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Evolving Your In-House Team

In terms of a well composed insights team—should it be an experienced group of well-groomed generalists? A dynamic team of specialists? A mix of both? What is the best team make-up for your organization as we head into the new year? There are myriad ways to answer the question—and that’s before we count the intelligence that we can now access artificially.

Lommel says, “I think I come down more on the generalist side. What I care most about is the softer skills that make someone adept at insights, things like influence, communication, storytelling. Our business changes so much, and what we care about is ever evolving.”

Khanna observes, “Things are changing. I believe, for us, it’s what we call specialized generalists, which is we’re consultants within the company, and we are provided with all different kinds of briefs which just means you really need to know how to do various things, and you need to do them well. And even in that, anybody should be able to go anywhere. Despite, say, I’m great at segmentation, I’m not the only one who’ll be placed on a segmentation project every single time. What I think is interesting is maybe five years ago, what would have been of value in talent and insights is now becoming a must-have. Things like storytelling and so on have become a basic requirement versus before it used to be a differentiator. The industry is evolving to be more sophisticated where many of those talents, as we call it, are essential to survive.”

This ultimately leads to the team’s ability to answer the call no matter what the call is—to be able to deliver on what’s needed no matter what that is.

“That is correct,” agrees Khanna. “Every company does have a support system to guide you through that, but regardless, when you’re a consultant to a business, you’re able to handle the entirety of it, which is understand the business needs, customize the research to it, and then even come on in at the end with implications at the back-end based on the business. It takes not only, I would say, inside specialization, but a little bit of having business acumen on the go. Clorox has completely different businesses from personal care to charcoal, to like toilet cleaners, so you really must know at least a little of everything to be able to do your daily business.”

That gets to the makeup of the team. With things changing all the time—budgets have been cut, teams have been cut, AI is coming—what is the best makeup of your team?

“I do really think it’s about people who can think on their feet, especially from a strategic lens,” says Khanna. “As AI comes in, there was a lot of expectations that AI would do everything for you, and people would be obsolete. But that’s not the case. It really comes down to people who know how to use the AI tool to their advantage as part of their toolbox, and then add strategic business value to it. We’re all used to dashboards and jazzy data. Well, how do you make sense of that in a way that you can tell a VP? This is what I see, and this is what you should do. It takes a lot of strategic thinking and foresight. That’s what I think is important.”

Corey, where do you jump in here? We’ve had conversations about the fact that you see yourself as Phil Jackson, meaning that you’ve got so much talent already on the team, but how do we evolve that? How do we mix and match?

“I’m grateful that I have a very experienced team,” says Lommel. “What I always tell people, one key to being successful is to hire people that are smarter than you. I think it takes some humility on the part of the leader to do that. But I would just build on what Shilpa said. Now more important than ever is comfort with technology. Even before AI came on the scene, we were doing a lot of or some DIY research where it makes sense. We can be agile and maybe the decision risk is not high. I need to have team members that are comfortable programming their own survey, looking through open ends, coming up with themes, analyzing research, having the willingness to do that and being comfortable with the technology to do that. With AI coming on the scene, it’s going to take even more comfort with technology. That’s becoming even more important.”

Jumping in to learn about new technology is certainly one tactic that talent can take.

“I’m excited that we started experimenting early, and we’re learning the pros and cons and what the limitation of the technology is and where humans should jump in,” says Khanna. “We’re going through something called digital transformation where we’re really thinking about the process in innovation. How do you integrate these things? Where do they add the most value versus where should we expect to have human hours invested to bring it to the next level? That level of contemplation is completely required at this stage to better understand how to fit it into your system. We’re not so much judging anymore whether AI is working or not. We’re looking at how do we integrate AI into our overall innovation process to make it most effective. As AI develops, I think the human value or creativity is in how do you combine it in the most unexpected way and bring that to life? That is a combination of value to your organization. That’s the midpoint of really understanding how to integrate AI right now.”

“AI is going to help us be more efficient at the end of the day,” says Lommel. “I want my team to be focused on understanding what the research learning means and how it can impact our business, not so much on the blocking and tackling of fielding research and analyzing research. I think AI is going to put even more importance on those strategic thinking and influencing skills. From an AI perspective, I’m bullish. I think it’s going to be a big shift in our industry, but in a good way.”

Watch the complete video from TMRE Continued as the panel explores how you can evolve your in-house team while sourcing what’s missing, the art of talent development, not losing focus on the human aspect and more.


  • Seth Adler

    Seth Adler heads up All Things Insights & All Things Innovation. He has spent his career bringing people together around content. He has a dynamic background producing events, podcasts, video, and the written word.

    View all posts
  • Matt Kramer

    Matthew Kramer is the Digital Editor for All Things Insights & All Things Innovation. He has over 20 years of experience working in publishing and media companies, on a variety of business-to-business publications, websites and trade shows.

    View all posts

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