Editor’s Intro: In a two-part series, Alexander Linder presents some key issues with the way many client insights departments are organized, and how he would recommend reorganizing these departments to achieve greater “stakeholder centricity” and greater effectiveness. The first part focused on key principles of his proposed reorganization. This second part presents details of how insights should be organized for the future.
The New Organization Setup
Taking into consideration changing stakeholder expectations leads to the conclusion that a functional organization CI model is not ideal.
A functional organization is one where the individual pillars are topic driven, e.g. consumer insights, market insights and brand insights. This setup is very prone to a silo-working mentality.
Different alternatives have been developed, matching the classical insights areas with the new stakeholder expectations, with the aim to change from a functional to a process organization and with the ambition to improve the collaboration of the insights individuals.
After a careful evaluation of different options, opinion gathering and sparring, the organization model, as depicted in Figure 1, turned out to be the best fit option. In this approach, an insights organization is divided into three pillars, that look at insights from an end-to-end perspective and it is guided by the stakeholder management philosophy. These three pillars are introduced in the following section.
Figure 1: The new Intelligence Organization
Insights Generation is the heart of every insights organization and has to secure the availability of the right insights at the right time to ensure operational and strategic fact-based decision making by means of a balanced research agenda, consisting of primary and secondary research.
In addition, it is important that the right seats at the relevant tables are “earned” to secure the insights department’s involvement in the right discussions with the right stakeholders. In this context, it is crucial to have a clear understanding and roadmap, how the team-members can become true business partners acting with the stakeholders. Key tasks and responsibilities of insights generation include:
- Maintain and further develop the research agendas (primary and secondary).
- Act as an incubator function for fundamental insights topics that are still missing in the insights portfolio.
- Balance the visibility and contact points between top- and senior management on the one side (insights sponsoring, commitment, decision making) and the middle-/lower-management on the other side (The “Doing “ of insights).
- Bring-to-life the stakeholder segmentation approach by implementing different operating models to ensure a differentiated service provision approach. The rationale here: not every stakeholder/project in the organization justifies or needs a full-service approach.
- Ensure the continuous collaboration link to Insights Excellence & Best Practice and Insights Activation & Dissemination.
- Implement a holistic approach to data analysis: combining and triangulating different sources and disciplines.
Insights Excellence and Best Practice is a guiding function for insights generation with an outlook focus. It is about raising the awareness of the best-practice approaches developed in the insights industry, ensuring that those are understood and can be applied where meaningful for the sake of efficiency gains. Core functions of Insights Excellence and Best Practice are:
- Systematic, ongoing screening of the research agency side to understand what new research tools, methods or techniques are being developed that could be applied, validated, resulting in a better way to generate insights.
- Addressing the training needs – first and foremost within the insights team – and the identification of suitable providers to cover these needs over the short- to mid-term. The second stage is to reach out also to the broader insights community within the company to train them too. Nowadays with tools like SurveyMonkey it is much easier for non-insights professionals within an organization to conduct research by themselves. The bigger the organization, the more complicated it is to control all insights-related activities. If an organization belongs to an association like ESOMAR, it is even more crucial to adhere to certain standards and ethical principles. The development of E-learning modules with content such as “what is an insight?”, “how are insights done in the company?” etc. also falls within the responsibility of Insights Excellence and Best Practice.
- Being aware of and understanding the changing requirements of the various insights stakeholders within an organization, addressing organizational changes in a timely manner to make sure that stakeholder requirements can be further met.
- Developing the current agency portfolio (agency segmentation) e.g. outsourcing options and new partnering agencies for insights generation.
- Provide support for new emerging topics in the organization like test store concept, outcome driven innovation, customer experience design or digital transformation.
- Develop a clear and concise picture portraying the insights profession and communicate across the organization.
Insights Activation and Dissemination plays a key role in 1) disseminating existing knowledge, making it accessible and transparent to the organization, 2) assisting key stakeholders in how best to act upon this existing knowledge as well as 3) connecting different insights. These are the focal points:
- Ensure a consistently holistic data approach by creating synergies across the different insights topics (e.g. brand tracking, shopper monitoring, advertisement tracker); support insights generation at the beginning and completion stage of new initiatives.
- Engage and connect relevant insights audience groups (meeting platform, topic/objective, participants) through stakeholder segmentation.
- Provide an intranet-based solution, so whenever internal stakeholders are looking for insights, they know where to go. Insights can be accessed and downloaded for internal purpose. Here, customization, powerful search functions or linking the insights with other insights are critical success factors.
- Develop F2F platforms where employees can exchange, address knowledge gaps and get impulses for insights activation. The online one-stop-shop solution is, without doubt, a good starting point but on top of this, f2f platforms are necessary to complement this offering. Human interaction within the area of knowledge dissemination is key and the best suitable platforms, for example, regular insights alignment meetings, lunchtime talks, workshop sessions.
- “Connecting the dots” in insights will become even more important in the future. Whilst individual topic areas have a potentially strong impact as stand-alone insight studies, there is an additional, huge potential in ensuring these studies are connected: additional insights can be generated even without commissioning further insights. It is also a great promotional tool for insights departments to demonstrate the business impact of insights, like a case study from a consulting company.
One challenge relates to departmental size and head-counts – that this type of CI organization can appear too big, with too many employees. Resolving this depends on the company-specific CI philosophy: if everything is done in-house, the challenge appears justified. However, if trusted external research agencies become partners, working in mid- to long-term collaboration rather than on limited ad hoc projects, whereby standard processes can be outsourced to the research agencies who act as the extended arm of the internal CI department, such partnerships allow client companies to keep their CI departmental structures relatively lean.
By adopting this new organizational model, companies can expect a range of improvements from the insights function. Here are the most important ones:
- The quality of insights generated increases, because team members responsible for insights generation are able to fully concentrate on the generation of insights, not having to deal with additional topics that are re-assigned to insights excellence and best practice resp. insights activation & dissemination.
- The attractiveness of the insights department increases – for existing team members, but also for other employees in the organization. The new and broader skillsets required in the three pillars go beyond pure/narrow research expertise.
- Collaboration and exchange between the three pillars improve, new ideas are generated for the further development and improvement of the intelligence/insights organization.