Five steps to get your think-tank noticed

Any
think-tank is only as good as its last good idea. Scott Beagrie outlines ways
to keep your creativity on the industry map

The
extent to which think-tanks have influenced workplace legislation and shaped HR
management practice is living proof that big ideas are not just the preserve of
management gurus like Charles Handy or Michael Hammer.

Nor
do think-tanks only exist in the shape of the headline-grabbing policy groups
which have traditionally sought to influence Westminster and Whitehall to
ensure their own survival. Just as commercial pressures have forced the policy
and research groups to become more fluid and agile, so too have more informal
think-tanks sprung up, where interested and influential players come together
to tackle specific problems.

A
good example of this is the Water UK Human Resources Think-tank that convened
in June to find practical solutions to the challenges facing the utility
sector.

Chances
are that your organisation could also benefit from the intellectual ferment of
an ideas factory. The good news is that it needn’t entail huge start-up costs
or require special premises – all you need is brainpower.

HR,
of course, is often criticised for its eagerness to take on the next big thing
so it’s important to dispel any notion of your idea as this week’s fad. You
could take a leaf out of former World Bank executive Hilary Cottam’s book, who
called hers the ‘Do Tank’ but, alternatively, being proactive in the right
areas could make the difference between a smart idea being translated into
practice or not.

Here’s
our five-point plan to get your think-tank and its initiatives on the map.

1.
Acquire intellectual credibility

Just
as the major research groups make a virtue of their heavyweight academic
thinkers, your idea is likely be taken seriously if key personnel are part of
your think-tank – particularly if the idea holds significance for the business
aims of the company.

Use
your recruitment acumen and people skills to enlist your organisation’s lateral
thinkers and high-performers as well as securing the necessary buy-in from
senior management. A proven track record and professional qualification, such
as an MBA, will also assist in your analytical thinking and bring intellectual
rigour to the tank’s ideas.

2.
Understand how the business works

There’s
no use trying to convince the senior team how an idea will work if you don’t
know the business inside out and fully recognise its strategic goals. Business
decisions are made on the basis of return on investment (ROI) so you also need
to demonstrate how the idea will impact on the bottom line.

A
secondment to an operational role and forming alliances with sales and
marketing and finance will provide additional credibility to your ideas. Make
sure you know how to read annual report and accounts as well as the financial
pages.

3.
Have a PR strategy

Unless
your organisation is a major corporate it’s unlikely the setting up of a
think-tank or the ideas it fosters will grab headlines. But that doesn’t mean
you can’t internally promote it or seek external media coverage.

Your
communication skills need to be at their peak, however, as how the information
is conveyed is likely to have a strong bearing on whether the idea is taken up.
Feeding the local press with news and updates on its progress is also an
excellent way of building profile.

Professional
media training will coach you in the techniques you need to be effective.

4.
Make the most of your networks

Any
think-tank is only as good as its last idea and, in the commercial world,
research groups keep their fingers on the pulse and invigorate their thinking
by networking with the corporate, voluntary and community sectors.

Undertaking
voluntary work or joining a professional body is not only an excellent way of
meeting useful contacts but will, in all probability, introduce you to new ways
of doing things. In addition, connecting with the right people will also prove
invaluable in building your think-tank team.

5.
Develop your own power strategies

To
minimise the risk of their hard-work being shelved, contemporary think-tanks
must win arguments and you must too if you don’t want your ideas to fall on
deaf ears. Ask yourself what you need to do to get your proposal accepted and
build up influence, negotiate and wield power to achieve this end.

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