In every client case, we conduct some form of research. Each time, we select the methodology that optimizes speed, cost, and precision. Below are five types of research we may apply in a client assignment:
Before engaging in external research, we advise our clients to gather as much information as possible through internal sources.
The cost is low, and speed can be nearly immediate. We point our clients to four key sources of internal information.
- Internal data analysis. Companies track detailed information about customers and employees. When predicting actions from a customer segment, for example, a client is wise to analyze past discrete actions such as types of products purchased, links between types of products, frequency of purchase, probability of returns or warranty, and total sales. When considering employee satisfaction, first analyzing turnover, tardiness, and results may make a formal survey unnecessary.
- Recruiters. As the Alliant Foodservice case reveals, recruiters have access to current information on compensation, benefits, industry hiring trends, and employment brand. Structuring and analyzing recruiter-produced data can be fast, accurate, and highly productive.
- Customer-facing employees. Before surveying customers, our clients find it helpful first to gather information from company employees who interact with customers regularly. Interviewing team members from customer service, inside sales, and outside sales can often provide helpful information quickly.
- Alumni from competitor organizations. When trying to understand or anticipate actions from competitors, we advise our clients to gather information from employees who recently worked for a competitor. By interviewing alumni individually and in groups, our clients gain accurate and thorough intelligence quickly.
These forms of internal research may seem obvious, but we have found that few companies harvest this information fully.
A variation of internal research, structured consensus is best explained through a client case.
Our client was Warner Cable Communications, and our ultimate objective was to redesign a failing sales compensation plan that contributed to 50% turnover, plummeting sales, and ineffective recruiting.
Warner executives expected our team to conduct a formal survey to quantify current compensation practices among cable companies, but conducting a survey would take too long. As an alternative, we applied a method of reaching consensus that involved collating the evolving judgements of experts. We:
- Assembled a diverse and knowledgeable team. We gathered fifteen people from within the company who had various insights into sales compensation. We included compensation managers, recruiters, sales managers, and employees who were alumni of industry competitors.
- Clarified the objective. We confirmed our goal of estimating sales compensation practices in the cable industry. We would estimate entry, 50th percentile, and 90th percentile base pay and total compensation – six values in total.
- Facilitated discussion and elicited anonymous estimates. We facilitated discussion about compensation practices in the industry, asking every participant to share his/her point of view. Following the discussion, we asked each participant to write, confidentially, his/her best estimate for each of the six values.
- Presented median and extreme values. After gathering and sorting the values provided by the fifteen participants, we posted on a whiteboard the median values and extreme values for each of the six market estimates.
- Conducted a second iteration. After allowing team members to consider the medians and ranges posted on the whiteboard, we facilitated a second round of discussion, encouraging participants disagreeing with the median value to try to convince the rest of the team. After the discussion, we again invited each participant to write his/her estimates, confidentially, allowing people to change their entries from the first iteration. We posted the new median values and ranges. Notably, the ranges became narrower after the second iteration.
- Conducted further iterations, as needed. After three iterations, the minimum and maximum estimates converged toward the median for all six market values. We would have conducted more iterations until the ranges and median values remained unchanged.
- Confirmed agreement to move forward. We concluded the process by confirming that participants were confident in the result. One by one, and without exception, participants were convinced that the group had estimated the market value accurately.
Using the values generated through structured consensus, our consulting team implemented a new sales compensation plan within weeks. We find this approach effective when we believe that a client has a breadth of experts and when speed is essential.
In many assignments, we gather and review information from secondary sources and prepare a white paper or publish an article.
We have issued white papers or published articles on topics such as:
- Strategic planning
- Leadership development
- Campus recruiting
- Job posting
- Selection process
- Selection tools
- Employment branding
- Performance management
- Corporate university design and practices
- Teacher development
- Call center management
- Succession planning
- Compensation (board, executive, sales, exempt, and non-exempt)
- Non-profit management
In each white paper or article, we formulate an opinion by blending knowledge gained through research with our past experiences.
Primary Organizational Research
After exhausting other forms of research, we conduct primary organizational research when we believe it will lead to an innovative solution.
In a typical assignment, we engage five to ten excellent companies willing to collaborate fully, prepare a case study detailing the practices of each participant, facilitate a workshop with participants to identify innovations, and produce a report containing case studies and a workshop summary. After assimilating information learned through research and our firsthand experience, we prepare a solution for our client.
Below are several primary research topics we have addressed and the companies that participated.
- Sales Force Recruitment and Selection – Federal Express, Lanier Worldwide, MCI Communications, Microsoft, Motorola, Northwestern Mutual Life, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Texas Instruments
- Employment Branding – CrediCorp, McDonald’s, Kraft Foods, Walgreens, Northern Trust, MillerCoors
- People-Management Practices in Residential Properties – Aimco, Avalon Properties, Charles E. Smith Companies, Colonial Properties Trust, Equity Residential Properties, Insignia Financial Group, Inc., Jupiter Western National, Lexford Properties, Lincoln Residential Services, Pinnacle Realty Management, Post Properties, Inc., R & B Realty Group, Security Capital – Atlantic, Security Capital – Pacific, Trammel Crow, United Dominion Realty Trust, and Walden Residential Properties
- Non-Profit Management in Chicago – Albany Park Community Center, Better Boys Foundation, Centro Romero, Erie House, Literacy Works, Marillac House, Metro, Midtown, St. Joseph Services, The Learning Center
- Contact Center Management – Appleseed’s, Swiss Colony, Miles Kimball, Orvis, Home Decorators Collection, Mason Companies, Rockler, Hanover Direct, and Successories
In each case, our clients became experts on a research topic quickly and built networks of peers for further collaboration.
Face-to-Face Customer Research
We achieve excellent results by meeting face to face with our clients’ customers – either in one-on-one interviews or focus groups.
Positioned as mediators between our client and their customers, we gather critical information and find the source of problems between the two parties. As the Tetra Tech case shows, collaborating in this way can stimulate innovative solutions while strengthening bonds between parties.