A new face for HR practices in think tanks

10 May 2017

Human Resource Management (HRM) typically refers to the process of recruiting and selecting appropriate employees and ensuring they receive a clear and useful induction. HRM also includes training, skills development and capacity building activities to encourage researchers and staff to think outside the box and bring innovation into their work and projects.

In a think tank, a HRM team has to ensure that:

The importance of HRM within a think tank

Most think tanks want to have a vibrant atmosphere. This can be accomplished by hiring the right human capital and by focusing the activities, objectives and research agenda on this goal. It is also important to consider the needs and requirements stakeholders have when supporting a think tank. Here are some characteristics of a good HRM system:

  • Build a viable strategy: Building a robust human capital is imperative for a think tank. The success of an organisation depends largely on how staffing is planned. Think tanks should avoid hiring in a rush or without a plan. New members of staff should contribute to the bigger picture -and a larger vision.
  • Recruitment: The recruitment process must include an element of creativity. Strong candidates will have domain in the knowledge field (in the case of researchers), inventiveness and a sense of creativity.
  • Training and development: Constant improvement in knowledge and skills is important for researchers in think tanks- they have to be able to respond quickly to government requests for solutions or advice, often introducing new research methods, concepts and insights. Researchers are often both team leads and project leads. This dual role requires them to expound their knowledge, communicate effectively, manage programmes and projects effectively and, most importantly, manage teams efficiently. These skills may  not come naturally to all of them, but they can be developed over a period of time.

Interestingly, when asked, many young researchers report that their experience in a think tank complemented their training at university by providing them with the opportunity to learn about project management, communications, policy analysis, etc.

Why is innovation in HRM important for a think tank?

Most think tanks work with several stakeholders and in different research areas. Researchers are often hired because of their technical skills or their expertise in a research area. Often this is done through the personal and professional networks of the current staff.

However, times have changed, and technical knowledge by itself no longer ensures career development. Today, organisations look for a 360-degree approach. For instance, mid-level researcher are often encouraged to engage with external stakeholders and are expected to present the findings of their work (and represent the think tank) to policymakers and the media.

Researchers must also have certain management skills. They are also responsible for raising funds for their work and for the think tank as a whole.

This is why the recruitment process must be innovative and dynamic allowing for the incorporation of new skills and competencies and the needs of the organisation evolve.

HR departments can be the drivers of change

“Innovation” and “creativity” have become buzzwords in today’s professional world. I would venture to say that both innovation and creativity should start within HR departments. It is there where staff who will be associated with an organisation will be first met. Likewise, new talent wants to see their professional dreams fulfilled as they advance their careers. It is the HR department who can help them shape their career paths to achieve this.

You must treat your employees with respect and dignity because in the most automated factory in the world, you need the power of human mind. That is what brings in innovation. If you want high quality minds to work for you, then you must protect the respect and dignity.

Mr N.R. Narayana Murthy, Chairman Emeritus at Infosys Ltd.