A/B Testing – What can managers learn from marketers?

A-B Testing for Managers

Ask any marketing expert and they will swear by the usefulness of A/B testing. Also known as split testing, does it have any place in management?

Managers and leaders tend to have their own unique style. Mannerisms of some bosses often become folklore. Each manager has her own style – delegation, appreciation, firing someone, asking for suggestions, breaking a bad news to the team.

As a manager, how do you know what works best? Can you do better?

Marketers have to deal with this question more often. They have found a way out – A/B testing.

How can managers use A/B testing?

What is A/B Testing?

A/B testing or split testing is how marketers use a number of variations of a campaign. This lets them determine which performs better.

Let’s say the marketing team for an ecommerce company needs to promote a new offer. They will create two separate designs for the marketing content for the same offer. They will show version A to one half of their audience and version B to the other half.

Doing so, they can compare the results for both A and B. This is why the split testing method is commonly referred to as A/B testing.

Example – Given below are two different versions of a newsletter sign up form on a website.

A/B testing example. Sign up form on a website for email subscribers
A/B Testing Example – Sign up form Email newsletter

The goal is to get maximum website visitors sign up for the email newsletter. By showing two different versions to two random groups of visitors, the team can determine which design has a higher engagement and conversion rate.

How can managers use A/B Testing?

Managers unlike marketers have a much smaller group for split experiments. Hence, testing different versions is rather difficult.

A/B Testing comic strip
Split Testing for Managers

A/B testing for managers is a lengthier process. The results are not instantaneous or short term. As managers, you would need to be aware of how the team reacts to each version of your split testing.

Let us take delegation as an example. Delegation is one of the most common and crucial responsibilities of a manager.

How you delegate work can’t be identical for each member of your team. Some employees like being told what needs to be done. Even better, if you tell how something needs to be done.

Example (Version A)

Rahul, we need to empanel one additional supplier to ensure we can manage the increase in demand during the festive season. I’d like you to shortlist five suppliers and get a quote from each by the end of the week.

Some others though do not like explicit instructions. They excel at their work when you let them believe they have volunteered for an additional work. Hence, a more tactful approach to delegation is what you need.

Version B of the Previous Example

Nisha, the demand forecast for the festive season is higher than what we expected. I’m worried our vendors won’t be able to meet the festive demand.

In this example, Nisha would like to figure out the solution and then take up the responsibility.

As a manager, it is about knowing what works best for each of your employees. You could do this by split testing your communication with each individual over a period of time.

A/B Testing Scenarios for Managers

  • Delegation: how to delegate work to each employee. What form of communication works best?
  • Breaking bad news to the team: the timing and the setting of the meeting. Should you schedule a formal meeting or should you take your team out for coffee or dinner? Should you address them in one group or in batches?
  • Performance reviews: Does your team or certain individuals respond better if data is shared before the review?
  • Feedback: Some individuals like regular, formal feedback while some may be happier discussing things informally
  • Team meetings: What does your team prefer – daily shorter huddles or once in a week lengthier meetings
  • Brainstorming: what is the best approach to get your team together and ideate?
  • Team celebrations: what does your team like the most for celebrating success or birthdays?

Each of these define your management style and impact the results. Like marketers, we need to experiment for better and consistent results.

The process is definitely lengthy compared to split testing in marketing. However there is a lot at stake. And management like any other skill and job role is about continuous improvement. As managers if we aspire to do a better job, we need to be self-aware.

Each individual like different customers has his or her own preferences, likes and dislikes. Understanding what works best with each individual as well as for the group is what brings out the best in the team.

A/B testing is one way to be mindful and improving as a manager.

By Nitesh Verma

Founder - Business Management Blog. I am an independent business strategy consultant, helping companies take data driven business decisions. My mission is to find and implement simple solutions for complex business problems.

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