Understanding Your Audience

Powering Performance Solutions
with People Data

Bang, bang! My heart jumped as I heard the Soldiers yelling and saw smoke coming through the trees. We were sitting down silently in what we thought were harmless weeds, eating our trail mix, and taking notes (those harmless weeds ended up being poison ivy, which led to a sink shower in a Chik-Fil-A bathroom, but I digress). The large group began to stand up, and after two hours of silence, it was time to continue the hike through the thick woods of Georgia.

It was Day 3 and this time I was hoping that I wouldn’t lose my sneakers in the muddy waters. And I was definitely not going to grab one of those two-inch thorns, even though that may initially appear to be a better option than falling into the mud.

Three research psychologists in the woods

So, what does this story have to do with finding solutions or solving problems? Why were three research psychologists hiking through the woods during the workweek instead of sitting in an office? (And who still mistakes poison ivy for weeds??)

Over the years, I’ve found myself in many different locations for the sake of gathering a better understanding of performers and their current needs. Most of the time, I conduct interviews and focus groups, crunch data, or sit quietly in the back of the room observing individual behaviors in natural work environments. Sometimes I get to be a little more adventurous and sit in cockpits, listen to customer calls, or go hiking in the woods, but it’s all for the same purpose: learning about the audience so that we can determine the right solution (even if it means getting into the weeds…or poison ivy).

Combining science, application, and your organization.

When people ask whether a core ideology or book influences how I think about people and performance, I usually have a quick response: “It depends.” Please don’t get me wrong. I probably overindulge in scientific literature and journals, and I love knowing the latest business theories and case studies. But in my experience, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to concepts like leadership or organizational development that will work in every situation. Even in cases where a longstanding approach or solution has been successful for an organization, over time it may no longer address current or future organizational needs.

In addition to understanding scientific and operational best practices, I also consider who I’m talking to, the challenges they’re facing, the organization’s needs, and the current environment. I ask questions like:

  • Who are the performers or end users?
  • What are their needs?
  • What is the true problem?
  • What is the desired outcome?
  • What will success look like and how can it be measured?
  • What is the culture of the organization?
  • How does the organization define and approach leadership and communication?

Audience analysis

When you’re able to answer those questions, you’ll be on your way to understanding what your people and your organization really need from the solution. Pairing that with best practices from a scientific and operational perspective will help you find the best solution for your unique situation.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you (feel free to sing along).

To get the best answers for each of those questions, observe and gather as much data as possible. Collecting multiple data points means you can assess the problem from many perspectives, giving you a strong understanding of the whole situation. It’s about pausing and taking the time to listen, observe, and learn before jumping into a solution.

To some, that may sound easy; to others, it may sound like a lot of upfront work without a quick resolution. We all find ourselves in situations where a reply or recommendation is immediately expected (or desired). Even in the face of that pressure, it’s important to gather the right information with the intent to understand versus the intent to immediately respond.

Just as there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, there are also different ways to gather information and collect the necessary data points. (They’re called knowledge elicitation techniques.) Rather than rely on only one technique or method, find the right combination that will address your specific needs. Some common ones include:

  • Interviews
  • Brainstorming
  • Focus groups
  • Exploratory prototypes
  • User task analysis
  • Observations
  • Surveys and questionnaires

Although these techniques could be applied anywhere, it’s important to choose the ones that will supply the necessary data points and work in your organization’s culture and environment. For example, my team spent time in the woods to help us determine the best place to implement an assessment within a leadership course. We needed to gather a holistic understanding of the course to help us determine what the assessment would look like and where to appropriately place the assessment. To do that, we conducted interviews with students, instructors, and key stakeholders; observed the students in both the classroom and field environment; and reviewed the current training content.

Identifying your ideal solution…and staying flexible.

After collecting the data points, it’s time to synthesize that data to identify and develop the ideal solution. Your analysis will most likely yield several potential solutions, but the goal is to identify the solution that addresses the needs of the organization, performers, and end users.

One thing I’ve learned through my experience is how important it is to collect data-driven information throughout the entire development process, remaining flexible and agile to the organization’s needs. It’s easy to have tunnel vision and remain solely focused on the end goal, but we need to remember to look up every now and then and do a pulse check to determine whether we’re still on the right path. To that end, make sure you define what success looks like within the organization. This definition will help you continually vet the solution to determine whether it’s meeting your business goals.

And if it’s not, pause to readjust and realign—or in our case, apply some calamine lotion to the poison ivy—before moving forward to reach the goal.

Knowing the problem before finding the solution.

Author and programmer Daniel Keys Moran said, “You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data.”

There are plenty of tried and true best practices that organizations follow, but how do you know what solution will be best to address your specific situational factors? These unknown variables are the exact reason why it is so important to take the time to really understand individual factors that are unique to each performer and their organization.

When we fully understand the performance challenge and the people facing it, we’re able to identify the ideal solution and stay flexible to changing needs, ultimately enabling high performance for our organizations.

Want to connect with Kerri? Give us a call at (859) 415-1000 or drop us a line in the form at the bottom of this page.