Forget the Seat at the Table and Come off the Bench

Cowboys bench at Vikings game

As I get ready to attend the Corporate Researchers Conference next week, I’m bracing myself for the inevitable lament from researchers that they don’t have “a seat at the table”—a place of influence with senior executives. They feel they aren’t getting the respect they deserve. It’s something I’ve been hearing for much of my 25+ years in the industry.

I say it’s time to get over it. If your goal is to be a direct report to the CEO, you probably need to switch careers (consider marketing!). Outside of the research industry itself, you won’t find many Chief Research Officers. Since yesterday was the first slate of Sunday games in the 2014-15 NFL season, let’s apply a football metaphor: In football terms, researchers will never be the quarterback. We’re not the face of the franchise. We’ll never be the highest paid player on the team.

Nor should we be, frankly. We don’t have profit and loss responsibility. We’re not the decision makers. We provide the decision makers the information they need to make the best decisions they can for the organization.

We’re the offensive line, toiling away in obscurity. We try to have the blind side of the quarterback, so they aren’t blinded by uncomfortable truths about our market when it is too late to react. We try to open up holes for the running game, finding new market opportunities to rack up revenue. We need to be flexible and on our toes at all times. Ironically, O-line players don’t show up in the stat sheet much when tallying wins and losses.

What we need to be – and here is why football is an appropriate analogy – is a good team player. With 55 players on game day, football teams are the biggest teams of any professional sport, and every player has a role to play. An important role, or teams don’t win. It’s not like we’re the long snapper – we are a critical, though often unnoticed, part of our organizations’ success. (And we shouldn’t look down on the long snapper, either.)

So be a good sport, and a great teammate. Set your ego aside, forget that your name is on the back of your jersey, and concentrate on your team. When they win, you win.

Jeffrey Henning, PRC, is president of Researchscape International, which provides “Do It For You” custom surveys at Do It Yourself prices.  He is a Director at Large on the Marketing Research Association’s Board of Directors. You can follow him on Twitter @jhenning.

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