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In midst of high turnover, metrics and clear procedures for continuity help stay the course

Excerpted from the September 2022 issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. UIDP members can view the entire issue here.

With the advent of the ‘Great Resignation’ — from which, of course, industry partnership offices are not immune — corporate engagement leaders are more focused than ever on what it takes to get members of their teams on board and committed to a common set of goals. And, when individuals do leave, there is the added challenge of ensuring a smooth transition and the security of proprietary information.

At the heart of creating a unified effort towards team goals — and team continuity — experts agree, is a well-developed set of metrics. “One of the things we’re [focused on] right now is the question of do you have the metrics right based on what’s happening?” says Geanie Umberger, PhD, MSPH, RPh, associate vice president for research and director of Penn State University’s Office for Industry Research Partnerships. “We see companies really pivoting in terms of research, philanthropy, and talent, so you set the metrics where they also allow you some pivot.”

She adds that she is a firm believer in not creating two owners of metrics. — i.e., research versus philanthropy. “They can drive bad behaviors,” she asserts. “We do not have super stringent types of metrics; the giving side has more.” Umberger says her metrics focus more on whether things are moving forward, and whether more research dollars are being brought in.

“The giving side [measures] how many phone calls you make,” she continues. “That’s crazy; it’s my pet peeve. You should focus on quality, not quantity.”

“I’m all about metrics and metrics-based management,” adds Jim O’Connell, assistant vice president for commercialization at UF Innovate at the University of Florida. “You have to keep things simple for your own tracking reasons, but you also need to understand the reasons for the team.”

You shouldn’t have too many metrics, he notes, and they should be meaningful both for tracking results and assessing team performance. “If you have done [too many] different things [with metrics], people will not be able to focus,” O’Connell explains. “Mine out the correct focus, in a way that makes it easy to see in a tangible, believable manner how the needle is moving.” He says he runs staff meetings every Monday morning, where a “numbers-based” agenda is employed. “On a pure tech transfer piece, for example, you look at invention disclosures — year to date compared with the previous year, licenses and options, and then start-ups,” O’ Connell states. “Everyone knows what we’re driving towards.”

“You should look at what the strategic plan is for the university, and what your role is in facilitating that plan around research,” adds Peter Dorhout, PhD, vice president for research at Iowa State University, who developed his best practices in his former position at Kansas State University. “If it calls specifically for more corporate partnerships or an expanded research enterprise, I use that as a launch pad. If the university or regents has goals — say they want us to expand the research enterprise by 5% a year in five years — that gives us a target; we have to build our pipeline.”

Having the target, he continues, milestones must be developed along the way to the goal. “Otherwise, how do we know if we’re going to be successful or fail miserably?” he poses. Next, he creates dashboards. “More often than not they’re internal; you won’t find them on a website,” he notes. With the dashboards, he explains, the team can look quickly at how it’s doing.

And how are the goals met? “If we said we wanted to engage more faculty in the invention disclosure process in order to have more IP to grow the licensing portfolio, for example, we’d really need to think about how to facilitate more faculty participation, and how to help them by providing tools,” says Dorhout. “We’d do training, workshops, have engagements. Those are all the tactics that feed into the bigger strategy.”

Excerpted from the September 2022 issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. UIDP members can access the complete article and the entire issue here. Other practitioners may subscribe to receive the UIEA newsletter at