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Posts from February 2011

Are You a Nightmare to Work For?

This post was written by Amy Gallo for our Finance and Strategy Practice.

In CEB View’s last Talent Matters post we discussed how difficult it is to work for a bad boss. But what if, instead of working for one, you are one?

Of course it’s not easy being the boss. Research from CEB’s CLC Human Resources program shows that the three areas that most managers – even great ones – struggle with are evaluating employee performanceproviding effective feedback, and turning around underperformance. These are hard things to do and because the way you do them directly affects your team, any missteps are likely to create friction.

Fortunately, the recession seems to have improved many employee-manager relationships but boss-bashing is still a favorite pastime (as proved by last week’s traffic on the first “bad boss” piece). So, how do you know if your employees are just letting off steam or if you are truly difficult to work with? Unfortunately, many bad bosses are the last to know how awful they are to work under. This may be because you aren’t getting the feedback you need, you’re disconnected from your employees or you just aren’t watching out for the signs.

Here are five indications that you may be a worse boss than you thought:

  1. Meetings happen without you: If you notice that your employees are getting together to talk about work and not including you, there may be a problem. When employees don’t believe a manager is competent or cares about their work, they are likely to find ways to work around him.
  2. Problems blow up before you hear about them: Employees feel comfortable going to good bosses when there is a conflict or an issue because they don’t fear retribution. If you haven’t signaled that you are a partner in solving problems, or worse that you will punish people who bring them to you, you are going to be the last to hear when something negative happens. This greatly hinders your ability to handle problems early on before they become disasters.
  3. You don’t know what your employees care about or enjoy doing: What motivates employees is not the same across the board. To inspire your people to go above and beyond, you have to get to know them through open and honest conversations. Struggling managers are often too consumed with themselves to learn more about their people.
  4. Your people don’t know where they stand: If you are one of those bosses that complain that your employees are insecure and always asking for your input or approval, ask yourself why they might be behaving that way. All people need effective feedback to do their jobs well. Good bosses don’t hesitate or neglect to tell employees whether they are performing well. Leaving your people in the dark will only lead to disengagement and confusion about what you want them to do.
  5. No one disagrees with you: Sometimes the worst bosses just assume everything is going well. They don’t hear about any problems and everyone seems to agree with every brilliant idea they have. It may be less that you are a genius and more that they are terrified of you. Open disagreement is a sign of a healthy and innovative work environment. If everyone is standing around nodding, it’s time to take a hard look at your leadership.

What To Do If It’s You

Read More »

Give Your Written Communication a Boost

Posted on  28 February 11  by 


A recent post from Little Things Matter discusses how today’s reliance on electronic channels (whether e-mail, social media posts, or text messages) makes the typed word more important than ever. While clear communication can go a long way to develop and enhance an individual’s “brand,” it’s also essential in a business setting, where digital channels are being used more than ever. One might argue it’s even more essential for Researchers, who need to articulate complex ideas that can have serious consequences for the business.

Often, making just small changes to the way you write can have a big impact on the way your message is read and understood:

As an alternative to e-mail communications, check out our Knowledge Management and Portals Topic Center. An effective portal can help Research provide easy access to information, prevent data abuse and overcome internal partners’ reliance on researchers’ help.  MREB Members, look out for the latest findings around increasing customer knowledge across the broader organization.

PowerPoint Tip: Avoid These Presentation Pitfalls

By Anthony Bell

Research works hard to diagnose business partner decisions, develop the insight, and deliver actionable recommendations. But we sometimes fall short in presenting research findings that are clear, convincing and visually captivating?  Don’t dilute the message of your presentation; avoid these common PowerPoint errors. MREB Members, interested in learning more about our presentation workshops? Reach out to our Advisory Team,

Learning from the Sales World

By Anthony Bell

Have you checked out the Harvard Business Review Blogs lately? Our friends at the Sales Executive Council were featured in a three part series focusing on coaching, communication, and engagement.  I think we can learn a bit from the sales realm! Check them out below.

  • The Dirty Secret of Effective Sales Coaching: Most sales organizations have invested more time and effort in the past 5 years in improving managers’ coaching of reps than they did in the previous fifty. But coaching is almost worthless when it targets the wrong reps, and SEC research reveals that management targets the wrong reps all the time. Find out who is most worthy of your coaching time.
  • Are Your Sales Reps Spending too Much Time in Front of  Customers? : This just in: salespeople are spending less time actually selling to customers than they were just five years ago. But before you pine for the “good old days” when reps spent more time in the customer’s office than in yours, what if having your reps spend less time face-to-face with customers might actually be a good thing? See how the last 5 years have changed the way star performers spend their time.
  • When Money Doesn’t Speak Louder than Words: Every sales leader knows that compensation plays an important role in recruiting and retaining the best talent. But what senior executives often don’t realize is that how they communicate about pay can be as important as the pay plan itself. Is your compensation plan fair?  Is it motivating?  Test how confidently you can answer “yes” to these questions.

MREB Members, Check out the Staff Management Topic Center to tackle some of the Market Research function specific challenges around hiring, training and development,  and career planning.

Open-Source Innovation Is A Dead End – Without A Few Lessons From History

By Aaron Field

I’ve long thought that researchers can learn a ton from 18th century ocean navigation.

In 1714 the British Parliament offered the Longitude Prize for a simple and practical method to precisely determine a ship’s longitude. The prize was enormous – up to £20,000 pounds (worth £2,870,000 today).

Did the top design come from a learned mathematician? A professional navigator? Any sort of expert in the field?


The top design came from professional carpenter and amateur clockmaker John Harrison (1693 –1776). (Given his impact on the glory of the Royal Navy, Harrison earned 39th in the BBC’s 2002 public poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.)

Karim Lakhani, Assistant Professor at the Harvard Business School, recently reminded us of some cardinal rules for sourcing really original ideas.

Ignore the Average – Seek Marginality: The paradox is that experts in a field are poor innovators. Nobody doubts the 18th century navigator’s expertise yet their best efforts at the longitude problem proved woefully insufficient. The most innovative ideas always come from un-representative, un-average people. In short – seek different-ness. We quote Lakhani’s work on open source contests:

“Technical and social marginality, being a source of different perspectives and heuristics, plays an important role in explaining individual success in problem solving. The provision of a winning solution was positively related to increasing distance between the solver’s field of technical expertise and the focal field of the problem.”

MREB Members, our Boosting Insight Productivity helps build and foster the innovative research environment. Learn about the key drivers of insight, coaching methodologies, and insight focused research guidelines.

Don’t Generate Innovation – Screen for Innovation: The best ideas come from the margins but that doesn’t make it easy to spot. For instance Britain’s Board of Longitude spent the better part of the 18th century screening entries. In fact the needle in a haystack only magnifies the challenge. Lakhani challenges us in a recent Research World article:

“The role of internal research and development is even more critical in the selection of ideas, framing of    questions, asking the right questions and interfacing with outsiders. Taking those ideas and turning them into practical applications is a massive, massive task, and that’s not going to go away.”

No problems.

Well maybe a few problems.

The Board’s Innovation Support Center breaks down the innovation challenges into easier steps with best practices, survey data, white papers, and secondary literature to ease your travels.

Six Myths of Customer Loyalty

By Anthony Bell

Rising product commoditization and diminishing brand loyalty have compelled managers to turn to customer service to differentiate themselves from the competition. Ensure your Market Research team has a proper understanding of customer behavior, and customer loyalty in particular. Originally published in, our friends from the Customer Contact Council believe avoiding these six myths is a good starting point. Need help identifying customer behavior? MREB Members, get a comprehensive view of the consumer with  Iconoculture’s Consumer Insights to understand what’s going on, why it’s happening, where the consumer is headed next and what it all means for business.

Vanguard’s Client Day

This weeks guest blog entry comes from Eileen Scott, Marketing Research Manager at Vanguard. Vanguard’s Client Day was a finalist in the 2010 MREB Leadership Awards.

Vanguard senior leaders receive vast amounts of information from departments across the entire company of more than 10,000 crew members. The challenge for Client Insight is to make sure our insights are heard. Our mission is for the Senior Leadership Team to be able to take action on what they know about their clients in order to make the client experience better. Vanguard has always had a “client first” culture.

In Vanguard’s “Pledge to Clients”, Bill McNabb, CEO, promises that Vanguard will “Adapt, evolve, and continuously improve, because you (our clients) should expect excellence in all that we do.”  The Client Insight group exists for this reason: to assist the company to deliver on this promise.   “Client Day” was designed to highlight Client Insights’ vast client knowledge in compelling ways to our Senior Management as well as other key leaders across the company.

The guided tour consisted of small groups who were led through four stations:

1)  A visual introduction showcasing the role of the Client Insight team, how we integrate to answer business questions, and the types of questions we answer.

2) Knowledge about our Retail clients through an interactive game.

3) Recent strategic insights from Institutional and an interactive, multi-step event to highlight a new prospect targeting tool.

4)  A wrap-up video of our own internal clients and their experience with the Client Insight team and Market Research/VOC.

In addition to the increased awareness and exposure the day brought to Client Insight, another benefit was crew development. The event’s fun and interactive format required many involved to step out of their comfort zones both in format and delivery of insights. Additionally, it required intense communication and coordination with a broad array of groups within our company to ensure the event, as well as the many visual elements, were top-notch and professional.

Following Client Day, the Senior Leadership Team, specifically Vanguard’s CEO, Bill McNabb, asked for a monthly “Client Insight Bulletin”, to ensure that key analysis and insight reached him directly and in a timely manner. This was instituted the following month. The feedback from this bulletin has been extremely positive and is “exactly what the Senior Team was looking for.”

In addition to the response from Senior Leaders, attendance at the Client Day Expo exceeded expectations by 67%. We also received requests to conduct it annually, or “take it on the road” to deliver to specific groups within our organization.

Avoiding Bias in Insight Generation

Posted on  14 February 11  by 


The human brain is wired to have bias. Our pre-conceptions, built from experience and  education, allow us to avoid having to re-evaluate every piece of information we come across;  we can make decisions quickly and with a relatively high degree of accuracy. Biases are normal,  and helpful – until they’re not. When used in substitute of facts, and especially in changing  circumstances, they can be detrimental to accurate decision-making and can actually prevent  the generation of new ideas and theories.

Bias in Biochemistry

Kevin Dunbar studied four biochemistry labs to examine how scientists learn and make discoveries. He believed that the real process is messier than the “scientific process” would have us believe – and he was right. His research on the way that scientists dealt with dissonant data reinforced previous psychological research that found that people are naturally resistant to new information; we search for evidence that confirms what we already believe. For this, you can thank the combined workings of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) – what scientists call the “Oh shit!” circuit, triggered when you see something wrong – and the  dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) – our brain’s “delete key” that suppresses contradictory evidence. Combined, they allow us to identify and overlook “wrong” information.

What counteracts the delete key? Open discussion and debate. Studying lab researchers, Dunbar found that the best new ideas didn’t come from the laboratory, but from the weekly discussions where researchers presented their work – where their pre-conceptions were tested and pushed by their colleagues.

The Market Research Equivalent

This dynamic is no different for market researchers when it comes to insight generation; insight requires discussion and debate of even those observations which seem anomalous. The task for market research leaders: to create an open environment that welcomes new ideas for discussion. Failing to do so can limit insight to the realm of conventional wisdom.

No matter what insight generation method you use, you need to make sure to follow three key steps to remove bias:

1)      Separate the activities of observation and hypothesis generation

2)      Create team support for new ideas

3)      Evaluate all ideas

MREB members, access best-in-class practices for avoiding bias, and other advice on insight generation methods.

How to Make Friends and Influence People

By Kirsten Robinson

Having well-developed social skills is about much more than being chatty and friendly—it requires the ability to analyze your environment, peers, and tailor conversations to best fit the occasion.

For Research teams looking to break away from “order taker” to a more consultative role, it’s important to have the social skills necessary to interact with—and ultimately influence—business partners. The problem here is that there’s a thin line to walk between the power of persuasion and coming across as overbearing. Fast Company recently published an article How to Influence Without Offending, and it had some great tips for new leaders that can also be applied to your Research-and-partner relations.

Here are a few of the takeaways:

-Don’t take pushback personally. It should be expected—some is due to posturing, while other times it’s a reaction to the team being overly critical of something a partner feels passionately about.

-Pay careful attention to who owns (or owned) what. Keep an eye out for what issues or strategies business partners have emotional ties to. When you do recommend changes, always assume they may feel strongly about what they’ve worked on, and tailor your message accordingly.

-Listen to your partners. Don’t just give them the opportunity to share ideas; make sure to incorporate feedback into changes being made.

-Pay special attention to how you present your ideas for change. Verbal and nonverbal cues will help give you a sense of when you might be stepping on someone’s toes.

-Don’t get so caught up in your own agenda that you overlook feedback from your team or your partners.

MREB members, view our study on Closing the Researcher Influence Gap, and see how ConAgra structures training around emotional influence. Also, be sure to register for our upcoming Influencing Skills Workshop.

Strengthening Your Innovation Muscle Memory

A recent post on one of HBR’s blog sites focuses on the idea of “muscle memory” in innovation.  (For anyone wondering, muscle memory, according to Wikipedia, is “a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition.” As you may have guessed, it’s most often associated with athletics.)

The author made the point that while there is a discipline to innovation, companies often turn innovation efforts over to people with no experience.  All too often, they seek out “creative, right-brained types”… or they look for people who tend to be successful no matter where they are placed in the business.

And what does that mean for us as researchers?  Well, it probably means that we’re going to be number one on the newbie’s speed dial.  Sarcasm aside, Research is the first place that marketers or business leads turn when faced with aggressive growth goals—and rightly so.  Where else can they find the original customer and market insights that will fuel new product innovation?

Whether you’re supporting business partners on radical, break-through innovation, or within-category, incremental ideas, we at the Board can help.  Tap into events, tools, templates, and best practices that have been tested by your peers across companies and industries.  Let us work with you to strengthen your own muscle memory.

  • Attend our upcoming Webinar on radical innovation: Facing internal resistance to radical innovation?  Learn how companies have used internal crowdsourcing to build credibility within the organization, share quick wins, and maximize collaboration and idea refinement.
  • Tap into our Innovation Support Center: Is there one area in particular where your team needs help?  Check out this section of our Web site.  There are resources for trend identification, ideation and opportunity assessment, concept development, product refinement, and product launch.
  • Finally, take a look at some of our research on lead users: We’ve heard from a growing number of members that engaging lead, or highest-value, customers throughout the new product development process can really pay off.  We’ve all struggled to help our organizations in innovation and new product development at some point.  This work can help in a few different areas: identifying and screening for customers who can contribute to new product development, teaching team members and cross-functional partners how to work with progressive customers, and getting actionable product ideas from customers.

Not sure where you need help?  Let me know!  We talk to members about these topics on a daily basis—just consider us your personal trainers. J