Management Magazine

How businesses gain from think tanks


Think tanks provide the organisation with industry best practice as well as ingenious creative ideas to ensure the business remains competitive while recording exponential growth

In the market economy, the performance of any enterprise is measured by both its productivity index and sustained profitability. Increase in sales is interpreted as proof that a company’s products or services are valuable to their customers and as attainment of improved efficiency and effectiveness. The market is awash with underperforming businesses resulting from the fact that managers and directors are too involved with the day-to-day operations at the expense of creating disruptions in the market to remain competitive and market leaders. If a business is struggling to remain afloat, the managers must seek answers to such questions as; Is our business model still relevant or there is need for re-engineering? Have the customers’ tastes and needs changed? What is the organisation’s long-term strategic goals? These and other pertinent questions can only be solved if the managers seek counsel from researchers or thinktanks sourced internally or are external consultants.

Creative ideas

In the world of business, a think-tank is a research institute, or an ideas forum staffed with intelligent interdisciplinary group of experts engaged in the study of policy issues in business. The objective of a think-tank is studying and providing the organisation with industry best practice as well as ingenious creative ideas to ensure that the business remains competitive while recording exponential growth. For a think-tank to provide practically applicable business solutions, it must constitute leaders from various disciplines such as marketing, finance, IT and HR, procurement and legal.  This team should be diversity conscious and ensure demographics inclusion. 

According to a 2016 article by Gerald Ralphs, the scientific or intellectual community within which think-tanks produce research determines in large part its capability to impact policy formulation. Gerald notes that without trust in the brainstorming and research, a thinktank may face irrelevancy or redundancy. It is therefore of paramount importance that the formulators of think-tanks establish the best way to support the team with all the necessary resources as well as favourable environment for their findings to be credible and relevant to the organisation’s objective.

A good business model

A 2011 Harvard Business Review article outlines three main essential characteristics of a good business model where thinktanks can flourish and provide business solutions. First, it must be aligned to leadership’s strategy and decision as well as reinforce the mission and vision of the organisation. Finally, a great business model must enable an organisation’s activities to be sustained, its opportunities exploited and threats or risks mitigated.

Developing a great resourceful and effective thinktank is not without its own unique challenges. These range from poor management of human capital compromising the team’s ability to attract, develop, motivate and retain talent, to incomplete linkages with policy makers begetting the undesirable outcome of low credibility and visibility due to lack of an all-rounded communication and process to review progress. Think tanks may also lack the capacity to conduct research due to lack of teamwork, finances, inability to produce relevant, precise and reliable research. Additionally, they may lack sufficient independence from the business management due to their frequent interruptions and micro-management. 

Meddling from management only serves to cripple the minds of think tanks, lower their morale and create lethargy. There must be clear collaboration guidelines, scope and scale so that all parties involved pull towards the desired corporate objectives. The various thinktanks developed by different organisations have a common mandate of revolutionising the business and catapulting it to unimaginable growth levels. 

Unique role of think tanks

To appreciate the role of thinktanks in offering business solutions, managers must clearly understand the unique role of think tanks. Some think tanks are created specifically to provide public policies as well internal business policies. Indeed, most HR Policy Manuals borrow heavily from business experts. Secondly, it is their responsibility to provide all the sensitive solutions to mitigate the effects of economic and technology disruptions. The team must keep abreast with the changing market trends and advise the business accordingly. An effective thinktank must continuously carry out the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, opportunities and Threats) analysis for the enterprise. 

Thirdly, this team is tasked with handling all radical and rocket science challenges and ensure they are tuned towards improved business performance. Fourth, since the team constitutes of all departmental leaders, the findings and resolutions are easily assimilated with minimal resistance to change as they feel part of the change process. Fifth, think-tanks promote a culture of creativity, imagination, problem solving and continuous improvement through periodical meetings to review progress and identify problem areas. Their approach and strategy to offering business solutions is mainly futuristic, making them trusted advisors to the organisation.

An effective thinktank is one that follows a systematic process of carrying out research. They must, therefore, provide feedback to business managers and assess impact so that the solutions they provide are relevant and timely. 

Goretti Kimani is a KIM Member, a HR Practitioner & Author. Email:

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