We’d love to hear your “war stories”. Tell us about your experiences with “un-friendly fire” and we’ll send the first 3 contributors a gift. You may choose among two Civil War themed gifts (a copy of Rebel Yell, a biography of Stonewall Jackson, or a copy of Ken Burns’ Civil War series on DVD), or, if you’ve had enough history through this newsletter, a $50 Amazon gift card.
We are not retreating, we are advancing in another direction.
– General Oliver Smith, United States Marine Corps
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It’s January, and the weather is at its most unfriendly! In this spirit, read on for this month’s edition of Research with a Twist, titled “Un-Friendly Fire.”
Julie Brown President
Over the holiday break, I spent a few days in Virginia and North Carolina, and visited the sites of several Civil War battles. Many of you know that CSR leads seminars on the lessons that military history can teach market researchers about strategy, often using examples from the battle of Gettyburg to illustrate key points. Being able to spend several hours at Antietam, Manassas, and Chancellorsville was both a special treat and gave me an opportunity to think more on one of my favorite topics… the parallels between military and business strategy.
As a result of learning more about the Civil War, I’ve developed great interest in and respect for Stonewall Jackson – a brilliant and quirky military strategist who was the “right arm” of General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate army. In fact, Lee famously wrote to Jackson upon hearing of the injury, “you have lost your left arm, but I my right.”
When touring the Chancellorsville area, I was reminded that General Jackson was killed by “friendly” fire. Members of another Confederate infantry unit mistook Jackson and his staff, who were returning to base from a scouting expedition after the Battle of Chancellorsville, for Union cavalry. After yelling, “Halt, who goes there,” they began shooting upon hearing the response, convinced it was a “Yankee trick”. Jackson’s left arm was amputated, and though he lived for another week, he died from the pneumonia that settled in as a result of the wounds sustained from fire from his own troops.
This final and most unfriendly chapter in the life of Stonewall Jackson led me to think about the dangers of friendly fire (let’s just call it un-friendly – that suits the season better, we think!) in our work as researchers. While admittedly, the stakes are lower in research than in war, the feelings of betrayal and surprise at being attacked by those we believe are on our side are similar. Parallels from our “life during [research] wartime” include:
Root for (Don’t Shoot) the Messenger
When looking at the business landscape through the lens of military strategy, we compare market researchers to scouts – the individuals who survey the landscape in advance of the troops to gain intelligence about conditions on the ground. Market researchers are the “eyes and ears” of the organization.
This is an admirable vocation, right? Researchers learn what the market wants and convey that information to the company. When bringing this goldmine of knowledge back to the organization, though, many of us – whether we be research team members or suppliers – have experienced situations where we have been criticized or marginalized by others within the organization. No matter how much due diligence we exert to ensure that all involved parties agree to a research design, a survey protocol, a target sample frame, and /or a reporting strategy, if the results don’t appeal to our audience, stakeholders (who are on the same team as us) sometimes attack the researcher. We rightly expect our colleagues to “root” for us, the messengers, but from time to time, they shoot us instead. Sound familiar?
It would be terrific if, in research, there were parallel cries available to this warning – essentially a cautionary shout when bombs are about to drop. Unfortunately, we, and our client team members, are often taken by surprise when “un-friendly fire” explodes.
For example, as we discussed in a recent newsletter, we supported one of our clients in designing and executing a product concept test among B2B decision. The day came for our final presentation of findings at a team meeting, in which several stakeholders from the client organization, including one member of the company’s Board of Directors, were participating.
Before we even started to review the results, this Board member announced that he didn’t think the findings were worthwhile because the audience of participating executives was not correct. The client research team members, with whom we had shared our findings during the engagement and while preparing the presentation, were completely blind-sided by this colleague’s attack, particularly in light of his heavy involvement in the project up to this point.
We never progressed to the “meat” of the presentation during that meeting. This was a classic case of “un-friendly fire,” because the research didn’t agree with this individual’s preconceived notions. While the research team at our client shrewdly did everything they could to include him in the process, it didn’t prevent the Board member from undermining the final report. This is just one example of similar situations we have seen over our many decades in this business.
Strategies to Defuse These Bombs: The Outsider’s Advantage
An advantage that researchers today have, that military legends like Stonewall Jackson did not, is independent, third party expertise. Firms like CSR have designed hundreds to thousands of research studies across dozens of strategic objectives and challenges. Like battle-worn veterans, we’ve seen it all, and have devoted our careers to studying best practices, so that we can concentrate all of that knowledge and wisdom into helping you, our client, be the hero of the story.
Imagine if Lt. General James Longstreet had a West Point professor on the field with him before Pickett’s Charge to help convince Robert E. Lee that the attack was a bad idea? This initiative, which is nearly universally believed to have led to the loss of the Battle of Gettysburg by the Confederate army, and ultimately the Civil War, could have been avoided. Perhaps General Lee would have been swayed by the experience and expertise of that third party expert in a way that his protégé Longstreet could not.
We’ll never know – but why not give yourself that chance? An outsider like CSR has likely had broader exposure to a wide range of experience and methodologies than is possible for members of a client team, among whom a deep focus on industry issues is generally encouraged. Plus, we can leverage our deep experience with other organizations in your industry, as well as leaders in other industries whose efforts and strategies it might make sense for you to emulate. Finally, in addition, we’re independent. While we work on behalf of our clients, we do not work for their organizations, giving us more freedom to maneuver if unfriendly fire is exchanged.
Here’s the Twist: So-called “friendly” fire can be the most un-friendly of all. A shrewd way to diminish its likelihood and/or its effects is to bring in an objective, experienced expert to the expedition. While we can’t guarantee success with every initiative, we can increase your chances of surviving friendly fire, and that your efforts to convince others of the usefulness of research results won’t be stonewalled!
Mixology (Putting Research into Practice)
What do we do at CSR to minimize “un-friendly fire” for our clients? The following are some of our most effective approaches to conducting “bulletproof” research:
Start-up meetings among stakeholders: We encourage our clients to invite everyone with a stake in the research to initial planning meetings and at key touchpoints along the way, to build consensus and identify issues as early in the process as possible.
Make information available early and often: We often plan interviews and structure them (on line, conference calls, in-person options) so that team members can listen to interviews as they are taking place, or distribute sound files so the interviews can be reviewed soon afterwards. This is another proven method to build consensus and identify issues throughout the course of the research.
“Shock and Awe” is not a successful research strategy: In our experience, team members who seek to surprise their colleagues, or present ground-breaking results, without properly preparing their audience, often encounter internal resistance. Socializing results as they emerge from the research, and including stakeholders in the reporting process, increases the chances of teammate buy-in. We also find that presenting the findings in person ensures greater success, as we, as unbiased outsiders, can then bring to the surface any remaining objections, and remind everyone how we got to particular points, which effectively neutralizes any dissent.
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.
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