Organizing R & D in teams is useful for retaining talent

November 30, 2010

For companies carrying out R+D activities, having researchers leave for competitor companies poses an important challenge. Even if a company's innovations are patented, their employees leaving can lead to information and knowledge leaks to their rivals. Which researchers in an R+D firm are most likely to leave to work for the competition? This research, carried out by by Neus Palomeras and Eduardo Melero from the UC3M Department of Business Economics, attempts to answer this question.

The most noteworthy conclusion of this study, published in the journal, Management Science, shows, paradoxically, that researchers involved in the key areas of a company are the most "appealing" ones for competitors and are those who have the highest probability of ending up leaving to go to other innovation companies. Another conclusion worthy of note is that inventors who work in large groups are less attractive for the competition. "This means", Eduardo Melero pointed out, "that companies which organize their innovation activities into work groups will be more capable of retaining their workers, because it is more complicated to identify who provides key knowledge, in addition to the obvious fact that taking an entire work group to another company is much more complex", he explained.

The results obtained in this study suggest that companies hire away those inventors from the competition who can absorb knowledge. In this way, by recognizing the characteristics of the researchers who are most likely to leave, company managers can design human resource and R+D policies that make these workers less attractive for the market and as a consequence, be able to keep them, according to these UC3M professors.

To carry out this research, the authors of the study took as reference one of the companies that was a leader in technology up until the 1990's. For that purpose, they analyzed movement of inventors who were patented in IBM towards other companies, and they discovered that those workers who were the top innovators, with experience in key areas of the company where the other competitor companies did not have expertise, were more likely to leave the company. "You have to take into account that the human factor in companies is important for knowledge transfer with one another", added Neus Palomeras, who decided to initiate this research after verifying this fact in a previous study on the license market.

The figure of the inventor has obviously always been an important one when striving for innovation. "What is certain, professor Melero added, "is that as knowledge has become more complex and has increased specialization of research, professionals and the development of companies, the figure of the inventor with a broad, global and complete vision of the innovations in which he/she is involved becomes more valuable".

Carlos III University of Madrid

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