Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

High-Performance Research Organizations: Here Are Ten Attributes That Help Managements Do the Right Things to Turn Their Visions into Reality

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

High-Performance Research Organizations: Here Are Ten Attributes That Help Managements Do the Right Things to Turn Their Visions into Reality

Article excerpt

This article has two messages. First, it is both useful and possible to develop a set of performance ideals or attributes for a notoriously difficult area to manage--research organizations. Second, it would be both useful and practical to apply the same approach to developing attributes for other types of organizations, such as software firms, manufacturers, insurance companies, government agencies, and universities.

The concept of attributes comes from the question, How can you tell if an organization is well-managed? In other words, is there a set of performance ideals that could be used to assess the quality of management of any organization? To be most useful, these attributes would have to be end-results-oriented questions that go beyond the development and implementation of best practices. From a CEO's perspective, best practices are means to the end in mind. So, our initial question leads to several others: What are the intended results of the best practices? What should Boards and CEOs be looking for to be sure that best practices are in fact moving the organization toward the intended results? Can these results be stated in terms that are useful, observable and, preferably, measurable?

The development of attributes of high-performance research organizations serves several purposes:

* Over a six-year period, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada undertook work that pointed to the need for a description of what a well-managed research organization looks like. We used the guidance provided in the federal government's "Science and Technology Strategy" and "Framework for the Human Resources Management of the Federal Science and Technology Community," and other sources to create a set of ideal outcomes of research management. We call these ideal outcomes attributes. The extent to which an attribute is demonstrated by an organization is an indication of the quality of management.

* Companies are increasingly dependent upon the results from research for new and improved products in order to maintain competitive advantage. Governments view industry-driven science and technology as economic engines, and are increasingly dependent upon their own science and technology program for dealing with public policy issues such as climate change and the impacts of toxic substances. Furthermore, governments are placing more emphasis on achieving results, e.g., Results for Canadians, an initiative of the federal government, and the Government Performance and Results Act in the United States.

* Assessing the performance of, and return on investment (ROI) from, research is a challenge faced by private and public sector executives as well as politicians. Research is a risky activity; not all research activity leads to expected results. Furthermore, the benefits from research sometimes take years to materialize.

* The information available to Boards and CEOs for assessing the performance of research organizations is inadequate. The information tends to focus on past performance (e.g., published papers and patents) and on process and activities. However, high past performance does not guarantee the same in the future; today's executives need better and more current information. Furthermore, performance assessments that focus on process beg the question: What has happened as a result of having implemented good practices?

Approaches to assessing the performance and ROI of research organizations generally fall into three categories: (1) "Retrospective" evaluation (examining the relevance and impact of research completed in the past); (2) "Current" evaluation (examining the organization's vision, strategies, target clients, practices, and people); and (3) "Future" evaluation (examining planned research, its relevance, potential benefits, and likelihood of success). Methodologies are most advanced for retrospective evaluations, and tend to involve costly studies that are conducted by third parties. …

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