The value of incorporating research into the planning cycle is now widely accepted. However, less well understood is the extent to which research quality affects the reliability of results.
Being vigilant about using only the best quality sources of data and research methods is the only way to ensure that the intelligence you are using to plan your firm’s future is robust and accurate.
The beginning of the research cycle is the best place to start – getting the basics right can bring your firm real competitive advantage:
1. Set clear objectives
The best research programs are based on a set of well-defined, pre-agreed objectives that feed into the organization’s strategic plans.
2. Senior endorsement
Research works most effectively when its value is understood by senior management and has become part of the organization’s culture.
When the leadership team supports the use of primary data for planning, they are much more likely to commit sufficient resources to ensure the process runs smoothly and the results are used effectively.
3. Reputable research partner
Although secondary research can, given sufficient time and resources, be done by in-house teams, primary research is a highly skilled job and should not be attempted by the inexperienced.
Ideally, you should appoint your research partner at an early stage. Their expertise will be invaluable in agreeing the research objectives and ensuring that the overall program is designed to produce results that will meet those objectives.
4. Assign responsibility
Research projects that produce the most valuable results are those which have been invested with appropriate levels of time and resources. The best-run projects have an experienced individual in charge of the whole program, working to clear objectives agreed by senior management.
A realistic timescale, that takes account of preparation and liaison time, should be in place and, ideally, the success of the project will be built into its manager’s performance objectives.
5. Clarity of research output purpose
The way in which the research will be used is critical to deciding how its outputs should be created and presented. If the data will be used by a specific team of individuals with good technical research understanding, less detailed explanations will be needed at results delivery stage.
If the data will be used widely across the organization, the results may need additional interpretation to ensure they are useable by all. These considerations should be addressed at the outset as they can affect the way in which the research is conducted.
6. Realistic timescale
It is possible for most forms of research to be conducted as a ‘quick hit’. However, this approach can detrimentally affect research results. To be of real value, no matter the scale of the research, time needs to be set aside to cover some basic stages:
- Setting objectives
- Establishing a database to hold results and ensure they are accessible to all users
- Selecting and briefing a research partner
- Agreeing research criteria
- Conducting the research
- Receiving feedback on the results
- Incorporating the research findings into strategic plans
- Reporting to leadership and briefing all relevant colleagues on the findings
- Creating learning points for the next round of research.
7. Set a budget
Conducting research requires a commitment of time and money. If budget is tight, organizations need to be realistic about what they can achieve and employ more economical methods, such as web surveys combined with secondary research. Conducted consistently, over time, this combined approach can provide very valuable insight.
Where budget is more plentiful, so are the options. The challenge here is to find the optimum mix of research methods to achieve your aims – your research partner will be well placed to advise on this.
An extremely comprehensive and detailed analysis of an organization’s environment and stakeholders is possible when the results of carefully executed quantitative and qualitative research are combined with high quality secondary data.
8. Make research part of your organizational culture
There are few areas of organizational planning which would not benefit from a degree of research input. Indeed, where decision-makers have incorporated research into an ‘organization’s DNA’ and use insight from the earliest stages of planning through execution to assessment of outcomes, the results can be outstanding.
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