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Team Transformation: Embracing Disruption

It may seem like preaching to the choir to talk to market insights practitioners about the power of empathy but, day to day, on top of all the jobs that need to be done, this should never be overlooked…and especially from an internal perspective. Making sure that the Voice of the Customer is heard internally is more important than ever, so making sure that the insight team is working as a strategic partner within the business is vital.

Nicola Blue, VP of American Express’ insights division, took to the stage to tell TMRE attendees about the journey she and her team have been on, to disrupt the traditional mindset that some have as insights as simply a “function”.

3 years in to the journey, Nicola spoke about the 3 core areas that have helped engender this change. Fundamentally however, the overarching theme was that of empathy. Empathy at all stages and all times.

The first step was to look at (re)building the role. This was manifested through both the technical capabilities of the team, but also their leadership capabilities. While it is important to balance these two skillsets, increasing leadership skills adds more power to the insight team, as it allows them to have more influence at the top table. In order to do this, a new set of empathy skills needs to be learned. 

So, next, was building the skills, with empathy as the foundation for this transformation. Through the teaching of active listening skills, the team were able to not only understand what their internal partners were saying, but also able to hear what they weren’t. This meant they could predict the needs of their partners better, building stronger, more supportive relationships over time, elevating their position.

Also, an alteration to leadership was needed, with a new InsideOut Leadership model implemented. This was a six-month programme of 360 feedback, allowing those in the insight team to look at themselves, their team and the organisation as a whole, to understand where they could add more value at each level. This empowered people to work through how they approached challenges, empowering managers while allowing directors to take a step back from the frontline, giving them time to add more value at the upper level.

Additionally, with the implementation of a “depth of delivery” prioritization tool, the team were able to understand more about where and when to utilize various research approaches (primary, secondary, being more visible at town halls etc) with their partners in the changing environment, delivering impact in new ways.

The final area that Nicola went through was around building the relationship. Again, continuing empathy here is key, but so is showing curiosity in understanding and solving the problem. When you, as the insight team, are the conduit between the business and the customer, understanding the context of the challenge and what the internal partner hopes to achieve with the project, you can work better together to meet the customer need, as well as the business goal.


Nicola shared some quotes from her own internal VOTC programme to see how this transformation is going…and all signs are pointing in the right direction. She closed by sharing some wins and watch-outs which we will leave you with, to help you as you go on this journey yourself:



-        Get feedback early: like any good research practitioner, if you don’t ask, you don’t know, so get feedback as often as you can to make sure things are working, but early feedback is vital to course-correct quickly

-        Embrace diversity: global businesses need global understanding, so widening out to hear everyone’s views and opinions can help change the way you think for the better

-        Prioritise leadership skills development: to command influence, you have to know how to walk the walk and talk the talk



-        Have the tough conversations: Having them properly is a learned skill but, whenapproached properly, they are better for everyone

-        Celebrate the small stuff: We forget to do this sometimes. It is a big, ongoing process and so making time to celebrate the small wins is key to keep morale up and let everyone know that things are changing for the better

-        Have patience: As we all know, things don’t change overnight.Take your time, listen, learn and…empathize.

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