we look to future transformations, we will remain true to our history and our culture regardless of where the market transformations take us.

When faced with a point of transformation, choose culture every time.  Be who you are, not what you do.


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Jim Bryson

Jim Bryson

President, 20|20 Research