Moving a company to the next level of maturity requires a mindset focused on the relationship between CI and the business and on the qualities of the people who will bring the function to life. The following moves can help companies achieve that mindset.
Understand that less is more. In general, CI leaders are better served when they focus on effectiveness and their function’s reputation rather than on budget- and empire-building. The use of CI in business decisions and core processes should start with understanding where, why, and how the company and its competitors use CI to make decisions, as well as how stage 4 companies invest in CI, data, and analytics. Companies should also know which decisions and core processes their executives, business line partners, and CI leadership see as investment priorities and align head count and budgets accordingly.
As part of the strategic-planning process, the CI leader should inform executive teams and business line partners of the decisions and core processes that are not currently supported by CI. In many cases, CI leaders may be able to fund the support of new areas by reallocating low-value research, data, tools, and reports rather than increasing budgets. In these discussions, CI leaders should set priorities for the function’s operating model that determine the role and scope of the internal team as well as the data sets and self-service and visualization tools provided to the organization.
Put diverse sets of eyes on every problem. Companies should examine how they develop CI leadership, access new talent, and embrace new ways of thinking. They should reevaluate how far the CI leader is removed from the CEO or president as well as the CI reporting structure. Companies may need to rewrite job specifications and redefine the roles and responsibilities of the CI leader. The description should shift from a specialized, technical expert to a trusted advisor who is data-driven, objective, adaptable, questioning, and insatiably curious. The ideal candidate should also be a strategic thinker who is familiar with the business and its economics. Companies should focus on the individual’s leadership style, influence and effectiveness, performance orientation, and executive behaviors.
Instead of hiring someone from direct competitors, forward-looking companies turn to sectors such as consumer financial services, digital businesses, marketing services, or media and media tech. In addition, these companies look at alternative talent pools with stronger business backgrounds such as strategic management consultants and financial and industry analysts.
In changing where they look for talent, companies must also market CI roles differently. In many cases, this means elevating functional reporting, offering a seat on the leadership team, integrating data and analytics into the function, or changing functional leadership. Some external marketing moves—such as the renaming of a CI function, a title change, or the use of a proven external recruiter in CI, analytics, marketing or strategy—may be easier to achieve.
Focus on CI development and career potential. While career training for CI practitioners is much better now than it was in 2009, companies still must improve CI leadership training, rotational programs, and career development both into and out of CI. Forward-looking companies identify and support CI leaders through training in advanced analytics, behavioral economics, social media monitoring, and visual storytelling, among other disciplines. “Strategy academies” for CI leads can detail how the company makes money, how stakeholder relationships are developed, how supplier negotiations are conducted, how change is managed, and how ROI is measured. To deliver programming and help defer training costs, companies should collaborate with supplier partners, academics, and peers in noncompeting sectors.
Revisit structure. To improve CI performance, companies should strengthen the CI team’s relationship with executive leadership by having it report more directly to the CEO. In addition to regular interactions with top executives, CI leaders should develop a learning agenda with executives and board members that covers topics such as megatrends, the habits of millennials and other consumer cohorts, new data sources, methodological innovations such as behavioral economics testing, and popular topics such as subconscious bias.
In their CI team structure, CI leads should adhere to best organization design practices. They should have minimally sufficient spans of control for themselves and managers, typically five to seven; roles should be balanced across traditional insights, advanced and customer analytics and testing, as well as across managers and specialized “player-coaches” such as data scientists. Typical individual contributors should not be above certain titles (such as director) or layers (such as three reporting layers from the CEO), acknowledging critical specialized roles in CI (such as data scientist or statistician). Typically, specialized roles should be consolidated, centralized, and shared for benefits of scale and, as important, for talent acquisition and development. In addition, companies should look to complement and support their talent needs through an advisory panel or academic and other third-party partnerships.
Strengthening a company’s CI capability requires resources, but what’s more important than the dollar amount is how those dollars are directed. By spending smarter, attracting the right kinds of new skills and mindsets, and letting CI professionals set priorities, companies are on their way to turning CI functions into a source of strategic insight and competitive advantage.
This is the third article in a series exploring CI functions in consumer-facing industries. Upcoming articles will explore the engagement model with business line partners and alignment and collaboration mechanisms such as ROI, strategic and operational planning, budget allocation, and performance culture.
To Contact the Authors