Don't Expect to Boost Performance with Just a New Scientist

Don't Expect to Boost Performance with Just a New Scientist


Hiring new, more productive scientists is considered an effective way to raise a research-based organization’s performance via a direct effect (the new hire’s contribution) and a stimulus to incumbent scientists’ productivity. New research by Andrea Fosfuri (Department of Management) with Kremena Slavova (Middlesex University Business School) and Julio De Castro (IE Business School) highlights that the positive effect on incumbents is rather small and subject to conditions.
In Learning by Hiring: The Effects of Scientists’ Inbound Mobility on Research Performance in Academia (forthcoming in Organization Science, published online in advance, doi: 10.1287/orsc.2015.1026) the three scholars analyze the effect of hiring policies on 94 US academic chemical engineering departments, using the number of published scholarly papers as a measure of performance. Even if the overall effect on other researchers’ productivity is small, they find that three factors can magnify it.
  1. The effect is stronger for researchers with a shorter tenure. “The mechanisms supposed to boost other researchers’ productivity are localized learning and peer pressure”, Prof. Fosfuri explains, “and scholars with a shorter tenure are both more open to learning, as not yet absorbed by routines and constraints, and subject to stronger peer-pressure, as more likely to be in evaluation phase. While productivity of academics with less than five years of tenure increases by 2.5%, productivity of scholars with more than five years of tenure decreases by 2% when a new hire arrives.
  2. The effect is stronger in departments focused on a few topics and methodologies. “Learning is very specific”. Prof Fosfuri goes on, “and if everyone is investigating similar subjects all of them learn something, otherwise only the few with strong disciplinary affinity are exposed to learning”.
  3. The effect is stronger on departments with a stronger culture of internal collaboration, measured by the share of co-authored papers.
“Such a small effect came as a surprise to us”, Prof. Fosfuri concedes, “we were expecting a different magnitude. However, the overall effect is larger because new hires still add their direct research contribution and collaborate in joint research with incumbent scientists.”
The outcome has at least two important managerial implications. First of all, don’t think of changing your organization by hiring one or two new scientists. “The success of an organization’s hiring strategy might depend on its ability to retain existing scientists and enhance their productivity. Improving research performance is a slow process that requires sustained hiring for multiple years”, the authors write.
Second, recruiting is not enough without good human resource management: “Renewing an organization’s research capabilities requires both time and commitment. To benefit fully from inbound mobility, the organization should attempt to activate internal knowledge sharing and collaboration processes. Our results indicate important complementarities between policies that foster internal collaboration and those that increase inbound mobility.”

by Fabio Todesco


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