|As the word implies, research literally means to search again. And, for many people involved in research, there is great joy in searching and searching and searching. It sounds like you definitely have a very joyous employee.|
Just as researchers should be spending a great deal of their time researching, managers should be spending a great deal of their time managing. That is the key to handling this situation.
When you assign work to this individual, there will be real problems if you turn him loose and wait to see what he digs up. Rather, the best approach is to initially provide him with a clear understanding of the parameters, focus, benchmarks, and timetables associated with the work that he is expected to complete.
Once he is into the project, it will be important for you to meet with him at various intervals to see how the work is going. At such points, if you find that he has spent too much time pouring into an area of seemingly secondary importance, do not play the role of disciplinarian. Rather, play the role of coach and provide him with an explanation as to the steps that he should have taken, along with more focused guidance as to the steps that he should be taking from this point.
Continue to meet with him frequently during the life of the project, on a scheduled as well as informal basis, and provide fine-tuning and direction as may be needed. And, if you find that he is focusing his research efforts more effectively and productively, give him positive feedback for doing so. When the project is completed, be sure to meet with him and review his overall performance from a coaching perspective.
With all of this in mind, it is equally important to be sure that you are listening carefully to his reasoning for wanting to dig deeper. After all, he is a researcher, and major discoveries do not typically conform to rigid corporate timetables.