Increasingly, innovation is what is enabling companies to differentiate themselves, secure industry leadership positions, and maintain long-term success in today's increasingly competitive marketplace.
Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) are often the executives tasked with spearheading strategies and employing tactics to ensure their company remains consistently innovative. In the wake of increasingly competitive products and services arising from emerging economies, increasing levels of global collaboration, and a still uncertain macroeconomic climate, CTOs at U.S. companies are facing significant challenges to foster innovation in the future.
To help CTOs identify leading R&D management practices to promote continuous innovation, The Corporate Executive Board's (CEB) Research & Technology Executive Council recently held an Innovation Summit that included 25 Chief Technology Officers and Aneesh Chopra, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States. Summit attendees represented many highly reputed U.S. companies, including PepsiCo, Proctor and Gamble, DuPont, Johnson & Johnson and Caterpillar.
The Summit discussion primarily rallied around a common theme: the future need for, and availability of, qualified science and engineering (S&E) talent. The group considered talent issues to be their single greatest concern, and agreed that private industry must establish better mechanisms for communicating emerging and long-term skill needs with universities and public agencies to close pending shortfalls. Intimately tied to the talent challenge was a broader concern that U.S. innovation leadership is in jeopardy and that the status quo poses a significant threat to long-term American economic stability.
The CTO Summit revealed that effectively building and tapping S&E talent in the United States is critical to foster the next generation of private sector innovations, as well as promote long-term economic growth. To help build and leverage this talent bench, CEB identified four ways companies can make an tangible difference:
Create strategic partnerships with universities to tailor degrees.
Companies should establish long-term, strategic partnerships with universities to help influence curricula and tailor degrees to meet the emerging skills needs for future R&D employees. This can best be influenced by through more comprehensive involvement in university research areas.
Establish more technology leadership development programs for graduates.
Companies should develop rotational programs for S&E Ph.D. graduates that offer a compelling two to four year career track across various technology projects and businesses to raise the profile of R&D career opportunities.
Communicate compelling S&E incentives and projects targeted at younger professionals.
R&D groups must provide opportunities for younger graduates to work on entrepreneurial and growth-oriented projects in compelling areas, such as carbon management, wireless technology, and renewable energy. R&D organizations should also remove some of the overly-disciplined R&D processes that deter younger candidates, and participate in more open, pre-competitive research, which appeals to students coming from academia.
Offer R&D lab tours for grade school students.
In many countries, R&D is considered one of the most prestigious professions, and the United States must do more to build this image for younger students. One approach is to sponsor field trips at R&D facilities for 10–12 year-old students to generate interest in science. These programs should target inner-city schools and minorities to generate more S&E diversity. U.S. companies and government must share the responsibility of making science "cool” for young students.
By following these guidelines, U.S. companies will be able to sustain their own competitive advantage while simultaneously building stronger economic foundations at home.