Information alone is no longer an adequate deliverable for Corporate Insights departments. Teams must inspire strategic, impactful organizational action with their findings. That’s a tall order considering the pace of data flows and decision making today. Thanks to novel approaches to project planning, data integration, communication, organizational structure and cross-department outreach, proactive Insights teams are finding success.

A 5-part webinar series from the Insights Association and Olivetree Insights provides valuable perspective and advice on how departmental silos can be shattered and insights-based growth can be delivered.

Here’s a recap of key points from the first webinar presentation that I moderated featuring insights leaders from two Fortune 500 financial services companies:

  • Nicola Blue, American Express Vice President, Enterprise Insights & Marketing Transformation
  • Jackie Chan, Prudential Financial Vice President, Head of Decision Insights Group

The catalyst for change in each of these organizations was a changing competitive landscape leading to an increasing speed of corporate decision making. In both companies, insights leadership saw the need to become more proactive, strategic partners as critical to support quicker decisions.

The vision for these transformed departments included changing from a team that informs business partners to one that inspires; from one that measures to one that acts; to one that connects team members and breaks down silos; and teams that are innovative, able to deliver insights more efficiently – faster and cost-effectively.

Both leaders acknowledged that changing the culture required training, coaching, open communication and a great deal of patience.

American Express’s Transformation

An internal assessment at American Express found that they had the right technical research skills, but needed development in areas such as strategic thinking, developing a growth mindset, and adapting to change.

While the Insights team still represents the voice of the customer within the organization, they have also become a strategic partner with their internal business stakeholders. Team members were coached to look at projects through the eyes of their business partners, “for ways we deliver data that fits our partner’s needs.”  

While efforts were historically evaluated by the number of research projects completed, team members shifted to tracking the impact they were having on business decisions. To aid team members in focusing less on their number of projects, leadership created a “priority chart” which provided an example of how their time should be spent:

  • X% new research projects
  • X% business performance metrics and analysis (NPS, brand equity)
  • X% competitive intelligence / syndicated research
  • X% insights team collaboration (knowledge and best practice sharing)
  • X% business partner team meetings, town halls, etc.

Prudential Financial’s Transformation

Another key component of such a transformation involves open communication with business partners and key stakeholders.

At Prudential Financial, the Insights leader determined those focal areas where her team could have the most impact, and then discussed how a more proactive Insights team could help key stakeholders in each of those areas. Through this process the Insights team understood how important it would be to manage expectations with business partners. Business partners would need to understand that the Insights team wouldn’t be focused on quantity but on impact: “We won’t deliver the 20 projects we used to do for you, but we will deliver on the 10 most impactful projects.”

In some instances this might mean that the Insights team will coach business partners on conducting their own research on less critical projects using DIY tools. 

Impact on Research Suppliers and Internal Communications

For both American Express and Prudential Financial the transformation of their Insights departments also impacted their use of research partners. They were systematic in identifying those areas where they did not have the necessary internal capabilities and looked for partners that were strong in those areas. They also have cut back on the number of outside partners they are using, going “deeper” with fewer partners, bringing them into planning meetings, establishing more of a trusted partnership approach.

Both Insights leaders stress communication as critical during this process of change. Communicating what is expected, encouraging questions and feedback, are necessary elements of making the transition as smooth as possible. On top of that, patience is another attribute that must be exhibited. Change takes time, and people change and improve at different levels – it isn’t a linear process.

In Summary

These transformations have worked out well for both organizations. Both see Insights teams that are more agile, more efficient in executing research, more focused on the projects that are most impactful to the organization, more visible within the organization, and viewed as partners by key stakeholders.

Olivetree Insights is a strategic consultancy that helps organizations be more effective and efficient at using data and insights. They offer skills-building workshops, including Insights Team Charter Workshop: Revitalize with the right foundation and Knowledge Harvest Workshop: Build your Integrated Intelligence Library.