Meet Cheryl Hayes – an accomplished researcher and behavioral scientist with over 25 years of experience. She has conducted 2,000+ focus groups and designed 5,000+ surveys resulting in more than 4 million + participants being interviewed nationally and internationally. Clients value her ability to see the strategic picture when designing research programs whilst identifying smaller individual components that make up a complex data delivery system. She is fortunate to work with many of BRW’s Top 100 companies and present to Boards, CEO’s/Exec’s, and Federal and State Governments.
She’s an online course writer, expert guest speaker, and member of the Institute of Analytical Professionals in Australia, and a full member of the Research Society of Australia.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Cheryl Hayes: I have always been fascinated with human behavior and why people think the way they do. After studying behavioral science, I fell into the research industry and absolutely loved it and never looked back! I was able to design moderator’s guides, surveys, and various research instruments which allowed me to gather data to analyze consumer perceptions, behaviors, usage, habits, and much more across a variety of services, products, and industries varying considerably from utilities to banking/investments to manufacturing to pharmaceutical to household products and more.
I loved that I could apply academic rigor to business issues and provide insights to clients on why, how, where, and when they engage with their services or products. This fascinated me at the beginning of my career and still does 25 years later. I’m one of the lucky people in this world that absolutely loves what they do for a living!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Cheryl Hayes: When starting my career, I was determined to work extremely hard and be very dedicated to my profession after spending so many years at university. This was recognized and rewarded and I was quickly promoted and found myself with many duties and responsibilities. At one stage, I was doing two people’s jobs at once to prove myself worthy of my next step up on the corporate ladder. Most days entailed 10-12 hours of work in different States and Territories across Australia and often involved working 6 days a week. A near-breaking point was running 10 x 1-hour focus groups in 2 days in different states of Australia over a weekend with a report due to the client by noon on Monday. This is a massive task for even the most seasoned qualitative researcher.
I was “living out my suitcase” for several years. So much so that concierges at preferred hotels became some of my best friends! Getting up at 3:45 am for yet another “red-eye” flight interstate to work all day and run focus groups in the evening to turnaround projects in very tight timeframes is very challenging both physically and intellectually. It requires a lot of stamina, tenacity, and mental strength. Without the passion I have for my profession, I could have easily given up to move to one not so taxing. As many in my profession would attest, the “Jetstar glamorous life” is not all it is made out to be. I was living to work rather than working to live.
Since incorporating Paragon Research 5 years ago, I am delighted to have found work/life balance. Now I deliver higher quality insights and service my valued clients to higher satisfaction (as I’m not exhausted anymore!). I can spend more time on each project and have a renewed passion and love for what I do every day.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Cheryl Hayes: The worst advice received was after a pitch for a large account. It involved an open tender process, additional submissions, and a formal presentation to those short-listed to the Board of Directors. It was very structured to strict criteria and I rehearsed the presentation several times over several days to ensure it would be delivered to the best of my ability. I memorized every PowerPoint slide word for word and timed my speech several times. I invested so much time, energy, and effort into proving why I would be the best Lead Researcher for the account.
The presentation went very well. Upon returning to the office, I had an email from one of the Directors. It read “you don’t know me and this is unorthodox but I was sitting 4 seats up on the right and I’m on the selection committee. I would like to take you to dinner and we can discuss your presentation”. I was completely taken aback and did not know how to react. I showed my leader and asked his advice. He advised me to go out to dinner with him and said I didn’t need to do anything but it could win the account.
I decided otherwise! I quickly set up an “out of office reply” with my date of the return being after the date of selection of preferred provider. Pleased to say I ended up being the Lead Researcher without accepting an inappropriate dinner invitation from a selection committee Director or following the advice of the leader.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Cheryl Hayes: I think resilience is an admirable trait in anyone’s professional and personal life. During this pandemic, businesses have had to pivot and adapt to keep their businesses afloat and revenue generated. Paragon Research has had to change our methodologies. For example, in qualitative research studies, we are now conducting focus groups online rather than in face-to-face environments. Exit interviews are more appropriate and safer to do via an online survey rather than when participants are leaving an event.
I would personally define resilience as the way a person reacts and behaves to a given situation with persistence and determination towards achieving a positive outcome despite all odds.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Cheryl Hayes: Well, Paragon Research prides itself on academic rigor coupled with pragmatic commercial acumen. Decades of experience of being on the supplier and buyer side of research help our clients as we know what they want to achieve when collaborating with us. We espouse global thinking in a boutique team culture so we all get together to understand our clients’ needs and objectives and we understand the part we all play in delivering high-quality insights that make a difference to our client’s bottom line.
We don’t have the big overheads of large research agencies which means we can pass on these savings to our clients to offer great value for money.
Ultimately, it’s the “brains” of our team and the decades of academic and pragmatic expertise which has given rise to Paragon Research. When our clients experience the passion in what we do rather than it being just another research project is what makes us stand out from others.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Cheryl Hayes: I am very fortunate and humbled to have collaborations with great business associates, team members, and strategic alliances. Some of whom I have been in collaboration with for over 15 years. I think the most instrumental character traits have been (1) mutual respect, (2) positivity, and (3) vision.
- I think having mutual respect for others in your professional career will always lead to reciprocation. It’s the law of reciprocity. If you don’t respect the people you are working with then I don’t believe you should be working with them at all.
- Secondly, mood is contagious and that’s why positivity is so important to set the scene and landscape for a successful business. Always looking at the “glass as half full” leads to a better cognitive mindset to tackle any business problem or issue. Positivity makes the workplace more enlightened and fun and it’s like a magnet to others (as people want to be around happy people). When there is a client problem we are trying to resolve we all get together to brainstorm and work out “how” not “if” we can resolve it for them.
- A vision is instrumental to one’s business success. I believe visions are best when they are shared values and goals of a team. This is why having the right business associates, team members, and strategic alliances is crucial to the success of companies. It is well researched that “vision boards” are influential in producing certain psychological mindsets and moving people towards their dreams or goals. In a similar way, surrounding yourself with people that share your vision and want those ultimate outcomes every day is just as important in business.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Cheryl Hayes: In this age of instantaneous global communication, it is crucial to be mindful of the image you portray to others online. My personal branding always needs to be considered in the context of Paragon Research’s company branding and should be mostly aligned with the brand values, personality, architecture, and more which is espoused through all mediums.
With that in mind, perhaps my public brand persona has some thinking I’m obsessed with funny goats based on my FB posts more than I really am.
How would you define “leadership”?
Cheryl Hayes: I think leadership is the act of guiding your business associates, team, or individuals to achieve goals through positivity, direction, and motivation. I think leaders encourage and empower people to take the actions they need to achieve a common goal. To be a good leader, I think it is necessary to be aware of your team’s mindset and skill-set and foster them in a way that they want to follow you on the journey for your business’s success and ultimate goals.
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
Cheryl Hayes: I believe nearly all skills can be learned by those that want to learn. The ability to develop entrepreneurial skills will depend upon the person’s motivation to progress in a particular field.
With that said, I remember when I was 12 years old and realized I could make money from charging my family to eat from the kitchen. I designed a sign for the kitchen “Chakel” and charged my family for coffee, tea, juice, toast, and to heat up food. I was elated when I made enough money to buy a cash register and invoice book with a “thank you and please come again” receipt. I then progressed to my “washing & dry cleaning” business where I cleaned my family’s clothes in the house for 50c per garment (wrapped in a glad wrap on a coat hanger of course). Finally realizing I could take over the house and upon reflection capitalize, I turned it into “Chakel Hotel” and I charged for sleeping and leaving chocolates on their pillow with a bed-making service at an extra cost.
I suppose maybe some of us are innately born with an entrepreneurial spirit!
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Cheryl Hayes: My favorite quote in business and personal life from my mentor of many years is “it’s only a mistake if you didn’t learn from it”.
We will all make mistakes and if we learn from them, and don’t repeat them, they can be some of the most powerful lessons that we learn.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Cheryl Hayes for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Cheryl Hayes or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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