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Human touch

As an industry living at the leading edge of science, technology and R&D, pharma need to be smarter in the search for talented new recruits

For an industry living at the leading edge of science, technology and R&D, the pharmaceutical industry is curiously old-fashioned. Indeed, it is quite strangely rooted in the quaint.

For example, I have discovered that most pharmaceutical companies still have `human resource' departments! Can you imagine that?

I'm not sure which century gave us the idea that good men and women who come to work and sweat their what's-it's-names off should be regarded as a 'resource', but isn't it a bit insulting?

As far as I am concerned, a resource is a supply or a source. In fact, looking up the definition of 'resource' in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, one could be forgiven for thinking that the word had no warm, human connotation at all!

A resource is drawn upon and used, shoved around and exploited. What happened to referring to them as personnel? - God forbid. Personnel, meaning: workers, staff and people.

I wouldn't mind being a worker, or part of the staff. I like the idea of being thought of as an individual and part of a team working together to make up the staff that tries to do stuff that makes the customers want to come back for more. Yes, I like that.

I definitely don't like being thought of as a resource that can be used, shoved around and messed about with.

Anyway, what do human resource departments do? They all cost the earth. One big pharma company has an HR department with a budget bigger than the gross national product of some African countries.

They are invariably populated by Amandas and Johns (who spell their name without an 'h'), who are always at meetings and seldom answer their e-mails in anything like the time that the idea of electronic mail was invented for.

HR departments don't actually hire anyone. Managers do that. They don't design and place job adverts, the creative people do that. They don't do terms of employment, that's down to 'legal' and at the first sign of trouble with an employee they call in the solicitors. They don't manage proper budgets - finance do that.

What's the deal?
I don't wish to denounce an entire community, but what does HR do, apart from cost a lot of money and attend conferences on the art of politically correct employment? I made enquiries about what pharma's HR departments do, putting the question to a number of trusted insiders.

Well, I have to report that it would have been easier to get an answer to the question; 'what is the impact of an undershoot on NHS EFL and its consequence for the PSBR in G8 countries?'

No one could tell me. No one except one bright soul who ventured that he thought the HR lot dabbled in the dark arts of psychometric testing. Psychometric testing! Is that old joke still doing the rounds? Apparently so.

I delved deeper. A quick Google got me screens full of free tests, self assessments and how to fiddle the results. I did six tests and lied in all of them. I found it effortless to disguise myself as both Hitler and Mother Teresa; a people person and a loner; innovative and a ludite. Gimme strength! If this is what goes on in pharma companies then it is time for a serious rethink and it's no surprise that recruitment and retention of staff is a growing problem.


Expert fakers
The quaintly known concept of motivational distortion screws up the validity of these tests from the outset. Candidates can easily recognise the types of behaviour that organisations are looking for. Job hopefuls and promotion hunters are expert at this stuff!

Now, it is true that there are some really good personnel people who know about things called `faking scales'. However, the most well-known and widely used psychometric test does not have a faking scale, so no one knows if the result is a reflection of the individual or an image created for the benefit of the company. 'Validity' is another factor. In other words, does the test do what it says on the tin? For example: IQ - can a test sort out the intelligent from the stupid?

Apparently, the answer is, yes, no, sometimes and maybe!

Of course, insecure managers that rely on this hocus-pocus do so because they can't judge the thickness of a rice pudding skin, never mind someone's character.

They want the tests to deliver predictive validity - ie, how someone might behave in the future. Once again, as far as I can see, the test used by most of the pharma industry doesn't claim to have any predictive validity. In fact, knowing someone's personality type does not predict how they will behave because people can, and do, behave in many different ways and that often includes behaviours that are not their preference.

In plain English; if you are right footed, it does not mean that you will never use your left foot.

These tests measure preference, not competence. If someone prefers to behave in a certain way but is no good at it, it'll be a disaster. Moreover, the poor interpretation of a test can encourage the dishonest and scar the genuine.

Why's this important? Well, the next round of changes to the NHS - merging PCT's, down-sizing regions and the emerging significance of the private sector as a provider of care - means a different shaped customer for pharma.

As it gets tougher and tougher for pharma field forces to access doctors, fight off pharmacy advisers, quarrel with invisible formulary directors, limbo under generic prescribing targets and gainsay NICE guidance, it is imperative that pharma recruits and keeps the right people.

Bright people, single-minded people, tenacious people, clued up people and entrepreneurial people. Just the kind of people who can con the HR department and fake a psychometric test!

The Author
Roy Lilley is a healthcare author and broadcaster. He has written several books and is well known for his sometimes controversial opinions

2nd September 2008


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