The Importance of Story Telling (by Russ Rubin)
One of my passions is talking. For those of you who know me, this isn’t a big surprise. I would like to think that the stories I tell my friends, family and colleagues are engaging and memorable. And surprisingly, many of the stories I tell have to do with consumers and making sense of their behavior and attitudes.
As someone who has been a client (over 30 years), a supplier (7 years) and a consultant (2 years), I’ve seen an agonizing number of painful toplines, summaries, reports and presentations. And the number of them which have stuck to my ribs during that time are infinitesimal; but those that have stuck are the those which I share over and over again. They have made me smarter and more insightful and I like sharing that wisdom.
What makes them so sticky? The answer…the key message can be story-fied. I am able to lay out a scenario, populate it with ‘characters’, create some tension and provide a resolution that captures the research without the use of PowerPoint or very many numbers. The ‘deliverable’ works as both research finding and memorable fable.
I use the word ‘fable’ intentionally. Great stories have a whiff of the Grimm Brothers to them. They have qualities which are simple, but provide a mythical aura of insight. Most of what is called a story by market researchers is a repackaging of slides—but it is highly doubtful there is a story in the morass of numbers and numerous findings.
So why should you care how your message is delivered? Research conducted by Cambiar in late 2014 highlights the importance of storytelling. Leaders in our industry recognize that increased speed of doing business requires a deliverable that is intuitive and memorable. Stories (and the art of storytelling) is the answer.
I have the honor of teaching several classes a year with a significant focus on storytelling. If my students could they would say that the story of my class is “Less is More”. A story is focused. A story is concise. A story is notopaque; it is clear and transparent.
The next time you present research results, make them:
And like on the TV game show Jeopardy–make sure it’s in the form of a story.
The future awaits you.
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Reflection on Leadership (by Lock Collins)
Over the past year, we at Cambiar have observed great leadership behaviors from our clients, as well as some not-so-great behaviors in the industry at large. To start the year off well, we took a closer look at these behaviors and made some suggestions for 2015.
As a side bar, most of our client relationships are with senior leadership or simply the CEO. As such, these observations focus primarily on those individuals rather than the human resource staff or mid-level managers.
Transparency is Key: If you want your team to achieve great things, articulate your strategy. Help everyone understand their role in achieving the company’s desired results, AND, what success means for your team. As we recruit senior market research professionals we, of course, dig into compensation history and try to understand why they are paid as they are. When it comes to incentives and bonuses, it’s more common than not for these recruits to be completely in the dark as to how their “at-risk” compensation is determined. Employees may or may not know whether the company has a good year (scary to think how that is sometimes not communicated). However when it comes to their bonus or incentive payments, there is a complete lack of transparency. What to do differently? Tell your team what success looks like, explain the components of their incentive plan, monitor progress and celebrate big pay-outs. Employees should never be surprised when they receive their bonus check.
Don’t Settle on Talent: Most of us think we do a pretty good job when selecting new talent. Unfortunately, we’ve all failed and it’s typically for the same reason: we need to get the job filled and we convince ourselves that the available candidate can do the job. Never mind that they don’t have the required experience, that there are frequent and unexplained career moves and what about those evasive answers? Don’t settle and don’t compromise! Understand what you’re looking for, structure your interviews around skills and behaviors and keep your antenna up. Trust your instincts and be open to passing on a candidate simply because it doesn’t feel right.
Be Authentic: Don’t forget your Employer Brand when recruiting. The assessment process goes both ways and not all candidates will recognize the great opportunities that your company provides. According to the Conference Board, “Employer Branding establishes the identity of the firm as an employer. It encompasses the firm’s values, systems, policies and behaviors toward the objectives of attracting, motivating, and retaining the firm’s current and potential employees.” In other words, it’s the thing that determines whether or not your employees will give their all for the company. It’s not uncommon for a candidate to leave an interview with doubts as to whether they are interested in taking the next steps in the evaluation process. In fact, we had one senior level candidate who summed up an interview as follows, “Great company, lots of potential, nice people – but I will not work for that manager. Call me if anything changes.” The experience this candidate had will be discussed over and over as they network within the industry. Are you training your managers on interview skills, or are you letting them wing it? Do your managers listen or do they try to impress the candidate of their own value? And finally, are your managers accurately describing the company and the position? Failure to do so will quickly lead to a disenchanted work force.
All the factors we have just reviewed are inextricably linked. From our research, research companies that have great Employer Brands all share the same traits: inspired leadership linked to a compelling strategy that is relentlessly communicated.
The New Year is a good time to reflect on the awesome responsibility of leadership. Are you going through the motions, or are you constantly challenging yourself and your team to find a better way? Now is the time to step up your game, articulate your strategy, lead and communicate by example and build the best team you possibly can!
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Q: Why did the researcher cross the street? A: To see what the chicken was doing. (by Russ Rubin)
Does this sound like you?
Do you live in fear that the chicken has discovered an amazing new research tool that allows it to understand the shopping behavior of humans in the poultry section of their grocery store? And that you might miss out unless you follow it?
When I started in this industry, certain research methodologies were well established. There was a decent framework for how those tools worked and how they fit into our business process. We had a great segmentation approach: one segment creatively labeled “everyone.”
But seriously, as an industry, we had a belief structure for just about anything—from solving consumer and product problems, to evaluating new product ideas, developing and evaluating communications, or making go/no go decisions. The methods then reflected our belief structures.
Because we had a framework, a structure, and a process, we had the basis for a “Best Practice” as such, the ‘methods for our not-so-madness.’
Now, as an industry, I’m not sure where we are today. It’s not clear to me that there are wise folks who are providing belief structures for how things work and fit together. Certainly, there is no belief structure that cuts across the lion’s share of our industry. Some client companies have decided to focus on early stage idea development at the front end of the stagegate funnel. Some have decided to not run concept tests for the most part. Others have decided that ad testing is for the Middle Ages. Others want to understand the emotional underpinnings to all purchase and usage decisions. And some just throw spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks.
All of this may even be correct and sensible, but what I am not seeing or hearing is what do we believe? How does all of this come together and how will this work to ultimately help the business we are paid to support?
Honestly, I think the multitude of tools and the scary changes taking place in our industry have caused us to take our eye off of the ball. We are missing something that is core to our discipline. We owe it to our business partners and clients to have a belief structure—this is how our business works and these are the steps we need to take to insure competitive success.
Due to the need for speed, greater fragmentation of sales channels and media, and in the environment of lowered budgets, it seems we have moved from the belief structure of “proof and risk-reduction” to the belief structure of “intuition and greater acceptable risk.” And if that’s the case, I want someone smarter than me to say with certainty, “Here are the tools and processes which can best be combined in a coherent, cohesive way in support of that belief structure.”
So, let’s stop crossing the road in pursuit of the chicken. Let’s generate a roadmap built on our belief of how business works and how research supports that business.
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A New World for Performance Management (by Lock Collins)
I’ve written about performance management programs in the past, generally in a very unflattering manner. Employees and managers alike fail to gain the desired benefits from traditional programs; e.g., improved communications and alignment with the strategy of the business. Having created and trained staff on numerous programs, I thought that I was an expert — I’m not anymore. The blinders have been lifted. I’m talking about on-line SaaS (Software as a Service) performance management programs. I’m a big fan for performance management programs that work, but an on-line system makes the process and documentation so much easier for everyone.
A client recently asked us to help them to craft a new approach to performance management. They had been using a homegrown system with data stored on their servers. The system was overly complicated, relied heavily on internal programming staff and was generally unpopular with everyone. We spent some time reviewing the current system, but we soon realized that a complete overhaul would be required. We decided that instead of developing a new program using internal resources and overcoming the “expectation ruts” from years of use of the internally developed process, we would take a look at online providers.
What a revelation! There are literally dozens of providers of cloud based online solutions. What we quickly learned was that this is truly a commodity with every provider claiming the same basic functionality. Initially we developed a set of criteria on which to base our evaluation of providers. Once we began to actually evaluate providers, however, we found that we were responding to a very limited set of drivers. Every provider claimed unlimited customization, and pricing was competitive across the board. Additionally, most provided a suite of additional integrated employee and enterprise management solutions in addition to performance management.
There were some program design considerations that turned us off. One company (with which Cambiar has a relationship) required us to tell them the name of our client; “that’s our company policy.” We declined and asked to have someone with decision- making authority to give us a call — that never happened. Done. Many providers are being scooped up by large SaaS companies. As a result, it seemed that some of the business development people we spoke with were trying to do their jobs while on shifting sands. As to functionality, for some providers, there was considerable development planned in the coming year. Pass. Finally, training of staff often felt like an afterthought. Most companies provided webinars and additional support materials, but very few providers thought that on-site training was important. Our client felt differently and we agreed. Nothing compares
to having a trained expert on-site to lead employee and managers through the new program.
So, what did we learn and why would we recommend that our clients consider online performance management
First, these providers really are experts in the field. Let your internal resources focus on what they know and is core to the business.
Second, it’s not as expensive as we expected. There are many different pricing scenarios, but generally, we were surprised. Pricing is based on the number of employees who will receive a performance appraisal. Considering the time investment for internal HR and IT staffs, not to mention employees and managers, we felt that this was a very cost effective solution.
Finally, the best firms provide considerable functionality that most home-grown systems have not integrated or have even considered:
Automated tracking and planning of employee training and development.
Linkage of employee objectives to the overall company strategy.
Tracking of each of the steps in the process with notifications automatically sent to managers, employees and HR.
Integrated compensation and succession planning.
Automatic word check for inappropriate language.
We’ve seen that transitioning to an online performance management solution can bring strategic advantages and what appears to be a healthy return on investment. I would be happy to speak with you on how we can help you assess and improve your performance management program. Contact me at email@example.com.
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Managing the Millennial Generation - Tapping Into What Makes Them Tick (by Lock Collins)
Many of our clients are struggling with retaining Millennial employees. What is a Millennial? There are many variations on the definitions, but generally, it’s the workers who were born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. In other words, these are the children of the baby boomers. With a little research, one can find a great deal of information as to how this generation was molded. One excellent source of information is, “Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change,” from the Pew Research Center. A common perception regarding Millennials is that they are job hoppers. However, the question is what to do about it.
Millennial behaviors in the workplace are generally felt to include high expectations for advancement and salary growth along with a coaching relationship with their manager. They are accustomed to getting work done in a variety of environments – not simply sitting at their desks. Flexible scheduling is of great appeal to Millennials, who place a high value on work-life balance. Author Ron Alsop of the Wall Street Journal found that Millennials are largely seen as entitled and “narcissistic.” (Note: we’re not sure about that last behavior). Alsop also finds that Millennials, although good team players, are particularly ambitious, seeking constant appraisal and lightning fast promotions up the corporate ladder. However, they desire a good work-life balance, and, to sate their desire for a fulfilling job, they’re also frequent job-hoppers, frustrating employers with low retention rates.
Here are some ideas to address the issue with Millennial retention:
These employees want regular contact with their manager. They seek praise and coaching. The traditional Boomer manager may feel that this is a waste of time, but they need to adapt. The effective manager for this generation understands, so help your managers with this transition.
Millennials don’t want to simply pay their dues as did previous generations. For many companies, the default process is to promote based on tenure rather than talent. This will drive Millennials out the door. Take a hard look at how you assess candidates for promotions. The longer tenured employee may have more experience and tactical knowledge, but the Millennial may have talents that can change the company.
Millennials are connected. The idea of being required to sit in a cubicle for eight hours a day strikes the Millennial as bizarre. Evaluate employees on productivity and innovation, rather than how many hours they are in the office. Expand your thinking on where and when employees can work — This can make a big difference.
Develop a formal mentor program. Just having a mentor program, however, is not enough. It must be a hallmark of your culture. Mentors have to be willing to be involved and should receive training on how to be a good coach. If someone is required to be a mentor, the relationship will fail.
Finally, consider adding a resource to help you manage your Millennial retention. The HR staff in most companies is already overloaded. So, while this resource should be integrated with the HR department, don’t assume that current staffing levels can accommodate these new requirements. You want someone who is recruiting and monitoring this group of employees, as well as keeping track of industry trends in managing retention. Leslie Kwoh at The Wall Street Journal reports that more companies are “jumping through hoops to accommodate Millennial’s demands for faster promotions, greater responsibilities and more flexible work schedules.” Why? Because Millennial workers will outnumber any other generation within a few years. By 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that Millennials will make up 40 percent of the workforce.
Boomers are retiring at the rate of thousands per day. Think about your Employer Brand as it relates to attracting and retaining this generation. Unless your company creates a Millennial-friendly environment, you will struggle in the years ahead to recruit and retain the Millennial employee.
Feel free to contact me at if you would like to discuss how to assess your Employer Brand or if you would like some help in developing your “Millennial Friendly” strategy.
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