In my career I have had the privilege of establishing an insights function from scratch twice, once for an Asia Pacific regional footprint in an established large global organization, and more recently in a young Singapore-based business.
These two experiences have been quite some years apart, so it has been interesting to reflect on the changes in the nature of the work, the skills needed in an insights team, the technology available for our work and the challenges faced by insights practitioners.
A lot has changed, however one thing that I feel is persistent is the challenge of really achieving “insights to action” and leveraging the cumulative value of insights work.
A phrase that regularly pops up on process frameworks, job descriptions, and roadmaps, “insights to action” refers to the shift that we expect to take place when decisions and actions are taken as the result of providing a new or different viewpoint founded on data.
It has been exciting and fulfilling as an insights practitioner to uncover new angles that could make a difference to lives, in a bid to answer product, marketing, UX questions and hypotheses confidently with data. However, on the other side of the spectrum, it can be disheartening to realize that there was no anticipated pivot from the (possibly non-viable) plan, or breakthrough new business strategy materializing from our powerful insights.
Accomplishing “insights to action” can feel somewhat hit and miss, depending on the nature and magnitude of the topic, context and forces outside of our sphere of control. One of the biggest factors is the engagement with stakeholders at the beginning and through the work, the sense of shared ownership.
I look back on projects that had instant impact. Changing how products are communicated or priced, or the order of new feature developments on a roadmap – all improvements for the customer and the business.
And then I recall instances of powerful narratives for change, that were difficult to land. Wholesale changes needed for customers’ journeys; rethinks required on app functionality, seizing the opportunity to close a significant product gap. The horizon for some of these to impact could be years, and in that time, the actors change, and the organizational focus may shift.
Yet through all of this, tenured insights practitioners become the purveyors of accumulated insight.
We owe it to ourselves and to humanity to be that lighthouse that burns bright with insights that can be acted on, no matter who asks, when they ask or how they ask. We must be there to light the way, to be the enabler of insights to action.
But that is only one part of the equation. For this to work, we need people to journey out from what may be a safe place, to listen and embrace new and different viewpoints.
Even after listening, taking action can be a challenge. That “say-do gap” we seek to solve for as researchers and strategists, is a phenomenon not just in the human lives we study, but also in the organizations in which we work.
Action is a distributed and collective effort in most organizations. There can be many roles and entities that we will need to reach, biases to be overcome, and people required to act in unison. Applying behavioral design helps to systematically maximize insights to action over the long view: through interventions designed to make desired behavior compelling.
In my experience, five strategies have helped; these make it attractive, memorable, and easy to action insights:
- Sparking empathy from day one
- Providing a constant flow of customer knowledge
- Translating insights to success
- Surfing the biggest wave
- Agitating for the right thing
Here are the specific, practical activities that I have implemented successfully, and some that I wish in hindsight I had pursued more persistently!
Spark empathy from day one
Make sure insights is on the new joiner orientation roster, and go the extra mile with senior leaders, inviting them to view and discuss compilations of the most important insight narratives, with customer voices and faces. What new senior leader doesn’t want to get a grounding about the people the organization serves?
Maintaining and organizing individual insights in a repository (with evidence) comes to the fore, affording the ability to select and tailor what is relevant, and video-based customer stories are remembered long after day one.
Provide a constant flow of customer knowledge
Deliver signals regularly: automated emails of voice of customer dashboards and other continuous tracking to the people who can take action. Accompany this with stories of real people, in small snippets campaigned through the year on intranet and messaging platforms.
The need to access insights and the timing of when they are produced do not always synchronize, so it is best to get insights artefacts out where people can see them and use them on demand – for example, the customer journey maps that show pain points, the personas that help teams start thinking with a human-centered mindset, the segmentation, trends and other frameworks that help to create common understanding.
Translate insights to success
Share the stories of insights that have been applied and how it has made a difference. Equally, show the potential that is still on the table to act on the unaddressed insights and how they link to the team or organizations’ KPIs and targets. Summarize the successes and the potentials on a quarterly or annual cadence. Take it a step further and produce a “success formula” – an insights perspective on the five insight-led actions that would bring the team closer to success.
Surf the biggest wave
Get insights a seat on the transformation team to be part of important shifts and align with forward momentum of the organization. Bring insights into the transformation discussion, into the scope and design of the initiatives. Show how transformation could impact customers and what can be done to increase the likelihood of success.
Agitate for the right thing
When a fundamental, universal or radical truth emerges from insights work, one that cries out for broadscale attention and new thinking, it is a momentous opportunity to catalyze sponsorship and advocacy for the change needed to embrace this truth. Spread the word, paint a picture of a new future, and build a coalition of people who get it and will work through the organization to drive impact.
(I found this to be the case around the truth that “humans understand pictures better than words”, provoking a change in customer communication over a long timeframe.)
Insights work is much more than applying research craft to generate information and fresh perspectives in the here and now, it is equally about driving action through long change.
Thinking of insights as a lighthouse helps us to keep in mind how we spotlight the path for others to reach their destination, how the landscape of journeys and people traveling on them is always changing, and how the bright constant of the light is essential, to so many others.