The secret to crushing it with activation

Why cross-functional connections are essential to take your work to the next level.

People collaborating on a whiteboard
People collaborating on a whiteboard

Beth Simon

15 November 2023

4 min read


Your next research project is ready to roll. You’ve thought about the business challenge,  gathered relevant background information and identified knowledge gaps. You have pretty clear thoughts about what you want to end up with at the end of your project, assembled a team and are ready for kick-off. But, are you truly ready?

While you’ve explored various, crucial aspects of your project, writing a thorough brief is only the beginning. To create impactful work with long-tail influence and reach – work that truly deserves your time, budget, and effort – you need more than just a thorough plan. It requires having an activation mindset, grounded in cross-functional alignment – only then can you bridge what we label as the activation-alignment gap. This gap occurs when we launch into projects without pausing to first take a wider organisational view for every phase of the workstream. In this blog, we share three take-aways to avoid this gap.


1. Prioritise stakeholder involvement from the start

Organizations are living, breathing networks of people, each with their own charge, circle of influence and priorities. Getting perspective from the right mix of project stakeholders is important. But when these perspectives are added to the picture too late, project owners might cave to the pressure to add ‘just one more thing’ to the list of objectives. And before they know it, that crystal clear goal from the brief is more like a murky notion.

OK, but does that really matter? Yes.

When a project has too many objectives or is too broad in scope, it’s impossible to keep the work on target and hit the mark. So even if you start out with a clearly defined business problem to solve, without proactive declaration of the project’s true north star and firm management to adhere to it, a lack of prioritization sneaks up on you, effort becomes diluted, and progress stalls.

The trick is to think organizationally before the brief is final. Consider: Who’s invested in this work? Who’s affected by it? What are their needs and priorities? How will they stand to benefit if we succeed in our project mission? What’s on the line if we fail? What is the very next thing we want them to do because of this work?

The number and type of stakeholders to involve will vary based on your answers to these questions along with considerations like budget and timeline. There are no one-size-fits-all answers here – the key is to be thoughtful about stakeholders up front for smooth sailing ahead.


2. Embrace a 360° view during project set-up

Most organizations are demanding more from their insights, product, strategy, and brand professionals than ever before. While these people are often specialists – highly knowledgeable and skilled in one specific area of the business – they are expected to apply a holistic approach to problem-solving, leading initiatives that reach well beyond their knowledge base.

It can be difficult to navigate through complex initiatives like this. There are a lot of voices from across the organization articulating their needs, all using different terminology, metrics, and department-specific definitions. Some project owners will be tempted to forge ahead without considering alternative perspectives or input from other teams. They risk finding out too late that the work is off target, failing to be genuinely useful to those who need it. Others might do quite the opposite; they take in a ton of information, but then struggle to distil it down to what matters. This results in a state of overwhelm from trying to tackle too many topics and perspectives.

The key is to carefully think about the business problem from different angles when setting up and organizing a project. Not only taking a consumer perspective, but also considering the business reality, the competitive landscape and even trends. Consider: What does this situation look like from the consumer’s standpoint? Do we understand how to deliver on their needs better than anyone else? What’s happening within the boundaries of our business that might influence the choices we make to solve this problem? How will our choices affect operations, marketing, sales strategies, or other aspects of the business? What are the marketplace trends in this space that we need to know and anticipate or act upon in our strategy?


3. Pave the way for action

As project owners embrace an activation mindset, they expect their audiences not only to absorb the provided information, but to actively apply it in their work. Unfortunately, what feels actionable to the project owner might not feel that way to their audience. An otherwise well-considered asset might end up gathering dust on the shelf or on the server and become stale before it’s acted upon. While some people may read it or attend a presentation, there’s often a disconnect between insights and action that hinders any next steps.

The trick is to empower your audiences to act upon insights by moving beyond simply educating them to creating a blueprint for action. And that starts with aligning your project to your audience from the start. Consider: Who is our primary audience? Secondary audiences? What do they need to know? What do we want them to do as a result of this work right away? As part of a longer-term play?

Design your work with these considerations in mind, then select the most critical take-aways and package them in a way that is digestible, removing the burden of “what should I do now?”

Remember, activation means taking what we know and turning it into what we do. Your job as the project owner is to pave the way for action. Hosting a cross-functional collaboration session is an effective way to form a collective point of view, build strategies, and implement plans.


So go ahead, build that brief, only better

The next time you’re getting ready to kick-off an insights-driven project, pause for a moment to consider your own potential activation-alignment gaps.

By bringing together the right blend of perspective at the right time, considering the needs of your audience and creating a blueprint for action, you will get more mileage from the time and budget spent on your project. And that is what we mean by crushing it with activation.



Ready to crush it with activation?

Let’s connect