How leaders see user research: the difference between the enlightened and the unaware (Part 2)

In the previous article, we cast light on the believer (our favourite!) leader. In part 2 of the trilogy (reminds me of LOTR!), I would like to introduce the open-minded leader (drum rolls please).

The open-minded

The open-minded leaders are transformative in nature. They value possibilities, are bold and believe in learning new things. They back a culture of innovation and have various ideas on how to creatively solve problems.

When it comes to conducting user research, these leaders fall into two categories:

  • Bold explorer

The bold explorer is an intensely curious leader who loves jumping into the water rather than just dipping their toes and testing the waters. They love challenges and any possible solution that shows merit in bashing the daylights out of a problem excites them endlessly.

The cautious explorer has varied responses to user research ranging from “it’s a good thing to do” but never get to do it to “I have heard of it” but, again, never get to do it to “I believe in it, but other leaders don’t see value in it.” They are intensely analytical decision-makers and sometimes end up spending too much time analyzing and not jumping into action or hedging their bets a bit too much.

Bold explorer

Spend time learning of new possibilities to solve their existing problems

Bold explorers are curious and great learners. They harness the capabilities of people to get things done. They are visionaries who are always open to new ideas and invest time and effort to learn more about it. Once bought into the idea, they will show up and convince their people to buy into it.

They often question legacy processes in the hunt for the new and relevant.

When UCC was approached by Medtronic to conduct a Design Thinking workshop with the intent to dig deeper into knowing the people, their needs, motivations and challenges in the context of working with Medtronic, Divya Joshi the Site Director was himself learning more about Design Thinking and user research. He invested time in understanding the concept, knowing the ins and outs of the Design Thinking process and when he was sure that it was an appropriate method to try and solve his organizational problem, he got us on board.

He was so invested in the workshop that he sent the introductory mailer to the teams attending it. Blocked his calendar and spent two full days with us and other participants. Leaders from other disciplines also attended the workshop. Such was the enthusiasm created by Divya that the entire room was immersed in the experience. During one of the instances when the teams were presenting their ideas for possible solutions, I was sharing feedback with the group and one of the team members was quick to jump in without letting me finish. Divya immediately interjected that the team member should “listen to understand and not react”, as one of the principles mentioned during the workshop. Moments like these are what user researchers call success.

Inspire others to perform collaboratively

Bold explorers lead from the back. They create an environment of autonomy and empower their teams to experiment with possible solutions to their problems.

For user research to be successful, it’s imperative for all the stakeholders to be completely immersed in the experience and not work in the siloes. Often, in large organizations, the internal politics around proving one’s worth over others blemishes the sanctity of user research and research projects are treated as a mere check-in-the-box. A bold explorer, because of their people-focused skills, ensures that the teams remain cohesive, constantly communicate with each other and are aligned with each other in terms of goals, processes and outcomes. This kind of environment is a fertile ground for user research to thrive.

Cautious explorer

Shoulder the weight of convincing everyone else on the value of user research

When a leader has been initiated into the concept of user research and they feel that user research can be a potent way of increasing the success rate of the product, it becomes their job to convince the rest of the leadership to buy-in to the idea. The various heads of product design, development and customer experience may not necessarily share the same sentiments. They are often consumed in their world of “delivering” and user research is looked as being detrimental to letting them achieve their timelines.

Large enterprises while having the financial capability to try new things are often wary of changing their ways of doing things. The smaller ones always have their hands full with getting their limited resources to accomplish the multiple jobs and user research may be looked at as “one more fancy task” to do. During such times, it becomes a long, arduous process to “show” them the value of user research.

Not fully convinced on the benefits of user research

User research has become a buzzword thanks to Apple, IDEO, Google and AirBnB. However, there’s still a large section of leaders who are not entirely convinced of the long-term benefits of user research and the varied methods that can be employed to know their users. Adding to this list, an isolated bad experience of exercising user research earlier may have left them scarred giving them reasons to not fully believe in it.

I distinctly remember one of the conversations with our clients who shared their experience of working with a “prominent” design studio of the country expecting strategic, product-related direction that would help them decide the next features to focus on for a new market. However, by the end of the research, they were left with irrelevant insights that added no value to their line of thinking and objectives they wished to achieve.

There are several reasons why user research could go bad. Working with a generalist, incorporating incorrect research methods, scrimping on budgets, assuming that know your users and reducing the number of users you learn from are some of the common reasons user research fails. We once had an international client who wanted to understand the Indian market before launching their insurance product. They wanted to do a quick-and-dirty research because they were running against the deadline for launching the product and also were limited in their financial budget. They suggested that talking to users from 1 or 2 cities is good enough a representation of the entire country. I had to bust their myth explaining how complicated, versatile and different each part of India is, and also help them understand that exploratory user research is intensive and exhaustive to be able to understand the market for their product and form first opinions. It does not come with any shortcuts.

The open-minded leaders usher hope and positivity in the lives of user researchers. Their openness to ideas gives us an opportunity to knock on the door that leads to their user’s mind.

What can you as a user researcher do to turn the open-minded to become pro-research?

  • Tap into the curiosity mindset of the bold explorer and build a case sharing the outcomes your user research can achieve. In short, paint the picture of what success will look like.

In the next and the last part of the series, you will learn about the leaders who have extremely limited knowledge on the capabilities of user research and how user research leaders can shift their stand.

Shipra is the Founder & User Research Director at User Connect Consultancy.

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