Technology to optimise pharma talent management

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Though pharma deals in data on a daily basis, it needs to apply its rigorous approach to staff management too, in order to ensure that the right person is in the right place at the right time, says Jim Sykes.

The pharma sector is undergoing one of its most turbulent and challenging periods. Cuts to government spending globally, patent cliffs, stalling product development lines and now the uncertainty around £8.5 billion of EU funding for UK science generated by a looming Brexit have all combined to give the industry’s leaders more than a few sleepless nights.

Fortunately, there are opportunities for those who can embrace the increasing need for both innovation and agility in their commercial strategies. However, this means having the type of talent which can turn goals from aspiration into reality.

According to the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), the European pharma sector employs 725,000 people directly, as well as generating three to four times more employment indirectly, both upstream and downstream. However, until recently, the industry has not had to utilise the tools and tactics now needed to attract the right people with the right skills.

In the past, as a cash-rich sector, pharma was able to address any talent shortage simply by offering attractive financial packages. But, with funds now under pressure,organisations need to find smarter ways to attract, engage and retain talent – ways that key competitor industries such as tech, consultancy and financial services are already using.

The CMR International Pharmaceutical R&D Factbook states that total global pharma sales reached $1.1 trillion in 2015, with the sector directing profits into drug discovery and R&D in an effort to bridge patent cliffs. This emphasis has meant high profile redundancies over the last decade, with big pharma shedding staff to manage efficiencies.

New drugs have always faced long odds. According to EFPIA, in 2015 an estimated €31,500 million was invested in R&D in Europe, with the cost of researching and developing a new chemical or biological entity estimated to be €1,926 million1. In 2015, 44 New Molecular Entities (NMEs) were launched – double the number registered in 2010.

Staff retention

Considering that the development stage of any new drug takes, on average, 12 years and, according to LinkedIn, cost per hire is over two times lower for companies with strong employer brands, shaping and communicating compelling Employee Value Propositions (EVPs), outlining the benefits and appeal of the company, and ensuring ongoing employee engagement, will undoubtedly be key to successful deployment and retention of staff.

But equally, perhaps even more importantly, pharma’s senior managers and HR professionals need to develop effective strategic workforce planning (SWP). Long talked about, yet seldom implemented effectively, SWP is, in essence, the alignment of the people across an organisation with its long-term commercial strategy. Or, to put it even more simply, ensuring that the right people are in the right place at the right time.

Although regarded as obvious and straightforward by many outsiders, SWP has proved extremely difficult to operate in practice. But now advances in analytics and predictive technologies in the HR field could make it both attainable and effective.

Although still not widely used in the pharma arena, the tools now exist to harness and analyse the data which can allow a company to build an accurate picture of what its workforce actually looks like, as opposed to what it would like it to look like.

According to Oxford Economics, the average cost of recruiting a new member of staff is £30,614 per employee. Therefore, redeploying staff where a business needs talent most is much more efficient than hiring and firing at will. Even relatively basic workforce analytics tools can do more than create a static snapshot of an organisation’s people resource, providing a dynamic picture showing the possible movement of staff up, across or even out of the business over a specified period of time.

In addition, analytics tools can help talent managers understand why and when target individuals outside their business make career moves, thereby making them much more effective recruiters.

The pharma sector is geared towards the rigorous collection, assessment and employment of data, so it should not neglect its analytical strengths when it comes to what may be its most valuable resource – people.

Offering employees individual development, cross-training and redeployment is vital when competing for talent with other high-skill industries. Organisations that embrace and invest in the new technologies are more likely to gain competitive advantage over their rivals by making better and more cost-effective use of their workforces and reducing the need to sustain continuous, expensive and often inadequately-targeted recruitment campaigns.

Furthermore, by offering better and more attractive career options to staff, they will reduce attrition and become more effective at sourcing what talent they do require from the external market.

Reference:
1According to a paper by Joseph A DiMasi, PhD, published in the Journal of Health Economics in 2016.

About the author:
Jim Sykes is client services director, Professional & Business Services, at Alexander Mann Solutions.

He has over 15 years’ experience in talent acquisition, much of it international. He specialises in talent pipeline, retention and strategic workforce planning.