People analytics

Have you considered starting an HR think tank?

The latest innovation in corporate HR strategy is a whole dang research center.
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· 3 min read

Question: What was the final lesson in Game of Thrones?

Answer: As Tyrion Lannister said (spoiler alert!) before Bran was crowned, “There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story.”

It is in this spirit that some companies have launched research arms to tell the story of the workplace and its future. Some are producing research for the HR field at large, while others are using their findings for internal purposes. All are sending a message that they take the workplace and culture seriously.

HR R&D. When Brian Elliott joined Slack as a product leader in 2017, he said founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield was interested in starting a company think tank. After several years spent conducting workplace research for internal purposes, the company launched its Future Forum research consortium in September 2020. The goal: to help executives solve emerging workplace challenges.

“We had some research in-flight that was pretty easy to see how we can…make it more general purpose, and not only about Slack. So, let me share it with the world,” Elliott, now the executive leader of the Future Forum, told HR Brew.

Already, the Future Forum has—in partnership with Boston Consulting Group, MillerKnoll, and nonprofit Management Leadership for Tomorrow—produced primary research on a wide range of workplace topics such as retention, remote and hybrid work, burnout, and DE&I.

Other companies have since followed suit: Earlier this year, hiring software company Deel started a research arm dedicated to the global talent market and artificial intelligence, in partnership with several universities. Deel CEO Alex Bouaziz told HR Brew that he hopes the research will be informative for policymakers as regulations around global hiring and labor evolve for a new economy.

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Internalize it. Slack wasn’t the first company to try its hand at HR research. Adobe launched Lab82 in 2017. While Lab82 does publish some of its findings externally, its mission is to improve the lives of Adobe’s 28,000 employees. Its team includes psychologists, architects, event planners, and even a former chef, Eric Kline, director of Lab82, told Bloomberg.

“We currently have six interventions, which is our term for experiments,” Kline said. “They’re focused on things like onboarding, off-sites, the best way to work within hybrid neighborhoods, new technology, equity and verbal cues, and community and well-being.” Kline said that Adobe added 11,000 employees during the pandemic.

Though Spotify has a very different business model, it has a similar strategy when it comes to research. The music streaming platform has partnered with the Stockholm School of Economics to study the role of hybrid work on engagement and collaboration.

Both organizations’ efforts appear to be paying off: Adobe and Spotify are often found on top employer lists.

Maybe Lannister’s quote needs a slight adjustment: There’s nothing more powerful than some good research.—AK

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected]. For completely confidential conversations, ask Aman for his number on Signal.

Editor's note 1/25/23: This article has been updated since it was first published.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.