Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Coherence Premium – Making Sure to Stand Out

Last week I discussed the creation of our Research Administration Support Center and how it related to the article, “Competitor Analysis: Understand Your Opponents.”  This week, I want to discuss our same office, the Research Administration Support Center, and how it relates to the article, “The Coherence Premium” by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi.  Creating a brand new office from scratch is very difficult, let alone an office that will be located at the Dean’s level.  This office shares the same functions as many of the Department research branches so a lot of thought, in the beginning, had to be given to what we wanted our core competence to be and how we had to stand out compared to our competitors.  Below, I will justify why I think our new office falls into the coherent category rather than incoherent. 

How are we going to face the market?
First, we knew that providing above average knowledge and being attentive to detail would be crucial.  We are at a more central level, so having errors within our proposal submissions were not acceptable.  We knew that we needed to create value for our customers and this expertise was our starting point.   From there, we worked on focusing on our main sponsors, NSF and NIH, and created templates for common documents that each submission requires.  This reduced the amount of PI (Principle Investigator) time wasted on administrative pieces and allowed for them to focus solely on the technical side of things – the science!  Having these templates and reducing the amount of time PI’s were spending on the more mundane tasks is what, in the end, set us apart.  We created this value for them, in regards to, so they are able to put their time and energy into the piece of the proposal that will actually be taken into consideration when awards are being determined.

What capabilities do we need?
In the research realm at any institution, different departments submit to different sponsors.  In our offices portfolio, there are anywhere from 50-100 different sponsors that we work with (federal, non-federal and industry mainly).  If we were to focus on all of them, we would be completely understaffed and be providing about the same amount of support the PI could receive in their home department.  This would put everyone on the same playing field and not differentiate our office in comparison to our umbrella departments.  Knowing this, and realizing that we needed to stand out, we branched off and specialized in a few particular areas.  Our boss ran a huge analysis and narrowed our focus down to a handful of federal sponsors (NSF, NIH, DARPA and the DOE).  We did this because, percentage wise, these are the sponsors that the PI’s we will be working with are submitting to most.  Knowing this information from the very beginning, helped us in developing our core competence and narrowed our focus as to what templates needed to be created to provide to our PI’s.  This research, in the very beginning, helped us in standing out in a saturated crowd.

What are we going to sell, and to whom?
Knowing the information above, we aligned our hiring process and created a very competent office, focusing on these specific areas.  We hired an expert in each of the four sectors we are mainly focusing on and a leader that is highly competent in all four areas.  This experience is transferred from individual to individual and in the end, we all are becoming experts in all four areas as well.  This has helped us in making sure different sponsor rules are followed and also helped our customer service aspect of the job.  We are very quick to respond to PI questions because the answer no longer needs to be researched.  Most of the questions have been asked before so an answer can be sent back, basically immediately.  If the answer needs to be researched, a quick call to a fellow co-worker is also much more efficient than spending 30-60 minutes google searching.

In the end, I feel that our office followed the correct steps in order to make sure we were competent and coherent in our research realm.  What interests me now most is how we will mature moving into the increasingly difficult grant funding world we find ourselves in today.  Personally, I feel this is where our office will spend a lot of its resources now that we have a strong foundation in place already.

Nathan Kotecki

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