Rethinking the Prescription for Talent Management

In brief:

  • Life sciences companies are increasingly challenged to find, develop, and retain talent in an environment of revolutionary change.
  • Industry leaders must commit to managing talent in innovative and adaptive ways, including:
    • Delivering non-linear experiences that provide growth and variety
    • Leveraging Managed Services to access and build capabilities
    • Creating a culture that delivers a sense of purpose
    • Utilizing data and digital capabilities to optimize experiences and improve decision-making

The life sciences industry is engaged in a battle for talent as companies adjust to a seismic shift in what it takes to compete in today’s labor landscape. Amid the Great Resignation, which only heightened the challenges life sciences organizations face in attracting and retaining talent, it has never been more important to focus on employees.

In a frenzied labor market, older, more established life sciences organizations are going head-to-head against not only more agile biotech companies but also innovators from outside the industry. They’re vying for employees who are less concerned about finding a company where they can climb the ranks in a clearly defined, linear progression and more interested in an employer who will offer them varied experiences and the opportunity to make a difference, quickly. Leaders will also need to find ways to attract next-generation capabilities and talent—think data scientists and other innovative thinkers—who expect to compete with disruptive technology companies.

At the same time, as digital transformation progresses across the industry, life sciences leaders face the challenge of upskilling a workforce for an increasingly digital world—a workforce that’s often tens of thousands strong, encompassing everything from research and development to manufacturing and supply chain to commercial operations. It’s a particularly daunting challenge given that many of these employees aren’t digital natives.

The skills and ways of working that got the life sciences industry where it is today aren’t the same ones that will deliver success in the future due to pandemic-driven changes in patient behaviors and expectations. Organizations today need digital dexterity and must be able to move quickly. From pharma to medical devices and more, life sciences organizations of all shapes and sizes must rethink their acquisition and retention strategies and how they equip employees for a digital future. Here’s what you need to know about the new prescription for talent management.

Prescription for change: Facilitate experiences along a non-linear career path

In our recent survey, 43 percent of life sciences leaders said optimizing talent (including attracting, developing, and retaining talent) is an objective of their transformation strategy this year. That makes it the top transformation goal for industry leaders, one that is seven percent higher than the average of all other industries we surveyed.

Part of the challenge in life sciences today is that the traditional career path and rewards system has evolved dramatically, and companies need to revisit their operating models and career paths in response. For many years, the industry rewarded employees for time and tenure, moving them up the ranks to manage larger teams and projects. But many employees—particularly those with the deep digital and analytic skill sets that are in high demand—no longer desire that linear path and they are looking to their employer to facilitate experiences that provide growth and variety. It requires employers to give their people opportunities to not only change departments but also flex a different muscle skill set.

By facilitating these non-linear career experiences, the business also benefits:

  • Better employee retention: By offering varied experiences, you’re less likely to lose talent to competitors every two or three years as employees look for the next big challenge.
  • Breaking down barriers: You’ll also break down silos within your organization, transferring knowledge, and cross-pollinating ideas as employees move from one project to the next. By facilitating this exchange of ideas, you’ll enable innovation, diversity of thought, and create opportunities for team members to learn about value drivers across different parts of your business, all of which fuel organizational productivity, alignment, efficiency, and outcomes.

Prescription for change: Leverage Managed Services to maintain momentum in transformation

In today’s rapidly evolving environment, every organization needs an adaptive workforce solution. That’s why Managed Services should play a key role in your workforce strategy. With a Managed Service, you can access the talent and capabilities you need, exactly when your organization needs them, and build lasting capability along the way. Instead of investing heavily in a fixed skillset that could quickly become obsolete—or trying to upskill a 50,000-person workforce overnight—Managed Services allows you to bring in the capabilities needed to capitalize on opportunities in the short-term—and use those embedded experts to work with your teams to understand where they are, and where they need to go, thereby building longer-lasting capabilities.

For example, when it comes to implementing transformative practices and ways of working across your organization, Managed Services can deliver the expertise (i.e., scrum masters, change managers, and agile coaches) that you may initially lack. Managed Services pods—carefully constructed teams with the know-how and capability to drive value from day one—can serve as an incubator for emerging talent and help your employees build agile mindsets into ways of working through practical application. Experts within the pods act as a Center of Excellence and take a comprehensive approach to developing skills throughout your organization, ultimately helping you shift decision-making to the people who do the work.

Prescription for change: Replace pool tables with purpose

Culture should also take center stage when designing your workforce and talent strategy for the future. More and more people today want to have a purpose in what they do and the outcomes they are driving. How do you match the industry’s focus on improving people's lives with your employees’ desire to make a difference? Embrace the employee experience through the eyes of the employee, not the employer. Understand their goals, what inspires and motivates them about their work, and what they see as crafting their own employee journey. Then, provide them with the support, skills, and structure to be successful and bring their journey to life.

You’ll also want to ensure that your culture is one that enables employees to fail fast—and learn along the way. The life sciences industry, and pharma in particular, is historically risk-averse due to the dangers associated with making the wrong decision. But any initiative that encourages productive conflict and then leads to a shared understanding is worth the effort, because it helps to break down barriers between teams, builds a sense of shared purpose, and creates joint commitments and accountabilities. Moving forward will require leaders to cultivate a culture of psychological safety—one that celebrates learning as a success rather than focusing on getting it right the first time. The challenge, of course, is doing that in a regulated environment. Consider leveraging a Managed Services pod, with functional expertise to assure compliance and break down silos.

Prescription for change: Leverage data and digital to understand where to go from here

Identify opportunities to enhance your talent management strategies by leveraging Voice of Employee data. With AI-powered analytics platforms, you can gather insight from a tremendous volume of data—structured and unstructured, internal and external. Ultimately, this capability allows you to paint a picture of attitudes and perceptions surrounding the employee experience—from the application process to the first day on the job, onboarding, and even an employee’s departure from the company.  You can even begin to identify key topics in the data and map emotions, sentiments, and cognitive states to them to understand the underlying drivers of desired behaviors (e.g., employee referrals or retention). With these insights, you might conduct pilots to understand how best to evolve your operating model over time to meet changing employee expectations and drive desired behaviors. By tapping into real-time workforce data, you can turn insights into action and make informed decisions that enrich employee experiences, optimize your future talent management strategies, and keep employees engaged throughout.

Evolve how you think about talent management

Life sciences today is at a crossroads. By and large, organizations are focused on the patient experience, but it’s just as important—perhaps more so—to align the workforce experience as well. Employees are looking for freedom of choice, the chance to build new skills, and the ability to navigate their own paths—all while making a difference in the lives of patients. By thinking about how you create that kind of environment and adjusting in response, you can position your people to learn and thrive amid a breakneck pace of change and scientific innovation.