How do you build an insight-led Center of Excellence?

In the latest episode of our Qualt Q&A video series, WEVO’s Jenni Bruckman chats with David J Neff, Author, Speaker, Investor, and eCommerce Lead at Accenture Interactive. In their conversation, David addresses the issues preventing eCommerce, Customer Service and Marketing teams from growing organically and meeting their objectives.

Watch their full conversation and read on for key insights from their discussion.


Approaching Change Management 

David has been teaching and training organizations on setting Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), or MIT Sloan’s FAST Goals, for the past ten years of consulting. The approach they take for change management starts with real intention.

“Organizations need to be honest with themselves, and sit down and look at their objectives and, more often than not, really set themselves up with the proper KPIs and goals. Only when you have focused on the correct objectives and goals can your team and organization start to identify organizational problems that are holding you back.”- David


Reasons For Failure With Large Transformational Programs

Culture. As Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast.” 

“If you are building a culture that relies on collaboration, but every department is run as a silo with an iron fist, you are destined to fail. If you are building a product that should rely on quantitative and qualitative data, but your culture doesn’t value qualitative data, your product will more likely than not fail in the market. We’ve seen it over and over in the Fortune 500 clients I work with.” – David


Reasons why organizations succeed at large transformation

A common observation David has seen over the last 12 years of consulting Fortune 500 companies, startups, and nonprofits is that it’s easy to keep moving forward. It’s too easy to fall into the fallacy of completing projects and checking the box. 

You told me to complete these five things. So I did. Where’s my promotion?” 

Having middle management that rewards people for getting things done, regardless of the quality of what got done, is a fallacy. 

“Organizations that look back, hold regular +/delta meetings, embrace workshops, employee and customer interviews, and surveys to find real problems their teams are facing —  then use quantitative and qualitative tools to find the problems their customers are facing, then experiment till they solve those problems for both groups — those are the real winners for the culture of the future.” – David


Finding a key executive to drive optimization

It’s never an easy task to find an evangelistic leader. David finds there is often backwards inertia when coming in to work with qualitative or quantitative teams. 

“It’s a lot easier to just keep doing what we always did. We can point out, find all the people, process, tech, strategy, and culture problems in the world, but if no one wants to lead the drive to fix them, it just gets put on the shelf with countless other work from consultants of all stripes.” – David 

The key to making these projects stick in driving optimization is to show executives that something with a very positive ROI can come out of it.  You can get them excited to take it over, knowing it could be a big win for them in the organization politically, and show them that these changes will really affect the product (in this case a Streaming Service) they are building in a positive way.


How organizations expand their ideal research team with a Center of Excellence (COE) 

David explained that most “new” capabilities in organizations start as a single person or a small pizza team working on something significant. Ten years ago that was Social Media, and five years ago that was building an A/B/n testing team. Today, that’s building out a true capability around qualitative insights delivery with a research team and proper tools. Over time, these teams grow and more people want what these teams do to help their own teams grow. 

However, these early groups don’t have the process, tech, strategy, or culture to scale or educate others on what they do. That’s where a COE comes in. 

“These COE structures help these qualitative insights teams organize, standardize outputs, standardize tools they buy, and help them gain political clout inside the business.” – David 


Considerations needed in the tech stack to create an insight-led COE

Organizations have to have the right tools in place to examine both quantitative and qualitative data for insights, shared David. “Right” means the toolset needs to scale with the team size and expertise – broad teams need a tool that empowers them to perform baseline techniques, and pro-level practitioners need a tool that will help them solve the more complex problems. 

“That’s the great thing about what I’ve seen in WEVO  both types of users have an accessible tool to gather rapid, reliable insights for the use cases they need to tackle.”   – David


How COE becomes a more embedded part of the business

As COE matures and solidifies, it has some key features that evolve over time. David detailed these include formal governance documentation, working with procurement on tools and technology, time allotted for people to work on their normal jobs on top of being in the COE, as well as education. 

“People always seem to forget that education and change management are a huge part of bringing anything new to the rest of your organization. If you are building out an insight-led COE with a team of world-class research folks that are going to empower the rest of the organization to build amazing products, why wouldn’t you want to tell people about it?” – David 

David says this education is the key to energizing the rest of the organization to make a change and adopt it into their daily practices. He referred back to that “backwards inertia” claiming that there’s an opportunity to change that to forward inertia as the organization accepts their new capability.

“COE’s are not meant to be in place forever. Eventually, the capability finds a home (such as social media as part of Marketing, A/B/N testing as part of product development) and the COE is no longer needed.” – David


The future of digital transformation 

It’s easy for David to predict what will be most significant to the future of digital transformation. One word. Culture


“If your culture is not accepting of qualitative insights or the power of listening to your users, then you need to change your culture or die trying. Or maybe it’s time for you to get some help.” -David

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