Alex Katsuro
12 Sept 2019
Alex Katsuro on being proactive in a changing environment
'We decided to be proactive and headed the change rather than dwell on the state of things'.

As part of our new interview series we spoke to some of our clients and colleagues about different topics around marketing, product development, market research and consumer feedback amongst other things. Here is the story about how Alex Katsuro, (former head of B2B market research in Sberbank) and his team stepped out of their comfort zone and made an impact.
Tis an era of change…
Today we can witness the transformation of business models and production approaches otherwise known as the 4th technological revolution.

One the one hand digital and service companies (whose product or service offerings are heavy on AI) are very prominent. On the other, the way products are managed is changing — product ownership is expanding, large companies are fragmenting into smaller startup like units with their own CEOs. On top of all that everyone is coming around to the simple truth that the best product is the one created with and for the customer.

In a short space of time the startup culture took centre stage while many traditional giants transformed to operate in this way and started using the language and frameworks similar to that of startups.
The key
The trick is to adjust to the requirements of this new reality, learn to work with new objectives and within new frameworks, which should be clear to product developers, owners and everyone else involved. Easier said than done…
Clients are research agnostic
There is an infinite number of ways to obtain data, from big data and social listening to market research and UX. In my opinion we should overcome our mutual animosity and rivalry as soon as possible and consolidate into one common research… As a research client I want to be able to solve all of my research problems with one supplier.
Decentralising market research
Back when I worked in Sberbank it was undergoing a massive agile transformation. We (our research team) found ourselves in a tricky situation, where the market research expertise was no longer lying only within our department, instead it was spreading across all of the departments and functions within the bank. Multiple "labs" and client knowledge centres emerged. In other words, we came to be in a situation of internal competition.
Threats we faced
Additionally, we weren’t ready for the growing demand for research from business clients. As a matter of fact, our inability to supply this demand largely contributed to the growth of expertise in alternative areas.

We lost a large chunk of internal market share, and moreover we were no longer being selected by the more interesting clients; those driving the new digital business.
Our shortcomings
There were many reasons for this. We were not fast enough, we were not agile enough in terms of methodologies often justifying it with maintaining standards and quality; we weren’t speaking our clients' language and didn’t use the frameworks they used. Plus we rejected some of the new trends, for example we refused to participate in neuroscience testing as our somewhat conservative minds dismissed it as heresy. :)
We feared but we acted
We felt fearful in this rapidly changing environment and realised that we had to do something about it. We understood that soon we won’t be needed by the industry anymore because the research process will no longer include us, people will learn to obtain their own consumer feedback using the many methods available to them today and if we don’t develop as professionals we will become less qualified and obsolete.
Taking proactive steps
So we decided to be proactive and headed the change rather than dwell on the state of things, which looked a little grim for us as specialists at the time.

We made an internal service platform and evaluated all old and new research practices to understand in which direction they should be modernised.

The service search platform helped navigate through the plethora of research solutions available to the company. For example, you had a certain business question, the system would automatically suggest a range of tools and solutions to address that problem. It also included tips, brief forms and links to particular tools. With this level of transparency and usability anyone could launch a project without involving the research team.
Champions spread the word of change
What we are particularly proud of and consider our internal achievement is the fact that we selected a group of 'reformists' (change champions) and consciously worked towards transforming the group mindset and attitudes of our own and wider teams. Rather than trying to change the way people think directly we simply tried to shake things up a bit using different techniques and to form in people the desire to change, improve and experiment. To use those experiments for real learning and growth rather than for fuelling the idea that you know better and research is a meaningless luxury.
Critical thinking
The aim was to bring out the critical thinking gene in our team. To raise the ability and skill for critical evaluation of information, to encourage decision making, challenge attitudes and other perceived realities. Basically, being ready to doubt rather than just take everything at face value. Before expecting others to change we had to start questioning our own expert status and an inviolability of our ways. Great ego humbling exercise! This set us off in the direction of adopting new behaviours. One of my favourite mainstream formulas that summarizes this mindset is the 4Сs of the person of the future: creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking.

Of course, critical thinking and doubt can have different shades as perceived by different people, from "everything is terrible" to "how can it be improved". But we tried to encourage the empowering element of it in people by focusing on realistic proactive steps they can take towards making those changes.
Mindset change: fear to vision

This chain of carefully manufactured steps fed into a larger transformation not only of people’s mindset but also of particular ways of working. It changed the way we see our researcher roles within the company and opened the door for further personal growth and benefits to the business.

For example, today I feel very strongly about the idea of automation and outsourcing monkey work to external solutions and algorithms. However, automation isn’t about passing the responsibility but it is about freeing time and resources to clear that valuable head space for more strategic, visionary thinking and decision making.

"Work smart and aim not to do any work, because you will always have something to do". :) This great piece of comedy wisdom emphasises the need to free your time as much as possible to make space for other, higher, better type of work. The newfound time can significantly transform the researcher role to:

Create an internal service to help other people within the business solve their problems effectively. Roughly speaking, in this case the researcher role will be shifting towards a product owner role.

  • Automation of standardised processes — removing routine tasks thus enhancing productivity.
  • Creating intuitive interfaces for business users in terms of processes and format of interaction.
  • Mastering new tools and data resources for decision making

Develop strategic skills. Often researchers are immersed in the industry data and have an in depth understanding of client needs. However, we tend to do all of that analysis for someone else, suggesting how to act on those insights. It is time to stop being afraid to make real business recommendations to companies and embrace your inner consultant and expert.

Become a product owner of internal tools focusing on understanding your internal client’s needs and on developing the product to address their key pains.

As a researcher you could focus on strategic research and deep understanding of consumers, i.e. those rare exciting projects which you never have time for.
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