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The 5 Worst Kinds of Managers

Posted on  13 May 14  by 


This week’s guest post comes from Scott Collins and the CEB Sales Leadership Council. We have adapted the recommendations to help Market Insights managers improve your own specific environments.

5 Worst ManagersIf there’s one phrase about manager impact that I’ve learned and will never forget, it’s that “people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” Even if people don’t leave, CEB research finds that having a bad manager drives down employee performance for up to five years. Whoa. Sounds like an easy way NOT to grow business is to manage poorly. Recently, Time wrote an article about “The 5 Absolute Worst Kinds of Bosses.” Here’s the list:

  • The crooked politician: This is the politically savvy boss who is believed to have gained his or her position oftentimes through some form of “cheating.”
  • The bully: The manager that has figured out who they need and how to influence those people, to get ahead. The bully manager craves power.
  • The micromanager: Self-explanatory here. This manager can’t let go; he or she needs to have control and ends up getting involved in too much day-to-day work.
  • The workaholic: The manager that doesn’t believe in any real type of “work-life” balance. This person often will send late night emails and expect (sometimes demand) immediate responses, because everything is “urgent.”
  • The BFF: A manager that has no boundaries and is “diva-like.” This manager often uses direct reports as his or her sounding board and uses the team’s time and resources.

The good news for everyone on the Market Insights team is that not all managers fall into one of these categories (although, if you need some pointers, check out these tips for working with people you can’t stand).  In fact, a few of the strategies used incorrectly by the bad managers outlined above can actually, when used properly, make you a more effective MI professional all around:

  1. Increasing Political Savvy: for us, political savviness is all about ensuring your insights are acted upon properly and in a timely manner.  By planning for organizational obstacles, taking an activist role within the organization, and allocating discretionary efforts to insight-ready partners you aren’t becoming a “crooked politician,” you are seeing to it that the best business decisions are being made throughout your organization.
  2. Improving Influence: unlike “the bully,” who uses influence to get what he or she wants, MI professionals can use emotional influencing skills such as conflict resolution, versatility, and empathy to help strategic decision makers make the right calls.  It starts with active listening to make sure that you understand issues from the client’s perspective.  Only then can you apply negotiation, persuasion, and courage to make sure provide the most valuable insights at the right time.

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5 Tips to Improve Meeting Outcomes

Posted on  7 May 14  by 


Improve Your MeetingsA recent UK study found the average office worker spending 16 hours each week in meetings (although I’m guessing if you asked many of us we’d estimate that estimate is actually on the low side).  For roles like Market Insights, where business partnership is imperative for day-to-day success, we’re always looking for new ways to improve meeting outcomes.

I recently came across an article listing different business gurus’ favorite tips for making meetings more productive, and some of these tips seemed particularly applicable to the day-to-day lives of MI professionals.  Here are 5 meeting types that we are running in and out of on a regular basis, along with some quick tips on how to make each run more smoothly:

  1. Making business-critical decisions: the next time you’re in a meeting weighing options like new product or service changes, try conducting a pre-mortem.  In MI, this is sometimes referred to as scenario planning…basically, pretend that your decision or idea has failed, and troubleshoot all the reasons that this failure could occur.  By identifying potential issues before they happen, you can help improve decision implementation as you go along.  CEB Market Insights members, see how one company uses customer-driven scenario ranking grids to help make decisions.  And read how oversimplifying scenarios may not be the best way to go.
  2. Improving Creativity: inject novelty and variety into your meetings.  Bringing in new speakers from diverse, unrelated fields (or even just screening some cool TED Talks as a group from time-to-time) can loosen up the room and get creative juices flowing.  We have seen the success of injecting novelty and new context into meeting agendas from Telecom NZ, which centers learning workshops on non-telecom business issues to make sure participants fully-engage throughout the session.
  3. Understanding Customer Need: if you want to uncover emerging trends or overall market needs, turn to junior colleagues or newer employees at your organization.  They can provide a consumer-focused viewpoint that won’t be as shaded with internal corporate assumptions.  CEB Market Insights members, see how you can use a customer journey model to help with both synthesis and strategic decision making.
  4. Establishing Relationships: when you’re hoping to start a new business relationship out on the right foot, try using humor.  But check out some work humor do’s and don’ts to make sure you don’t get carried away.
  5. Negotiating Differences: influencing skills, including negotiation, persuasion, and courage, are key when working with both MI teammates and our business partners.  When you’re working with a group that needs to resolve differences, take a talk show host-like stance.  Keep an eye on the clock and be an active moderator to ensure that everyone gets to speak but that the meeting doesn’t drag on to the point of no return.

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Embracing the Power of Nil

Posted on  6 May 14  by 


Visual Power of NothingData visualization is a really hot topic for our industry, and I’m always looking for interesting, interactive methods for data presentation.  I recently blogged about 5 questions to improve data visualization, but after seeing a recent blog on I would like to add another question to the list: what do you do when your answer is nothing: no relationship, or zero instances?

Data visualization specialist Andy Kirk provides a number of great examples in his post on Visualizing Zero: How to Show Something with Nothing, where he emphasizes the challenge, “How do we make these slippery attributes of nothingness visible?”

One of the points that he makes, which has always resonated with me, is utilizing emptiness.  I have my own mantra for this: “Embrace the Space.”  Sometimes the starkest insight to communicate involves the absence of data or experience, and it is visually quite stunning to look at a large greyed-out section or a blank portion of an otherwise full-color graphic.  

Have you had success communicating insights by embracing the power of nil?  We’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!

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Corporate Researchers Conference 2014: A Call for Speakers

Posted on  6 May 14  by 


Calling All SpeakersWe are looking for speakers for the 2014 CRC, an event presented by the MRA, Quirk’s Marketing Research Review, and CEB.  This year’s event runs from September 17-19 in Chicago, and speaker proposals are due Friday, May 16.  We’re looking for folks who can contribute to the agenda with the three E’s: Education, Energy, and Entertainment:

  • Real Research Impact: have you made a measurable impact on your business with research?
  • Successful Integration: have you made research more accessible to your team for decision-making?
  • Case Studies: do you have a case study that illustrates real world application of technologies or techniques?
  • Unique Best Practices: do you operate with unique best practices that other researchers could apply?
  • Original Content: give us 30 or 60 minutes of your best stuff

If you’re ready to be recognized as an industry leader, we invite you to submit presentation material for the 2014 Corporate Researchers Conference.

In addition, take a look at some of the past content presented at the CRC:

Major League Umps Avoid the Tough Calls

Posted on  30 April 14  by 


Missed CallsA new study from PhD students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business proves what baseball fans have been decrying for years: Major League umpires’ decision-making is biased when the stakes are highest.  It may seem a “no kidding” fact to die-hard, hard-luck sports fans, but Etan Green and David P. Daniels have finally provided statistical validity for your angry tweets: if a batter has 2 strikes, a close-call pitch that would typically be called a strike 50% of the time is called a strike only 30% of the time.  And umps showed a similar bias against calling balls when the count is already 3 and X.  It seems that even professional decision makers with the clearest of rules and guidelines can get it wrong when the pressure is on.

This finding is pretty bad news for Market Insights professionals too, if you carry the bias over to our world.  How many of our organizations’ high-stakes decisions are actually blown-calls?  Over the years, we’ve addressed a number of issues regarding inaction, on the part of both the MI team and our business partners.

Avoiding Market Insight Inertia:

  • Overcoming MI’s aversion to risk to improve insight quality: We did the quantitative work, and found that one of the best ways to improve the quality of insights from your team is to foster a culture that supports risk taking and creativity.  So, although researchers tend to be the type to look for certainty and facts, the quality of our work goes up substantially when we work to inject judgment and risk-taking into our roles.
  • Building influencing skills on the MI team: Negotiation, persuasion, and courage are an extremely important part of our job, but may not be the first things that come to mind when you’re thinking self-development.  Technical skills, insight, and business problem-solving skills can go a long way to having impact on the organization, but the most effective researchers also use emotional influencing skills such as conflict resolution, versatility, and empathy to maximize their impact on strategic decision makers.
  • Activating disruptive insights: Only 37% of the intended benefits of a disruptive insight are realized.  Executives agree on the importance of insights to grow their business and gain competitive advantage, but Market Insights struggles to change executive thinking when they offer disruptive insights that counter conventional thinking and have potentially large economic implications.  To get your organization to take action on your most game-changing insights, you need to take a more politically savvy posture by navigating around organizational obstacles and allocating discretionary efforts to the insight-ready, not the insight needy business partner.

Overcoming Business Partner Inaction:

  • Correcting business partner over-confidence: Executives who are secure in their customer knowledge mostly rely on that existing knowledge to make customer-facing decisions, being uninterested in any information or insights the MI team contributes.  To overcome their assumptions, you need to engineer learning moments that create insecurity about the validity of what they “know.”  Only after you create these multi-sensory, engaging experiences can you neutralize executives’ existing “gut instinct.”

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Game Elements: First in Research, Now in Hiring?

Posted on  30 April 14  by 


Gamification of ResearchIn an effort to both improve engagement and drive to deeper insight, many researchers are experimenting with gamification—adding game elements to studies and research activities. Gamification can take many forms, from restructuring traditional survey questions to building complex game environments for panelists to compete in.

In our whitepaper on Gamification in Market Research, we outline how you can find success using these techniques, provided the game elements align with and enhance well-defined research needs.  Gamification that doesn’t align with research needs can confuse or distract participants, so before you seek out game elements for your next study, ask yourself your objective for using them:

  • Engagement-using game elements to improve interest and participation levels in a study or activity
  • Context-adding game elements to change the context in which a respondent approaches a study or task.

We have blogged before about the variety of game elements that you could apply, but you have to make sure that your choices will actually enhance your study.  In other words, don’t just gamify for the sake of gamification—go into it with a particular goal in mind. 

It was with this background on the topic that I read with interest a recent article about companies using video games as part of the interview process.  According to the article, Coca-Cola uses the behavioral competencies identified by gamified tests to disqualify candidates, and Royal Dutch Shell used games to decide which business development ideas to fund.

While some companies find value in these game results, other folks contend that candidates and other participants will simply end up doing what all of us do when playing games for fun: figure out how to “game the system” to get the desired results.  What do you think?  Are game elements infiltrating business activities too much, or is this a smart application of cool, engaging techniques?  Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Think You Don’t Know Your Stakeholders? Think Again

Posted on  28 April 14  by 


Multi-ethnic group portrait“You know more than you think you know” – ever hear that phrase? It really helps build confidence if you’re planning on doing a presentation in front of a group, for example.

We all get at least a little nervous when speaking in front of people, but we just need to trust that we know our presentation front-to-back, left-to-right, and upside down – especially if it’s on a new Insight.

About that presentation….what if you know your material but don’t know the audience very well? It’s a terrifying prospect, but it’s very real in today’s working world.

We just work with too many stakeholders on a daily basis to really know what they think about an idea or Insight…right?


You know more than you think you know. In fact, even if you don’t know a stakeholder that well, you can probably deduce a good deal about him or her right off the bat, using a little magic trick from Fiserv we learned about last year.

What Fiserv’s Insights team did was very simple. They mapped out stakeholders based on two criteria:

  1. Influence: how much influence does the stakeholder have?
  2. Posture: what is the stakeholder’s likely stance on the Insight?

Admittedly, Posture is not always static – a stakeholder’s level of support can shift, if the Insight upends his or her initial strategy, for example.

However, Influence can be seen, felt, and heard from others. It’s also fairly static.

To make things as straightforward as possible, Fiserv has a nifty decision tree to figure out where to map stakeholders. Additionally, the tree contains concrete action steps to take with each type of stakeholder, to increase the likelihood of action by the business.

For example, with Critics and Blockers, spend one-on-one time with them and get their input. One Head of Insight actually told us a story about how getting input from a Critic on a presentation helped to filter out points of stark opposition – and consequently, the Critic became a Supporter of the ideas presented in the process.

Now – this tool can be used for other means besides presentations…any time you meet with stakeholders, you can use the tool to have a head start on knowing who’s really important for a given project and who’s not.

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5 Questions to Improve your Data Visualization

Posted on  23 April 14  by 


Effective communication of data is a challenge that has always plagued Market Researchers looking to make data readily available and easily consumable. In an environment where Market Insights sometimes struggles to be heard amongst other organizational voices, it is essential to have deliverables that are highly engaging, informative, and clear.

Although displaying data in a visual format is not new—researchers have seen the value of charts and graphs for decades—the world of “Big Data” has brought a spike in interest, as Researchers seek new ways to find patterns and communicate insight. The most progressive Market Insights functions are embracing data visualization as another tool in their arsenal—a way to make sure that customer knowledge gets embedded in the business.

The Data Visualization Playbook that we put together to help CEB Market Insights members improve and optimize their data presentation is one of the most popular destinations on our web site.  So, when I saw a recent HBR blog by presentation expert Nancy Duarte I knew that the topic would be right on point for our readers.  She compiled 5 questions to help you make the right visualization decision for your data situation:

  1. Context: Presentation or circulation?  Presentations need less detail, more getting to the point.
  2. What kind of chart or table is best?  To answer this, really think about which relationship you are trying to emphasize.  CEB Market Insights members, access sample chart templates to help you choose the right format for every data presentation situation.
  3. Does the visual draw eyes to my message?  Visualization tactics should draw eyes to what you need to highlight.  At CEB we refer to “the teaching point”—what is the one thing that people should take away.  This system applies well to presentation decisions: always think about the single point that folks should get from the visual, and make sure eyes are drawn to that conclusion.
  4. Do the visuals accurately represent the numbers?  Sometimes fancying up your visuals will actually muddy the facts.  Many times simplifying will improve data presentation.
  5. Is this memorable?  Engineering learning moments that can correct executives’ overconfidence and misconception.  Because we’ve blogged about this challenge before: How to Teach a Know-it-All.

Embracing Long-Term Market Changes

Posted on  15 April 14  by 


Building Future GrowthAre you looking to help your company take action on market changes?  Over the past few weeks, I’ve fielded questions about trend-spotting, forecasting, and scenario planning; it seems that Market Insights functions are coming out of this winter’s polar vortex with a renewed mission to make the most of this year, setting up their organizations for future growth.

One of the easiest ways to get business partners to agree on the importance of long-term market changes is to package together megatrends that are relevant for the business.  We’ve seen great practices from Alticor, who used a network of supplier listening posts to generate tailored market observations, and Levi Strauss, who led customized workshops to help business partners internalize insights gleaned from emerging trends.  (CEB Market Insights members, read all the details on the practices from Alticor and Levi’s, and check out trends from our sister program CEB Iconoculture)

While megatrends are a great way to start the conversation with business partners about long-term market changes, they don’t provide confidence in the timing and impact or context for choosing among potential business responses.  In other words, megatrends provide interesting thought-starters, but they don’t provide all of the information the business needs to confidently take action on market changes. 

To provide the confidence and context that business partners require to take action, progressive Insights functions take an opportunities-based approach:

Are you seeing an increased interest in your organization for forward-looking insights and recommendations?  Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

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5 Email Productivity Killers to Avoid

Posted on  14 April 14  by 


Email HygieneI heard a lot of different reactions to the news that two labor unions in France (representing around 250,000 employees in technology and consulting) had reached an agreement with corporate representatives to ensure 11 hours of uninterrupted rest time – meaning no work email after you leave the office. Some people started planning their moves to France, while others bemoaned the lost productivity.

Whether you’re the type who protests the intrusion of technology and work into our home lives or the type that falls asleep to the dim glow of a smartphone (my guess is that most of us are both), there’s no denying that reading and responding to emails eats into a huge chunk of the day – an average of 28% of your time at work, or 13 hours a week.

How do you make sure that the time you spend on email is helping, rather than harming, your productivity? Blogger Alison Green recently shared some email productivity killers:

1. Reading every news article someone sends you. You don’t need to read every email that comes in. Instead, be discerning about which messages will be the best use of your time. CEB Market Insights members, once you’re finished prioritizing your inbox, you can find tactics to prioritize your research agenda here.

2. Not deleting anything. It’s a lot easier to find what you need if you don’t need to wade through messages that are no longer (or were never) relevant.

3. Not organizing things by folders. Bring some order to your inbox by organizing by topic or necessary action.  If you’re on an organizational roll (and a CEB Market Insights member), discover how Adobe organizes the content of its knowledge portal around business needs.

4. Checking email every time you have a new message. Instead of being interrupted each time a new message arrives, check your email only at set intervals. 

5. Emailing and then calling or coming by in person to make sure your message was received. If you need an immediate response, you should probably reconsider using email. It’s also important to consider the right medium when choosing how to deliver Market Insights deliverables. CEB Market Insights members, check out our Communication Toolkit  to find the right way to drive insight adoption.

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