Research & Development and its role in the progress of a business
By EVA CHRISTODOULOU
When we talk about research and development (R&D), people tend to get a picture of a scientist wearing a white lab coat, doing crazy experiments. R&D is usually associated with technology, science and engineering. Few would consider the need for R&D in services companies, however.
And the services sector in particular, does not generally prioritise R&D. After all, anyone who talks to a client can be creative and come up with new solutions, almost on the spot.
Making it even more of an “unnecessary pain”, Brown and Svensen report that it is really hard to measure the productivity of the R&D team, because it is a time-consuming task and the team was chasing something that may be unknown at that stage.
How can a team’s efforts be successfully measured in a way that is realistic and at the same time, does not impede their originality? They write that ultimately, a good way of looking at whether R&D teams are productive is by considering them as “a system that works within the macrosystem of the entire organisation”.
In other words, look at how they contribute to the rest of the organisation, not only in terms of behaviour, but also output.
Here in Leaderonomics, we set up an R&D team to support the entire organisation.
We believe that if you have a team of people looking into the future, conducting experiments and looking at the current situation in order to improve it, we would be able to provide even higher quality solutions and more innovative ways of developing people into leaders.
For us, it’s all about leadership; how do we develop good leaders at different stages of their lives? What are the paths that successful leaders have taken in the past, and how can we replicate this appropriately so that others can be successful? Everyone is unique, so how do you take into account the unique circumstances of each person and build upon them?
This is exactly what our major experiment is at the moment, but in addition, we look at a variety of supporting elements.
For example, how do we work to transform organisations so that they have the right structure in place to develop their people and see them – as well as the company – flourish?
How do we work with teams to make them efficient and successful units that support growth in individuals and the organisation?
How do we develop people in an organisation so that the individual grows, and how can we enable an organisation to transform into an ecosystem for the development of good leaders?
How do we help an organisation unshackle from the chains of the issues that are holding it back? How do we help children and teenagers to get the right foundations and head start in order to achieve great things?
And how do we empower the parents of these teenagers to help their children in this process? How can we help NGOs flourish, and have higher chances of achieving their goals?
These questions are not easy to answer, because they require hard work, extensive research, and much experimentation before solutions can reach a client.
In the hustle and bustle of business as usual, who has time for this? That is why we believe that a dedicated team in the organisation is the answer.
It is true that R&D is a team that thinks and acts long-term – their eyes are set on the future and they need time, hard work and often multiple resources to turn an idea into something that makes sense and is useful to launch or share, in one form or another.
But having an R&D team is investing in the future – in the sustainability of the company and in ensuring that the company is far sighted enough to withstand the constant changes that are coming its way.
Having said that, it is crucial that R&D shortens the time it takes to bring something new to the market as much as possible, especially with the amount of networks and information out there. At the end of the day, it would not make sense to have a team that works so slowly that other people end up overtaking.
But this, together with difficulties measuring the achievements of R&D, as well as investment in resources that will not make profit in the short term, should not be allowed to cause myopia.
Companies should not forget about the definite advantage that R&D can bring to an organisation. After all, companies care about their sustainability as much as their survival, so investment to ensure they remain sustainable for many years to come needs to take place early.
Rachel Griffith, of the Institute for Fiscal Studies in the US points to the fact that the private rate of return for business R&D is significantly lower than the social rate of return. Which means, the public has more to gain from business R&D efforts than the company that initiates it.
That is true, because knowledge spills over to other companies, who then use this knowledge and build on it, creating something different, or more advanced, which ideally serves an even better purpose.
According to her, the government should perhaps find a way to encourage business R&D efforts through various ways, including giving subsidies.
That aside, Rachel’s argument rings a truth – yes, the general public may have more to gain from the innovations and advances made.
But the same time, though, I truly believe that companies, too have a lot to gain – from being seen as a pioneer, to putting out ground breaking solutions that really help humanity in one way or another, even if it means that another company may take it further in the future.
At the end of the day, it all depends on what you want to achieve, in terms of your company’s profits and also in your company’s impact and contribution in the world.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Lost time is never found again”.
And it’s true for companies that do not make use of today, for the interest of tomorrow, as much as it is for everything else in this world.
Eva is the Research & Development leader at Leaderonomics. She believes that everyone can be the leader they would like to be, if they are willing to put in the effort and are curious to learn along the way, as well as with some help from the people around them.