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BlogAwkward Silences
  • Last Updated:

October 12, 2020

How Alignment Can Speed Up Your Work with Jonathon Hensley of Emerge Interactive

Why getting everyone on the same page is the key to a successful team

Carrie Boyd

Jonathon Hensley spends a lot of time creating strategies for businesses. So Erin and JH chatted with him about what's changed since COVID-19 and why alignment matters more than ever right now.  

The takeaway? Everyone needs to be aligned around a common goal. They also need to understand how every project supports that larger goal. In a world that's moving faster than ever, user research is a pivotal part of making sure each effort is serving that goal well.


[7:06] The key to individual alignment is clarity on your goals and purpose, and providing people with the ability to fulfill those things.

[10:46] Coming into research with bias or trying to validate an idea you already have can be a sign of misalignment

[16:46] Right now, people want something concrete. While making a plan can feel good now, having a strategy and goals you're clearly aligned around is the key to long term, agile success.

[25:13] Strategy is equating things to value and sharing values across your organization

[30:47] The strategy, not the plan, will keep everyone working towards the same goals

[37:52] If you can't afford to fail, research is one of the things that will ensure you don't.

The best stories about user research

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Erin: [00:00:29] hello everybody. And welcome back to awkward silences today. We're here with Jonathon Hensley. He is the co founder and CEO of emerge, interactive digital product consulting firm. Thanks so much for joining us, Jonathan.

Jonathon: [00:00:42] Thank you so much for having me.

Erin: [00:00:45] We've got JH here too.

JH: [00:00:47] I am here excited for this topic. I think with the COVID world we have going on, there's a lot of urgency and. So if you can drive more alignment, I think it helps you move faster. So this should be a, should be good. One.

Erin: [00:00:57] Yeah. Yeah. We're recording this on May 1st, so may day. and we've now been living with COVID for, you know, six weeks or so, I guess, since it started to peak and no end in sight. So, Figuring out how to navigate these waters, in this new world is obviously really important. And top of mind for everybody.

And today we're going to draw from Jonathan's expertise on organizational alignment and specifically bring that to the topic of making your research more valuable than ever utilizing organizational align, strategies. So. Jonathan, without further ado, get us, get us started. So organizational alignment sounds kind of, I don't know, corporate MBA type, you know, like what, what is this?

And. Yeah. Yeah. So, no, but seriously, why is organizational alignment so important? I know you've really built your career, in a large part around this topic. So why is it so important and why is it so important to researchers and designers and product people in particular?

Jonathon: [00:02:06] Big corporate, but I think. You know, as you unpack really what alignment is all about. it's something that we can all relate to at a very personal level and, is really extremely important right now, especially with the circumstances that we're all in. So alignment, I would encourage everybody to think about it in four different, kind of levels, when they want to think about the concept of alignment.

So the first one would be individual alignment. So when we're thinking of ourselves as a designer or somebody on a product team, you know, it's understanding what am I doing? How am I making a difference? What impact can I have on this product or for my organization? and the second one is an understanding, you know, team alignment.

How do I. Integrate my unique disciplines and experience and perspective too, to help solve problems for my organization and help develop better, better products and better services and organizational alignment is bringing all of that together into a model with the larger vision or strategic priorities of the organization.

and then the fourth level is, alignment with the market. And so I think organizations today, especially are having to look at alignment, to really understand how they can make a bigger impact and also pivot and adjust to what's happening in the world right now.

JH: [00:03:27] When you think of these four levels, do you think of them like cascading in one direction or the other, like, do you start with market alignment? And we have an organization that does this, which means we need teams like this, which mean, it means we need people who can do this, or you kind of go bottoms up of, we have these people and they're in these teams or is it kind of both like, like, I guess, how do you kind of span the different layers?

Jonathon: [00:03:47] Yeah, no, that's a great question. I think you really have to look at it from both directions. you have to come from the market, working your way downstream through to the individual and vice versa. most often, you know, so much content is out there about, market alignment and doing research to understand, you know, what users and customers are looking for a need.

but not nearly as much attention as usually put on the individual level or the team level. And that is one of the huge differentiations. We see companies that have, you know, the best and most successful product delivery and really connecting with it. Cause we're really, at that point, we're empowering our teams to solve the problems in the best possible way.

cause we're bringing the right information. to the forefront of the process to really help people to be successful

Erin: [00:04:39] That level individual alignments sort of like getting right with yourself or, you know, Individual. Alignment's obviously so important too, because when you think of your locus of control, kind of the bigger you go, the market organization, the team, you start to feel like, you know, depending on you know, who you are and where you are in your career.

And so on, how much impact might you be able to have as you go farther out, everyone, hopefully feel some level of autonomy and control over. Themselves. So maybe we could talk a little bit more about, you know, what do we mean about individual alignment, particularly in this context of right now of our researchers and product folks, trying to make an impact in these very uncertain times.

 Jonathon: [00:05:26] Organizations talk about that people are their most important part of their organization. They talk about how it differentiates them all the time. But so often the work is left incomplete to really connect with people at an individual level. and so I think individual alignment is a shared responsibility.

It's something where, you know, if you're early in your career or you have, you know, been, in an, a product team or doing research in design for, Two decades, you have that responsibility to make sure that you're aligned with your work, that you're asking good questions. You know, why are we creating this product?

What kind of impact do we want to have? Are we really clear about the problem we're trying to solve? Now, these are things that come out of, you know, kind of our expertise of doing the work, but leaders also have to do their part. They have to be saying, okay we have a North star, we know what we're trying to create, and we're committed to solving this problem and that helps people understand where they fit to and they can contribute.

If you understand , how you can make a difference in your day to day, research shows that, you know, job satisfaction goes up. Employee engagement goes up. Our ability to problem solve is increased. Cause we're focused on navigating the process and putting our energy in the most rewarding ways, into, you know, really developing solutions that are better to the problems we're trying to solve.

And I really think it also, Respects individuals at a much higher level, so you can show them, Hey, we've got clarity here. And that clarity allows us to come behind and really come together and collaborate. which is something that I, you know, so many people. And I think especially now are really, looking to figure out how they can do and more effectively.

JH: [00:07:16] It's, it seems like one of those things where if you get it right, the impact is almost like multiplied because you have people focused on the right things and pulling in with the rest of the organization. But those people are now also more motivated and have like more intrinsic energy, maybe. So like you almost get like, and then those things kind of combined, right?

So you get almost like a double win there. If that makes sense.

Jonathon: [00:07:42] If you add up all the parts, the sum is greater, you know, than, than the parts themselves. So it's really, you get an amplification effect when you have alignment and especially as you build alignment at each level, I think, you know, and another example is, you know, what the urgency is people have now for change or to adapt or pivot or organizations, or maybe their product or service offering altogether. You know, there's  this urgency to be busy, to show value or to, to create change. and you kind of touched on this earlier, JH, where there's this issue of people want to speed up, but they need to slow down in order to move faster. They need to make sure that they are aligned so that they can be working collectively to really, you know, make a much more significant contribution.

Erin: [00:08:28] Let's go back to the beginning in terms of alignment. Obviously this is a topic of, this is what we're talking about, and I'm hearing you Jonathan use, some terms, regularly here, like, you know, sort of transparency and, messaging and sort of, knowing and. There's this idea of alignment, you know, being tied to communication and just knowing what's going on.

What is, what else is involved in alignment when you're aligned with yourself, with your team, with your organization, with the market, what does that really mean?

Jonathon: [00:09:03] Well, what it does is it helps let me use one specific example. So every discipline has its own and every industry has its own terminology. You know, that's kind of baked into the way that we work. what really unlocks, the power of people to, to contribute is not just when there's a shared language or terminology, but what's more important is when there's a shared understanding.

So when we talk about, you know, research, well, that can be interpreted in many different ways, depending on somebody's level of experience and expertise. How do you approach that research? Why would you do that? You know, how do I design this kind of experience? so aligning on these, different points of.

within your organization or individually, you know, what is our common language? What's that shared understanding? What that does is that unlocks your ability to, really focus on the right things. It allows you to, with, alignment you're able to really, effectively make better decisions. and you can also you'll drive more effective collaboration and your speed  of delivery will continuously increase the more alignment is developed throughout the organization.

The different levels you talked about, we 

JH: [00:10:22] covered that, like, you know, individuals need alignment. I also imagine though that you have, you need alignment across the different levels, right? Like individuals need to be aligned, but their team, the team needs to be aligned with the organization. And, and so on. within user research, do you see that, like there tends to be a trend of where things are not aligned, like where teams struggle to get as much out of it, because at a certain level or a certain layer there's misalignment.

Jonathon: [00:10:46] Absolutely. So there's two situations that come top of mind. The first one is when bias is introduced into the research process. So it's very difficult for some teams to be able to come into the process and remove their own cognitive bias or understanding of something that can also be influenced by other team members functions of the organization that are maybe the sponsors or shared stakeholders in that research.

And so it's really important that we. You know, come into these things with, removing that bias and really doing objective research. I think that that's really key. an and the organizations can carry that through, right? You might use, it's a very common that you, maybe you have somebody in a leadership role.

They have a great idea. They're saying, Hey, this is what we should do. And they, with a bias in place, you almost go out there into the world to validate your, your assumption or your idea versus really trying to understand the deeper rooted problem that you might be solving. So we see that getting into conflict where there's actually misalignment taking place in the research process.

 The second thing that is really common is I think researchers and designers have a incredible opportunity that I don't know is discussed that often, at least not from, from where I sit is they should be one of the key voices and champions of building that common language and understanding in our organization, they have this incredible role of being this bridge between the internal and external, parts of the organization.

And they. You know, by nature, they have this inclination of curiosity and about wanting to remove bias from the process and bring those raw insights into the organization. And so I think there's an opportunity to challenge and help really develop both at the team level and the organizational level, what that, understanding should be.

Erin: [00:12:44] Yeah. When I think about one way to think about research, right, is with aligning the market to the organization with, I like how you frame alignment around really understanding. Do we understand each other? You can't be on the same page with someone you don't understand. Right. And, I think very often maybe we.

I think we do understand each other and we don't. Right. So you sort of have to appeal a part to your point. What are your biases, where assumptions and sort of reveal what those maybe misunderstandings are, you know, research to really understand where is the market so important right now, the market changing in every industry, some more than others in, in more dramatic ways.

and then we think about people who are doing research researchers. Taking those research skills to understand where the market is to align the organization with the market and then to your point, to bring those insights and that understanding to the company is, I mean, what's more powerful than that right now.

Right. So how do researchers seize that moment? People who are doing research, talking to the market, getting insight about the market, how do they, Make sure those insights and that understanding is heard and understood at every level of the organization.

Jonathon: [00:14:04] Well, I think there's a lot of different, you know, tactics you can employ, but I would say it starts with, this is an incredible opportunity, as difficult as it is for so many to bring in a deeper understanding and an organization of the power of empathy. And I think being. You know, this is also an opportunity too, for people doing research, bring those cross functional teams, bring those people to the forefront of the research process and invite them to participate.

when you do that, you can build an incredible level of, of alignment and you're also educating them and you're exposing them to the information where you can have a really meaningful conversation. sometimes what happens is they, you know, researchers are sent out in the world, go get us this information, come back, give me a report.

But that report is, you know, it's hard to capture all of the contextual information.  a really comprehensive understanding of empathy,  and so by bringing in people at all levels of the organization, you know, to participate, is, is incredibly powerful. some organizations I've seen, they have these wonderful, you know, programs they've created to.

To try to address that, to bring more alignment. there's some organizing every level of a example of your retail store that if you're on the corporate side in your, whether you're the CEO or you're an HR, doesn't matter that you're going to spend a few days. Every quarter in your store, you're going to be serving customers.

You're going to be talking to them. You're going to be taking care of their needs. You're going to answering their question and it doesn't matter. And by doing things like that or participating in those levels of research, the kind of. Empathy that you develop and understanding you start to break down those biases and those assumptions, you start to create a different framework where you can have these conversations.

the other thing I think that is, is really important is it goes back to this shared understanding is doesn't organization that a researcher is in have a really clear understanding about the difference between strategy and planning. And this is one of the big gotchas that we run into lot that we see in both the work that we do.

as well as, you know, the, our own research where we're out there talking to industry leaders across sectors and you know, the challenges that they have. And I think that's also one of the traps right now. Under the current circumstances, is it planning gives us something concrete. It feels tangible, it's actionable.

And what we, you know, what a lot of times is being confused for strategy is just that as planning, it gives us a false sense of security and that, you know, is not good for the organization. and until you actually know what you're planning against and you have a clear. Vision and strategic plan, though that, that security is really based on a bunch of false assumptions.

So it's really important for researchers to, I think, to be able to hold onto that. and it requires them to build a, you know, some skillsets in the business side of the organization that they're in and understand that beyond their, their core skills as a researcher and designer.

JH: [00:17:40] I want to dig into the strategy versus planning thing you mentioned, but just before we do that, like, I feel like what you were just describing, right? Like alignment comes from the shared understanding. Research is a great way to create shared understanding and can kind of help teams become more aligned.

So I'm just curious in your experience, have you seen that kind of correlate like teams that have really good research practices tend to be more aligned and teams that don't have a great culture of research tend to be more misaligned, like causation I'm sure is, is hard to pin down, but, do you see that at a trend level anyways?

Jonathon: [00:18:10] What I see is, where there's, where there's more alignment. You definitely see, I would say higher quality of research. This is the way that I, that I would look at that there there's definitely. And the reason for that is because. The level of engagement that's taking place. And I think it helps those teams create better, questions.

there's a woman that I've worked with in the past. She is the head of research for a global technology company and she leads that practice, but she says she spends the majority of her time actually building connections internally. Because the more she can understand her business, not from cause she's an expert researcher that is not her challenge.

Her challenge is making sure that she understands the intricacies of the products and the problems are solving so she can do better research. And so she spends the majority of her time focused on alignment. And that allows her to be, to provide the most valuable and impactful research for her organization.

And I think those, you know, just her practice of doing that for, you know, 20 plus years has really shown to be very powerful.

Erin: [00:19:25] There are times, right? Certainly not every organization is doing enough research or enough quality of research to, to have a great grasp on all the intricacies of who their customers are. but in many organizations, right, there are certain senses of, you know, this is what our customers care about, or like everyone knows they need this.

We can, we all agree. This is a priority. And then yet it doesn't happen. Right. And so what are those, you know, organized  disalignment or issues or bureaucracies or whatever they might be that are preventing organization from being able to deliver what we know the customers. Need and want, and maybe there are good reasons for that.

Right. But, maybe, or maybe there aren't, but that idea of really understanding how this business works, is its own kind of internal research project, right. That connects that user need with the business dynamics as well.

Jonathon: [00:20:29] Facets to it. But I think one of the things that I like to focus on is, you know, when you have researchers, you have designers and engineers working together, and then they, them being able to deliver as is in many organizations as a hundred percent re contingent on that ability to collaborate.

Cross-functionally you need to have that alignment internally in order to effectively deliver. So that. That lack of organizational and team alignment becomes fairly, you know, impactful in stopping projects or ideas from ever coming to fruition. it it's, you know, it holds back, you know, I'm a huge fan of, of making sure experiment quickly, really test ideas, validate them, you know, if it makes sense scale, but you, you don't even get to that stage if you're, if you're not being able to collaborate and understand, you know, all of the components of your organization.

So really having alignment, having that clarity is really important.

Erin: [00:21:32] Yeah, it seems like there's a lot of, different to your point levels of alignment at play when it comes to getting teams to work cross functionally to deliver something to a customer. Right. So. Could be alignment on what does the customer need? What is the business priority? Why is it important for teams to work cross functionally?

How do we do that? Like an understanding on how are we actually gonna from a process perspective, make that happen? So a lot of things really have to come together and I know. Jason. And I I'm having been at user interviews, which we jokingly say is the biggest company in the world at 40 people now. and you know, I have never worked for a truly large company.

So to me, it's just amazing that they can function at all. But how do you create that alignment, right? As your sort of scale of people that need to be on the same page? gross.

Jonathon: [00:22:23] Yeah, well, scale is a really interesting. A challenge, because if you go from two people on a team, right, you only have to worry about the communication between you and that other person. if you add third person, instead of two degrees of communication, you don't have six degrees of communication. and it grows exponentially in the organization.

So communication and building alignment definitely gets more and more challenging. the larger the organization is one of the key things that, that we've seen is, And it felt from our own research too, is really that this simple of that can be credibly powerful on any project is anchoring it to the big picture, objective or vision of the company, every single person in our organization, whether you're, you know, 10 people or 10,000 people are there, to fulfill that, that mission.

 And so it's a really great way to start to just break down silos. fundamentally just start to remove some of the barriers here's.

You know why we're here and doing this, and here's the problem that's been , prioritized to solve.  this is important to realizing that that vision or fulfilling that mission. wasn't that there it's so much easier for people across the organization to understand where they fit.

and that can be a really powerful tool.

  JH: [00:24:24] I like that. You, earlier you had mentioned, you know, I'm not confusing planning for strategy and vice versa. Could you say a little bit more about that Linda, in terms of what you've seen and where that gets mixed up?

Erin: [00:24:35] Well, just to jump in on that to you, you also mentioned there's a plan and then there's a strategy and then there's a strategic plan. Right. So, so what's that. And how does that fit in, right. If there's there's yeah, there's a, there's a Venn diagram here. So it seems like, it seems like strategic plan is maybe where we want to end up, but yeah.

What are the differences and how do you. Put whatever the good version of that is, right. How do you deal with that right now with the world changing every day?

Jonathon: [00:25:13] When you think about strategy, strategy can be boiled down to what's the problem we're going to solve. Why is it worth solving and making sure that we have a clear understanding of the outcome we want to produce. Right. That's really what strategy's all about. There's a million things that we can do, but why are we focused on these things?

Right. That that's really the anchor strategy. When we get into planning, planning is very tactical it's schedules, resource allocations. you know, how are we going to, solve this problem? Gets confused with strategy a lot. and I think, you know, there's a, there's a great story in the book that came out last year, a trillion dollar coach, about how.

when John Campbell became CEO of Intuit , he, had this incident where he had to say, stop giving product managers, stop giving these teams, lists of things to build . We have these incredible people, their job is to solve the problem better than we can. That's why we have them here.

 what strategy does is it becomes that North star, it says, this is the value we need to create. We give that strategy to teams. They become empowered to solve the problem in the best way. Cause they're the research experts, they're the design experts, they're the engineers that know how to create these things.

and we shift our organization when we do that from being delivery focused, to being outcome focused and that's really important. So, Now we're not measuring performance off of how many lines of code did you produce, or, you know, how many stakeholders, how had you you're equating it to value. And that's really where strategy is.

The other nice thing about that is that  you know, you have organizations like Amazon that have really proven this and. People like Jeff Bezos that talk about this is that , they're stubborn on their vision.

 they're,  they're adaptive and flexible on the plans,  and so how do you get there? Well, that comes from that constant research and that experimentation and working through that, knowing that plans need to be adaptive,  the real thing is how do I get to the next step?

It doesn't have to be fixed and people want guarantees right now. I think more than ever the situation, you know, every media channel is talking about uncertainty and I think rightfully so, everybody's looking for a little more certainty in their lives. So we need to understand that certainty can come from focusing on value, but not getting that anchor to planning that is not going to, that is going to change inevitably duct.

And so by, by embracing that for that fact, we are actually liberating, our, our teams and our organizations to stay focused on the right things.

Erin: [00:28:04] Back to the kind of challenge of scale, right? I'll put my, use my empathy hat and pretend I'm CEO of a 5,000 person company. so we have our strategy, you know, which is that we want to solve, you know, the problem of creating. More widgets for our target because they don't have enough widgets. And that's very important to the mission of the company, which has a widget for every one who needs one.

so that's our strategy, but then, you know, COVID comes along and they don't need the, those kinds of widgets anymore. And now we've updated our strategy. Like two, two adopter focus has changed. We used to have a plan on how we were going to make the widgets. That plan doesn't make sense anymore. You know, I guess this is a larger question for how larger organizations can be set up to be more agile and to change as the market changes.

But, and this is going to look very different in different company sizes too. But with all that being said, How do we kind of, you know, if we have these expensive plans that were, you know, created sort of many months out with lots of people in play, how can teams, get the right sort of level of agility and changing those plans and strategies as needed around without having.

you know, an organization feel confused in this sort of seat of whiplash, right. Which is not aligned at all. And, you know, on the one side you have this kind of chaos and confusion. On the other hand, you have. We have a plan that might not be good anymore, but we're going to stick to it because you know, then everyone will at least understand it.

And that's the plan. How do you get to a place where there is alignment in an ever changing world, maybe in a big company where that's going to take a lot of maneuvering to make happen?

Jonathon: [00:29:57] Well, I mean, there are people whose entire career is based on this, and it's a really big question. but I think this goes back to something we talked a little bit about earlier, which is organizations that are going to thrive in this situation. So your, your company of 5,000 people, Aaron, as CEO, You know, the most important thing in that situation is that everybody understands, you know, the strategy, not the plan, right.

It's it's that they understand how does this strategy for product X, Y, Z, or widget? how will that help us fulfill our mission? What problem are we solving, you know, for our customer. What outcome do we want to have for the customer and for the business and how are we going to measure that? You know, and then we can start developing and looking at different opportunities on how we can solve that.

And maybe the way that we were going to solve it and our plan to solve that that had been created no longer as feasible, because you know, if you're a large organization, you have, maybe you have a global supply chain and your resources aren't available to you anymore. But maybe there's another way or new relationships or new partnerships or new ways of innovation or technology that can help you adjust your plan.

But your, you know, your strategy is still sound. I think the best organizations that I see are ones that come and revisit strategy strategy is not something that's done and then forgotten and put on a shelf. It's something where they come back. And in moments like this, when I'm talking to, You know, executive leadership at other organizations, whether it be healthcare organizations or technology companies that doesn't matter, they're asking themselves is the problem we're solving.

Is it still a relevant problem to our customer? Right. So with so many people shifting to work from home, you know, for some organizations, they were really focused on, well, my, my solution is best for the small to medium business. Well, that only that solution was office based and our world has changed. So they have to rethink that.

How do they either adapt or do they need to pivot? And that, that comes back to a strategic conversation, but that I think is something that, you know, everybody in an organization at every level can understand. And is is helpful, right? I mean, if we are left in a vacuum, naturally, we start to fill that vacuum of information from our own experiences and our own perspective.

And in a large organization, there is no such thing I think is over communicating and making sure you don't let that vacuum persist. If you stay clear on those things in your strategy, then you can really refocus. I think quickly whether a small you're a small business or a big large organization with offices around the world, you can say, we still understand this is the problem that we need to solve.

And this is the value. That our customers need. and that's going to be really important and that's going to get disrupted by new organizations that see opportunities and they're going to become new substitutes to, for solutions to solve those problems. And going back to your kind of original, comments about, you know, people coming in early in their careers, or maybe later in the curse, the researchers are in this beautiful place right now to be.

The tip of the spear for, for our organizations to understand and start to look at that through another lens. Like, is this problem still we're solving? Are there new substitutes coming into this space that we never thought about? Because six weeks ago it was a different world.

JH: [00:33:48] We just 2.0, 

Jonathon: [00:33:50] Yeah.

JH: [00:33:53] yeah, no, I think you, you kind of touched on it when you mentioned the example earlier from the, from the Intuit CEO, when you were saying like, you know, you want the teams to be good at driving towards outcomes or solving problems. And if you have that kind of set up or you can shift towards it, it does feel like that gives you some resilience and some ability to change course.

In a way that, you know, organizations that are, this is our 2020 plan period, and then you need to shift it's they don't have it, those muscles. Right. Cause if you're, if you're not used to working that way, you got to start developing those skills. Cause it's hard to, you know, it's a hard change to make overnight, whereas teams that were kind of operating that way previously, you're probably in a little bit of a better position right now.

Right. Cause they can, they know how to kind of. A little bit more natively than maybe those other teams do.

Jonathon: [00:34:41] Yeah. I mean, it makes a big difference. There's there's a saying that I like, and I hope I won't get this wrong, but a vision without a plan is a daydream, but a plan without a vision is a nightmare. And I think that there is a lot of situations where people have great ideas. I mean, the people, people with ideas or people that we, Harold this as champions of, you know, and, you know, innovation and, you know, leaders of industry and you know, what it comes down to is.

No, those ideas could never have happened until there was alignment until there was clarity and bringing together a much, much bigger group of people. I mean, the idea for, for Apple's iPod was its Genesis was a years before that product ever came to market. It wasn't even feasible until Toshiba came out with micro drives and that doesn't revolutionize the market.

so, you know, But all the pieces had to align in order to make that possible. So, you know, Apple, as we know them today would not exist without alignment.   

Erin: [00:35:53] So one of the things you mentioned was like right now, you know, and folks talk about this, that the, you know, the next big tech giant is being born right now. Right? Because. Out of necessity is invention and out of, you know, a crazy time like this, you, you seeing it already with the rapid development of health tech, for instance, and things like that, but there's clearly.

innovation. That's going to come out of this time, whether that be from Apple and Intuit or companies that don't even exist in everything in between for researchers and for people who do. Research. Obviously, every company is very different, but in many companies, budgets for research are being cut. timelines are being cut and FA emphasis is being placed on sort of evaluative research with a quick turnaround time to an existing known problem budgets being pulled away from early discovery, speculative research.

Again, it's going to be case by case, but how can individuals and teams make the case for making sure to your point earlier, they're slow down, taking the time to do the research that ultimately is going to help. Teams grow and thrive and come out of this on the other side, in a better position, how do they align those sort of that research strategy and planning right to the, the needs of the company in this market when they might be coming up against some, some difficult conversations in terms of budgets and priorities research might be seen as, you know, a nice to have as an expense and not as sort of, you know, A necessary ingredient to growth.

Jonathon: [00:37:50] Well, I th the phrase, you know, we can't afford to fail is what comes top of mind. You hear that all the time. I'm sure. Anecdotally, we can all remember a time when somebody has said that to us. And I think researchers need to say, well, if you can't afford to fail, then let's make sure we're working on the right things. No, we have to work on the right things at the right time. Otherwise we won't have enough resources. We won't be able to get this product or this innovation to market, or if they're focused on internal innovation, right. you know, more and more research being pulled, you know, internally to look at how do we.

Not just extend to the market, but how do we, you know, improve how we operate and to increase productivity? Where are we, you know, having limitations or barriers to being able to deliver on the customer experience or, you know, are we actually, you know, thinking about our employee experience now that needs to, you know, really shine and is being driven by the need to modernize.

So I think there there's this dialogue that needs, needs to happen between, research and, the stakeholders that they're working with around, you know, if there really is risk and there, they want to be risk adverse, they want to de risk their project. Then they can't take research out of the equation.

You know that it goes back to that earlier conversation around bias. If they're introducing bias, they are, you know, we're Oh, well, I am one of our customers that, you know, I use it this way, you know, they're, they're setting themselves up for failure. so it's, and I think this is, this is a really systemic issue that, You know, re good research can really help mitigate, but there's also an education process that has to happen.

You know, when people talk about failure, they talk about it as market, you know, a misalignment with the market or a huge percentage of failure. Doesn't come from a mismatch with the percentage of the market, that's willing to buy your product or service. It comes from internal sabotage. And research, I think is one of the most powerful tools to navigate all the uncertainties that you are dealing with today and helping to understand the, you know, how do we address proactively these potential hurdles of internal sabotage and not get, you know, lose our position of relevance or not be able to deliver or invest.

You know, hundreds, thousands of hours or millions of dollars that we'll never be able to recover.

JH: [00:40:38] I think like, you know, given the current climate, I understand organizations, you know, wanting to meet or like have a sense of urgency and a bias to action and kind of be responsive to the, to the situation. But I think the balance is really hard to strike. Right? How do you do that in a way? That doesn't become like this frantic everyone's running around, nobody knows who's doing what, and it actually becomes like a quagmire that you can't navigate through.

compared to like the saying, I always like as slow as smooth, smooth as fast, like how do you maintain kind of like a level head and still be responsive and agile, but, you know, appreciate that. Like, Hey, if we can get to something, a solution in to market faster or make a change faster, you know, that's probably good in the current climate.

But not turn yourself into like this frantic running around mess. If that makes sense.

Jonathon: [00:41:27] It's a really tricky balance because what happens a lot of times is you can only move as fast as the culture of your organization allows you to. Right. So if the culture is very risk adverse or change adverse, you're going to have a harder time managing or beating that, that transition right now, if you're an organization that has a very, that embraces change, that it's part of your DNA and you're really comfortable.

and there is no such thing as status quo within the organization. This is just going to feel like you're, you know, there's more urgency, maybe more than ever, but you're not really feeling the significant impact of, of those organizations that are dealing with the different types of internal corporate culture.

So, you know, recognizing things for what they are, I think is really important to navigating that. and then there's the, it goes back to alignment in the organization, from the CEO to the, you know, VP down to your, the director and all the way through art. Do they all understand the problem? The same way?

Are, do they understand the outcome that we're trying to create so that the message to the teams and to the different functions or organizations are clear. and I think, you know, the lack of clarity right now is, you know, is definitely a huge, negative impact on people being able to, to navigate this and pivot.

So that's going to be, has to be at the forefront of.

Erin: [00:43:12] Take us home. Jonathan, what is the most important thing for people to know right now who do research about alignment?

Jonathon: [00:43:27] What I would say is that to anybody doing research right now, your work has never been more important when things are going great, organizations can easily, say, well, we'll do that later. you know, or they, but when things are tough, the, the risk tolerance is low and good insight. that is actionable.

That gives us perspective on our customers. Wait, new ways of looking at a problem, are absolutely essential. So I think that, you know, for those people out there doing that, you know, continue to do that really, really important work and realize that you have one of the most powerful voices right now in helping development alignment within your organization. 

Carrie Boyd

Content Creator

Carrie Boyd is a Content Creator at User Interviews. She loves writing, traveling, and learning new things. You can typically find her hunched over her computer with a cup of coffee the size of her face.

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