Mark Holliday, Barbara van der Heijden and Karin Olivier
Anyone with an interest in how people are managed at work is sure to be aware of the significance that the term “talent management” has for business today. This is particularly true for life sciences industries such as pharma and biotechnology, because they are heavily driven by research and innovation, they rely on the knowledge of their people. As their talent pool has come under pressure, these industries have recognised the importance of talent management more and more, yet, as we shall argue below, they could do more to realise its potential.
Pressures on the talent pool
There is a variety of pressures on the life sciences talent pool. The number of scientists in Europe is decreasing as fewer students choose scientific studies and an aging workforce prepares to retire. In addition, the industry suffers from an image problem. Pharma in particular is often not seen as an industry of choice for talented individuals, who prefer positions in finance or fast moving consumer goods.
Then there is the significant merger and acquisition activity which the industry has experienced over the past years and which is expected to continue at least over the next 12 to 18 months. If executed poorly, these and other restructuring exercises can create disillusionment amongst employees.
Many organisations, too, have had limited attention to devote to employee development recently.
The net result is that employee engagement is at an all-time low. As good talent is scarce and highly mobile, the risk of losing star performers to competitors is very real.
“…the industry suffers from an image problem. Pharma in particular is often not seen as an industry of choice for talented individuals, who prefer positions in finance or fast moving consumer goods.”
The status of talent management in life sciences
In view of these pressures on the talent pool, a well-deployed talent management strategy looks crucial to success in life sciences. But the evidence is that, while the industry recognises the role of talent management, it has some way to go before it can realise the full benefits.
In a survey by RSA1 of nearly 400 life sciences senior executives, more than 90% identified talent management as a key priority for 2010. Yet only a quarter of organisations had an active strategy for retaining talent, almost half of respondents agreed that the life sciences sector does not give adequate consideration to top talent, and the vast majority of companies had no clear leadership plan. Many of the executives said that they would prefer their HR team to focus primarily on leadership development this year, but because of budgetary and restructuring pressures only a limited number of them expected to achieve this aim.
The importance of transparency
Our study found that the effect of a talent programme is partly dependent on whether there is a formal selection process for the programme, and if so on how feedback to applicants is handled. Having a selection process enhances the value the individual perceives from the programme and also enhances feelings of self-awareness, confidence and motivation to perform well, for successful applicants.
Where applicants are unsuccessful, transparency of the process and the provision of constructive feedback is crucial in turning a potentially demoralising experience into an opportunity to learn and increase their chances for next time. If feedback is not handled with care and individuals are left with concerns around their career opportunities, they may well start looking for alternatives outside the organisation.
“Having a selection process enhances the value the individual perceives from the programme and also enhances feelings of self-awareness, confidence and motivation…”
Informal development opportunities are favoured over more formal, traditional ones
When asked to place a value on development opportunities, our respondents gave the highest ratings to less structured, more individually-based development opportunities focused on personal reflection and self awareness. They favoured exposure and access to the most senior members of the organisation, opportunities to experience new and diverse roles, coaching and mentoring over more formal development opportunities like training sessions. Since these informal measures do not cost much to implement, this finding suggests that talent management may be more affordable than many life sciences organisations suppose.
Participants on talent programmes appreciate the opportunity to network with other high performing individuals within the programme. This networking creates a community which some respondents identified as the most valuable part of the programme from a personal perspective.
Putting HR in charge
Even where support for talent management at the top of the organisation is strong, business support across divisions and between line managers appears to be inconsistent. Several participants felt that support within the business fell short when it came to providing opportunities and maximising the potential of the talent pool. They suggested that this undermined the value of the programme for participants.
“Even those who are not part of the programme feel increased commitment in return for their organisation’s investment in talent…”
The study revealed a major opportunity for HR to make a difference here. It is, of course, important that talent programmes are sponsored by the business, and in particular that senior executives are visibly involved. However, where HR is seen as centrally owning talent development activity, this perception positively affects how well the programme is run, and its effectiveness in the business. Many of our respondents felt that HR provided invaluable support in raising the credibility of the programme, in keeping momentum going and in retaining consistency.
The Capgemini/CIPD study supports life science executives’ belief that talent management is a vital tool in maintaining the engagement of employees through difficult times. Even those who are not part of the programme feel increased commitment in return for their organisation’s investment in talent, and individuals and company alike benefit from the networks that develop. Since informal initiatives such as mentoring are preferred to more expensive formal ones, the level of investment need not be excessive.
However, even boardroom commitment does not seem to be enough to secure organisation-wide commitment to a talent programme. It is time for HR to lead the way and work with the business to remove obstacles that limit the positive impact of talent management interventions.
About the author:
Mark Holliday is Managing Consultant in Capgemini Consulting’s Life Sciences Practice. Capgemini is a leading global provider of management consulting, technology and outsourcing services to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical devices industries. Established in 1993, the team globally includes 200 strategy and transformation experts who concentrate on this industry, plus an affiliated network of 2,500 consultants with significant experience.
For more information please visit www.capgemini.com/services-and-solutions/by-industry/life-sciences/overview/ or contact Mark Holliday on +44 (0)870 904 5815– firstname.lastname@example.org
Is it time for HR to take control of talent management?