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The Future of Research in Talent & Training

Talent appears to be an area of management in which insights executives, whether corporate or supplier, are not doing a great job—especially if you think about this from a strategic point of view.



Simon Chadwick, Managing Partner, Cambiar

Data in this article are sourced from Cambiar’s 4th Annual Future of Research Report. You can download the full report at

Given the rate of change in this industry – in technology, methodologies, data sources and client demands – what will be the types of skill set needed in the near-term future? What types of people and what talents will we value?

Client research leaders and senior suppliers are both of one voice on this:




Whereas today the skills that are prized are mostly centered on the process of research, those of tomorrow will emphasize the ability to synthesize and create the story and then effectively carry that story, with impact, to management. Whereas today we focus on project management and reporting skills, tomorrow we will need story-telling, consulting and influencing skills. Today we see ourselves as craftspeople, tomorrow we shall be creatives.

But, if this is the case, are we actually following this up in our hiring and training patterns? Well, yes and no. The “no,” in this case, is surprisingly found to be among clients, while research suppliers, especially the larger ones, appear to be hiring at a much more eclectic level.

Just over three-quarters of Future of Research participants made one or more hires in the past twelve months and 81% were currently hiring at the time of the survey. In half of the organizations in which hires were made, the successful candidates were labeled as “generalists.” This could be good or bad, depending on what a “generalist” is.  Are they capable of synthesis, consulting and story-telling or are they just generalist researchers? In another third of organizations hiring, the hire was of a specialist in advanced analytics.

And that, for clients, was pretty much where it stopped, aside from the 13% who hired a web analytics specialist.

Suppliers, on the other hand, filled a much broader variety of roles, including graphic designers (25%), management consultants (15%), social media researchers (14%) and many other types of specialist. This was especially true of larger suppliers, 98% of whom were hiring and were doing so across the board of specialties. Does this suggest that clients are going to rely more on their suppliers to provide the specialist skills that will be needed in the future—and they themselves will concentrate on hiring generalists (All-rounders? Polymaths?) and data analysts to deal not only with their internal big data needs but also their upward consulting needs?

Whatever the interpretation here, it is clear that the way in which researchers, both clients and suppliers, go about hiring is not a very structured process. The top three sources for new hires rely more on serendipity than targeted searches for the right type of talent.



Suppliers are more likely to rely on referrals, social media and undergraduate programs than their client peers. Overall, the pattern is similar. Larger agencies, however, cast a much wider net than any others, perhaps because they are just that much more active in hiring at present.

Once these organizations are successful in hiring people, how much formal training can their employees expect, if any at all?

The answer to this is frightening: In 46% of client organizations, the answer is none at all. In a “small” client company (<$10 billion in annual revenues), fully 60% of research professionals receive no formal training.

A further 26% of companies provide minimal formal training. In part, this is offset by the training that their suppliers offer to their employees—29% of suppliers offer more than a good deal of formal training, especially in the larger agencies (37%). Yet, even here, a significant proportion of agencies (44%) offer little to none at all.

In an industry where new skill sets are going to be demanded in addition to those already possessed, the lack of foresight represented by this dearth of training can only be described as breath-taking.

This is not to say that in these organizations there exists no training at all. Rather, what there is, is more likely to be informal, taking the form of mentoring, on the job supervision or conference attendance.



Once again, the chances of an employee receiving any of the types of training shown above are considerably more likely in a larger research supplier than in any other type of organization.

Key Takeaways

Talent  appears to be an area of management in which insights executives, whether corporate or supplier, are not doing a great job—especially if you think about this from a strategic point of view. While accepting that the talents and skill sets of the near future will be very different from those of today, the pattern of hiring does not suggest that we are bringing these new talents into our organizations. And, once we have hired new staff, we are not doing a great job of training them to be successful in the era ahead.

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8 responses to “The Future of Research in Talent & Training

  1. My feeling is that too many organisations (bother buyer and seller) are running their businesses too flat out to be really developing their staff. I see too many interns spending almost all their time working on paying jobs rather than learning, and I see too many cases where staff know that if they spend a day on a course they will have to catch up with the missed work out of their own time.Perhaps MR needs to do a better job of getting HR onside with the need to build the MR human capital?

  2. All:
    I will be presenting some of these results at the Atlanta WIRe (Women in Research) event, October 13 at the Southbound Restaurant, Chamblee, GA. If you are a interested in joining, contact me or Alisa Hamilton, Atlanta WIRe chair.

  3. I was lucky enough to work with Simon on Cambiar’s 2014 Future of Research study and the whole issue of talent was the one that I felt was real and not fully recognized by the industry. We are all so consumed with new tools and game changers and cool innovation that we tend to forget that the artistry comes from the artist and not the tools.

    Over the last several years, the notion of training has been dramatically reduced. As a result, there are very few training grounds for research apprentices.Doctors are trained to be diagnosticians; I honestly see very little of this today. If we are unable to blend the disparate streams of info and use experience and pattern recognition to reach an insight, we are without a meaningful story to tell.

    Yes, methods and innovations are important. But people with the talent to create ‘diagnoses’ are the key. Without the right people, we are just kids with fancy power tools.

  4. The “skills of the future” seem to be less about researching and more about interpreting and explaining. Many of these skills exist today…maybe they are just not well distributed.

    They are also skills that come through varied experience picked up over time.

    To get from now to then also requires investment in self development and learning…not expecting to be trained by anyone…with all the technology and access to information and knowledge available there is NO excuse not to be able to keep up. (Moocs, Webinars, Free research online).

    A true “researcher” and explorer with intellectual curiosity would be licking there lips at the prospect of continuous learning, not expecting to be spoon fed training.

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