A Look at R&D, Innovation

Image courtesy of Flickr/Boegh

Research and development is an area where most organizations expect a base of innovation talent. After all, this is the department primarily tasked with developing new ideas, processes and products.

The Corporate Executive Board recently researched R&D teams. Specifically, it looked at how they are driving innovation by surveying 700 managers and assessing nearly 2,000 staff in advanced technology, applied research,design, engineering and product development.

According to the findings, only 8 percent of R&D groups use any form of behavioral competencies to identify, develop and manage people. Yet when measuring behavioral markers of innovation against the success of R&D teams, the improvement in success for teams with stronger innovator profiles was much higher, ranging from 9 to 26 percent.

The survey also asked R&D managers what skills they focused on and rewarded among their staff. When assessing performance, there was a clear focus on technical knowledge and skills and only some consideration for behaviors.

Nevertheless, those R&D teams that excelled on five behavioral markers of innovation were rated 50 percent more effective than teams that excelled at technical competencies. Both technical and behavioral talents contribute to innovation success, but many R&D and wider innovation efforts downplay the critical contribution that “knowledge of how” and “knowledge of who” play in effective innovation.

Lastly — but perhaps most importantly for talent managers — the survey found that it’s uncommon for R&D staff to excel at all behavioral markers of innovation. However, team diversity influences the individual’s innovation potential. Individuals are, on average, more innovative on teams that are behaviorally diverse.

Because of this, it’s important to strive to build R&D teams that are heterogeneous. While this can lead to friction among team members with different skills and competencies, CEB research suggests the potential for results in this type of environment outweigh the potential for team challenges.