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Adding value to company leadership

Why many find it difficult to achieve


It’s well known that the life science industry is in a state of flux. An avalanche of change includes increased pricing pressure and regulatory restrictions, and the growing complexity of just about everything from molecules to medical technology and marketing to market access. All of this is compounded by a shortage of talent to take on and beat these challenges.

There’s no doubt a radical response is needed if the sector is to win through. This may necessitate redefining the roles expected of talented people, which in turn will alter how companies should attract, select, train, retain and motivate such individuals. For a forward-looking industry, the life science sector is remarkably conservative, rarely looking outside for talent and often trying to home-grow its skills.

The response: widen the gene pool

So where should that change begin? It’s unrealistic, in light of recent work force reductions at some of the biggest pharma companies, to expect people to line up neatly at the front door and be ‘tomorrow’s talent’. Evolutionary diversity is the only proven success strategy in changing environments of any kind. So hiring the same types of people and expecting new and different business strategies won’t work. Existing high-quality talent is in limited supply and further ‘in-breeding’ can lead to sterility and failure. The answer then is obvious: widen the gene pool.

What exactly is diversity and what benefits can it bring?

Conventional thinking about diversity focuses first on gender and race, and this is absolutely as it should be. But diversity goes much further than this and should include age, expertise and experience. After all, the goal is to achieve diversity of thought, leading to better decisions, as well as ensuring fairness and equality of opportunity.

This is well recognised by industry leaders, as shown in a Forbes study of 321 large global enterprises which found that more than 85% of CEOs cited diversity as crucial to driving innovation. Specifically, E&Y research found that both male and female leaders in the life science industry overwhelmingly believe (96%) that their organisations need to change in response to disruptive trends in their sector. Primarily, change is needed in response to global healthcare reforms requiring companies to demonstrate how their products improve patient outcomes, lower costs or both. Interestingly, while 73% of women strongly agreed on the need for change, only 52% of men felt the same way.

Businesses across all sectors are discovering the wide-ranging benefits of supporting diversity in their workforces and supply chains. For the life science and healthcare industries, however, diversity is even more pressing, as there are greater benefits to play for: clinical research changes lives, and with a diverse group of innovative thinkers at its helm, the healthcare industry will be better able to drive change by being at the leading edge of diversity and inclusiveness.

Exceptional talent needed - insiders or outsiders?

Take one example from the heart of the pharmaceutical industry: the supply chain. Once seen as a less glamorous area of pharma, supply chain management (SCM) is fast gaining a much higher profile. Those managing supply chains are operating in an increasingly complex world, demanding new skills and new ways of thinking.

To succeed, anyone leading a pharma supply chain needs to be familiar with the practices of other sectors such as automotive, food and FMCG where innovation is more common. They must combine learning from others with their own sector-specific expertise to take on the challenges of moving medicines around the world. Not an easy skill set to find.

Do you hire from another sector or should you go for the tried and trusted ‘insider’? You need people who can adopt and adapt, who can recognise when to innovate and when to apply their sector expertise. They must be strategic thinkers able to grasp the complex nature of manufacturing in one country and selling in many others. Their skills, and not where they are sourced from, is what counts.

Hiring ‘outside the box’ to promote innovation

Consumer health offers another example of lateral thinking that is bringing in a greater diversity of people. Fuelled by new technology and growing customer demand, consumer healthcare is burgeoning. People seeking control of their own health are becoming better informed and more demanding. From new vitamins and supplements to in-home diagnostics and mobile phone apps - people are looking for easy and low-cost access to health management information and products.

The entrepreneurial, commercial and customer-centric consumer health industry needs FMCG drive combined with the influence of the highly regulated pharma world.

One of the most powerful drivers of change in consumer health has been external innovation from mergers, deals and collaborations. As a result, there’s a growing emphasis on recruiting from other sectors. Much of the new talent is being found in previously overlooked ‘analogue’ industries that need to innovate and to move with changing markets. People with experience of the fast-moving generics and medical devices sectors are being seen as attractive prospects, as is the allied nutrition sector. More recently the tech sector has become a supplier of digital experts who bring new skills to the mix. The diversity of all these imports complements existing talent and drives more innovation, collaboration and customer understanding.

However, new arrivals need to be able to adapt to the different needs of the consumer model - neither being too restrictive nor compromising on integrity and ethics. Vital for success are strong communication skills, strategic thinking and the ability to work across functions and cultures in a fast-paced and highly demanding environment.

New investors, new skills

The emergence of big data, along with the integration of consumer data from mobile health and wearables, brings new types of people into corporate leadership where novel skills are urgently sought by innovative companies. Roles that didn’t exist in the life science sector a few years ago, such as chief data officer or patient data management system connectivity, are pushing businesses to look for talent from untapped sources. Looking to integrate data from wearable sensors? Develop 3D printing for surgical training? You’ll need to import new skills. Tech firms and leading academic institutions are being brought into play and the life science sector is quickly adapting to accommodate this new thinking.

Board diversity

Director diversity has been a hot topic over the past few years, yet it appears the effort to diversify boards by appointing more female directors is still a work in progress. At the time of our 2016 Talent Equity report, Successful Biotech Boards, we found that in UK companies, women held 16% of the seats of the 15 surveyed companies. Mainland European companies tend to be more gender-diversified than their UK peers - 22% of seats in the ten companies surveyed were held by women, with 80% employing at least one female director. None of the 25 UK and mainland European companies surveyed had a female chair.

How do you go about creating diversity?

To sum up, high-quality talent is in short supply and narrow recruitment thinking can lead to sterility and failure. Do your due diligence on a wider pool of leaders to increase the ‘gene pool’ and make investment decisions on high-potential people with a vision of the future. Consider skills from other industries that have faced similar challenge and choose people who can cause positive disruption. Positively discriminate in favour of people who aren’t like you, avoid unconscious bias and welcome the challenge ahead.

Article by
Nick Stephens

is executive chairman at The RSA Group

30th November 2017

Article by
Nick Stephens

is executive chairman at The RSA Group

30th November 2017

From: Sales



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