Until now, we’ve covered research processes as isolated functions. Of course, it’s the people behind the research who are accountable, responsible, and critical for navigating the maturity curve and achieving excellence. It’s time to explore the ins and outs of a high performing research department.


Virtually every enterprise has a research team of some magnitude. Staffing, process, and technology (covered in the following section of this report), are three parts of the equation that determines productivity.

Research team

There are many potentially successful approaches to staffing a research team. Headcount alone isn’t as important as strategic alignment and general coordination.

  • What does a dire situation look like? Virtually all research resources are dedicated to more traditional initiatives, like brand tracking. There is little to no collaboration with ground-level initiatives or innovation functions.
  • What are key indicators that there’s room for improvement? Research is a centralized function, mainly dedicated to traditional initiatives but with some capacity to take on ad-hoc requests.
  • What does excellence look like? Research is both a centralized and decentralized function, with resources available to inform strategic initiatives and to parachute and be embedded into day-to-day activities.

Organizational demand for research

In many ways, the maturity of an organization’s research function can be measured by the organization’s demand for research. Organizations that demand and consume research tend to have research teams that facilitate and satisfy that demand.

  • What does a dire situation look like? The overwhelming majority of decisions are made by opinion or by cherry picking data from broad and/or outdated (often third-party) studies. Most decisions from messaging to product launches fail to meet target goals.
  • What are key indicators that there’s room for improvement? There are a few forward-thinking teams that proactively want to collaborate with the research team to make data-driven decisions for important initiatives.
  • What does excellence look like? Stakeholders from across the organization reach out to the research team to collaborate on research studies. There is a shared and clear context for learning objectives and success criteria.


Organizational leadership is crucial for the success of any function or initiative, research in particular. That’s because humans are naturally inclined to be optimistic and over-confident, and to make biased decisions unless incentivized otherwise.

Executive buy-in

Developing an organizational muscle around data-driven decision-making requires the executive team to engage in continuous reiteration, strategic prioritization, and sustained investment. Many of these are outside of the research team’s control, but can be influenced by deliberately developing traction and success stories.

  • What does a dire situation look like? There is virtually no interest from leadership in research. Executives suffer from a “Steve Jobs complex” and think of innovation as strokes of genius.
  • What are key indicators that there’s room for improvement? The executive team advocates for being customer-centric but rarely requests research, consumes research, budgets resources or allocates time to conducting research before key decisions, and offers no company-wide performance incentives for using data to inform decisions.
  • What does excellence look like? The organization widely uses KPIs around generating and consuming research, understanding that such factors are a leading indicator for the success of initiatives. Research leaders have a seat at the table, and the executive team is thoroughly engaged in reviewing research studies for key decisions.

Company strategy

Directly connected to executive buy-in is the company’s strategy as it relates to research. Many organizations are undergoing or have recently undergone digital transformations with a primary focus on reorienting (and reorganizing) around the customer.

  • What does a dire situation look like? Reorganizations are entirely driven by third-party consulting firms with non-contextualized recommendations around digital initiatives. There is no cohesive strategy for generating or iterating on customer feedback.
  • What are key indicators that there’s room for improvement? The organization is genuinely participating in an agile transformation in order to reorient around customer-focused workflows and initiatives.
  • What does excellence look like? Research leaders have significant input into company strategy. The company dedicates resources to experimentation, even if at a micro-level to begin. Strategy considers discovery and research as key phases and iterative workflows of important initiatives.

How can you improve research in your organization?
Take the Self-Assessment Quiz: Improving Your Research Operations

Our self-guided quiz is designed to help you identify areas to improve the research operations of your organization. At the end, you’ll receive a score and guided recommendations to improve the maturity of your research operations.