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Welcome back to Insights Unlocked. I'm Nathan Isaacs. Our next season kicks off next Monday, and we have some awesome guests on the lineup, such as Dave Hora, Abby Covert, and Chris Messina, among others. In this bonus episode, we look back to our conversation from Season 6, episode 53 with Monal Choxee, Head of Research and Insights at Dropbox. In this clip, Monal shares tips for anyone looking to build a research team from the ground up, as well as tips for next level in a research team that already exists. She also offers advice on sharing insights across your org and managing up, down, and laterally. Enjoy the episode.


Welcome to Insights Unlocked, an original podcast from User Testing, where we bring you candid conversations and stories with the thinkers, doers, and builders behind some of the most successful digital products and experiences in the world, from concept to execution.


Yes, this is actually a question that I've been asked many times, especially more recently. Our field is certainly taking off, especially in smaller companies as well. More and more researchers are now being asked to step into positions of having to build a research team from scratch. As you mentioned, I've had the opportunity to do this multiple times, specifically at both SoundCloud and Lyft. At the 2020 Learners UXR conference, which is run by Alec Levin and Maggie Mitchell, I spoke deeply about my strategy in building the research team from scratch at Lyft. In the talk, I discuss the seven stages of growth that we experienced as a research team at Lyft, as well as five key factors to help you determine how to strategize and to structure your team when building from the ground up. The five key factors include knowing the expectations that others around you have of research coming in, especially stakeholders and executives, what the collaboration and work processes are like at the company, how the company is organized structurally and where research and insights or your team fits in, and where research sits in the minds of the executive leadership to understand how much they're bought into it, as well as the company culture when it comes to having a customer focus.


It makes such big difference because when folks are really bought into caring about the customer or the user and have that user-first mentality, that makes a huge difference in determining how much influence and impact you can have on the business, and you don't have to fight that uphill battle. I'm hoping, and I'm seeing that we are starting to turn the tables there just because, as you mentioned, so many folks are now being asked to build research teams within their companies and for the business. For me, my time at Lyft is definitely a highlight in my career because I was able to build a team that ended up being successful for the business at all levels. I'm very excited for other folks to do something similar.


What about if the research team already exists, you come in as a research leader, and you want to work to elevate that team to have more impact on the business, how might you go about doing Have you done that? And what would you suggest?


This is one of the reasons why I joined Dropbox. Now, the great thing is that we do have that buy-in from our executive leadership. They see and understand how important insights are to making decisions. And so right there was a big sell for me in terms of joining, because I'm like, this is a place where I can actually see my vision be successful. The team at Dropbox, which covers both product or design research as well as market research, is to influence important business decisions across all levels of the company. And that means not only having impact on the ground with our product, marketing, and design teams, but also to influence the company's strategy decisions at the executive level. I've implemented a few foundational strategies at Dropbox to do so. First, because we have several teams, in addition to ours, that focus on delivering customer insights such as our data science team, our customer marketing team, and our customer experience and support team, I formed a group with the internal leaders from these teams called the Insights Council. And so part of our mission is to create a single voice of truth across our insights. And then this will allow us to elevate one voice instead of several smaller voices, which may conflict at times.


So Having this shared and agreed upon insights-based perspective about our users, which is supported by various kinds of data, is much more effective for influencing business decisions. One of our tactics here is sending out a monthly newsletter to our executive team with the most important insights from across our teams, and hopefully triangulated, for them to consider as they discuss priorities for our company's strategy. Then these newsletters are also available company-wide.


I know that you've done some talks around the difference between management and leadership, right? And you have a great perspective on that. Would love to hear more about that.


The first talk that I did at the Learners conference when it was called UXR conference was about why UX researchers make great managers and the part about having empathy, doing internal research, using your research skills to do internal research. I talked about managing down, which is managing your team, managing across, which is managing with your stakeholders and in your peers, cross-functionally at most oftentimes for us as researchers, and then managing up. Management, a lot of folks, it's more the tactical day-to-day people management parts and a lot of administrative type of checkbox things that you need to do as a manager, ensuring compliance, the policies, and various other kinds of stuff. But I I think leadership is something that is much more... Anyone can be a leader. You don't have to be a people manager to be a leader. Being a leader means coming up with ideas, speaking out about them, having a perspective, and really being able to influence.


When you were talking about the Insights Council that you've put together, it really spoke to what I know you said about managing up and across and down. It seems like that's all incorporated into that council idea.


The Insights Council is really about helping manage across. Oftentimes, as researchers and research teams within organizations, we are siloed from one another, and we're small teams. This is really about coming together and forming a band and somewhat of an alliance. It's more about a community, really, is what it is. It's like, Hey, there's other folks like us in these small pockets that maybe we haven't heard about, let's band together and let's come up with a perspective that we all share. So quick example. We did this for the first time at Dropbox, and it's called the Insight Summit, and we just completed a couple of workshops with this. But in the spirit of having a single voice of truth, we brought together our biggest insights from the last year and talked about that, folks from each of these various teams that the Insight Council represents. We took the biggest themes that we came across. First, we presented them all to each other, and there were so many head nods, and there was so much that folks were very excited about how you get it, too. What we're doing now is synthesizing those themes, and we're going to share that with our executive team to help them understand.


These are the things we think you should know about and the trends that we're seeing. There's the managing up elevation part of it as well.


Right. Then when you're presenting from the Insights Council at an all hands, that's really great communication across the board.


Yes, absolutely. I think we're stronger together. We try to represent all together.


As far as your experience at Dropbox and really trying to grow a team and come in to an existing team, and you're obviously building consensus and a lot of great things are happening, what are the ways to make sure that as you grow, that you're providing impact at every stage of growth?


First, I tell my teams that doing great research is only half their jobs. The other half is influencing. If your insights aren't driving decision making, it's not effective, no matter how great the research is. That's number one. And tactically, we need to plan time in our roadmaps to ensure that we're socializing and influencing partners in the right way in order to ensure that they are aware of how these insights can and will benefit the business.


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