Internal and external research is needed for game plan, writes Liz Barns-Graham, senior consultant at Grafton Consulting Group.

Coming to a decision about your firm's strategic direction for the next few years should not be a knee-jerk thing. Research internally and externally should help you come up with a game plan which will be adapted over the years.

The benefit is, of course, no more expensive decisions taking the company in the wrong direction. Research can also build a good company culture by modelling a consultative behaviour with employees, where they feel their opinions are valued and acted on.

NZ businesses are often accused of not investing enough time in research before development or improvements are implemented. Where can research be used before important decisions are made and how can this be carried out?


When defining and designing the firm's business strategy, online research surveys can be designed to elicit as much information as possible from all interested parties. This research can include a mix of rated, ranked, open-ended and demographic questions.

Another step to add further rigour can be structured telephone or face-to-face interviews with stakeholders. This can be beneficial for researching the impact of rebranding and marketing strategies and exploring new customer opportunities.

It can also ensure that long- and short-term business planning takes into account all relevant views - both internally and externally to the organisation.

Where the decisions to be made are in regard to teams and individuals, a mix of surveys, 360 interviews for individuals, structured interviews, career, motivation and psychometric assessment can provide a rigorous process to identify possible pitfalls.

Do you have to be a large company to have a research resource?

No, any company can carry out research - the trick is in designing the right questions and - where one-on-one interviews are used - in knowing the next question to ask. Where psychometric and career assessments are used, having the technical expertise to interpret the results is essential. Using external research consultants can be a cost-effective option as you can have the technical expertise readily available, without the costs of an in-house resource.

What are some examples of NZ companies which have successfully carried out research before any major developments, decisions or investments?

Grafton carry out annual client surveys for a media organisation, enabling them to compare past and present results to measure success and identify improvements. These client satisfaction surveys are designed to also measure how well the values of the company are being exhibited. An additional bonus is that individual account managers are able to receive their personal results as part of their annual performance review. Each year's survey has also included a section exploring elements of the strategic direction of the company which has then been used to inform long-term planning.

A national retail chain uses research to inform on a number of different areas. Grafton has run research for them in advance of developing their business and brand strategies, researching the views of suppliers, industry influencers, their channel, with consumer research following.

We also recently carried out a team-building session with a senior corporate HR team. Prior to the workshop, the "behaviour under pressure" of the team was explored using a psychometric assessment. This enabled an examination of strategies for the team around common risks discovered, how these might impact on how their business partners and how certain colleagues might react in pressured circumstances.


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