Article contributed to PharmaLeaders and authored by: Beth Doladee, M.A., M.B.A., Managing Consultant and Neelima Paranjpey, Ph.D., Managing Consultant, The Vaya Group
Today’s highly dynamic, fast-paced pharmaceutical industry requires knowledge preservation and leaders who understand these unique challenges. This means developing leadership from within, to preserve intellectual capital and ensure the right skills are in place. However, the prevalent shift to remote work as a result of the pandemic has prompted companies to adopt a new approach to cultivating emerging leaders. We detail five best practices that can help industry executives harness the talent and skills of their own workforce to prime their organization for future success.
New Challenges Emerge
The global pharmaceutical industry is traditionally a sales-driven, competitive environment with pressure to continually research, develop and innovate. Pharma leaders are pressed to drive profitability in the face of unpredictable market demands and an ever-changing regulatory environment. Accurate demand forecasting, shifting customer behavior, fluctuating pricing structures, quality control and risk management plague the pharmaceutical industry.1
Executives also have to deal with fundamental changes to pharma operations as a result of the pandemic, including supply chain and production shifts, the likelihood of government regulatory adjustments and the acceleration of workforce agility initiatives.2 A more widely distributed, remote workforce has posed additional challenges. Whether employees are working from home or practicing social distancing (i.e., 10+ feet apart in the lab), pharma companies need to look at how to engage and continue to develop valued workers.
Finally, pharma leaders face significant industry disruptors, among them being new product modalities, digitization and advanced analytics. Such disruptors have already created a skill mismatch in more than 80 percent of pharma manufacturing companies. Less than 40 percent of pharma companies have scaled-up solutions to deal with industry disruptions.3 That’s worrisome given an estimated 50 percent of existing work activities in the pharmaceutical industry could be automated, and in 10 years more than 90,000 jobs could disappear.3
The Drive to Upskill an Existing Workforce
The confluence of these challenges has driven an increasing need for today’s pharmaceutical companies to redefine skills and develop talent from within. The ability to identify emerging leaders and equip them with the skills necessary to overcome future challenges could help pharma organizations realize significant ROI while simultaneously increasing employee engagement and confidence.
As a result, the need to grow leadership talent to navigate the next frontier has become mission critical. How can pharma executives successfully lead in times of uncertainty, while ensuring that employees are developed, retained, and productive? And what skills are necessary in order for emerging leaders to thrive?
5 Steps to Advancing Leadership from Within
From our years of experience coaching and developing tomorrow’s leaders, including over 25 years working with pharma companies, we’ve developed the following best practices to help pharma executives upskill their teams:
- Objectively assess your best assets. First and foremost, commit to making an investment in the backbone of your business – your human capital. Without the right minds powering innovation, your company is ill-prepared to address emerging opportunities and leapfrog the competition. Routinely take stock of your employees to identify emerging leaders early. This requires an objective, unbiased assessment – optimally performed by a third party – that evaluates both hard and soft skills as well as future leadership potential. It delves beyond the obvious and eliminates gender, ethnicity, age, and other biases from the talent pool. Only then can you get an honest, accurate picture of who can help propel your pharma organization to the next level.
- Eliminate one-size-fits all development. As pharma companies develop leadership talent, it’s important to fill the individualization gap. Once high potential (HiPo) candidates are identified through a credible assessment process, personalized talent development should begin sooner versus later. One-size-fits-all leadership development programs are not very effective. Instead, there should be a more tailored approach, which can help employees develop new habits based on unique learning needs. Leadership training should be also be highly engaging, interactive and focused on building the skills that can make the greatest impact.
- Foster a balanced skill set. A successful development experience takes into account the need for pharma leaders to cultivate a healthy balance of hard skills like performance, analytics, and technical acumen, with soft skills such as empathy, team collaboration, and communication. In the pharma industry, R&D scientist don’t operate in a vacuum. They must feel more comfortable presenting to multiple lines of business stakeholders. Just as sales leaders need to be confident when discussing highly technical product innovations in order to be viewed credibly.
- Enable anytime, anywhere instruction. Today’s just-in-time leadership development must cater to an increasingly distributed pharma workforce. Fortunately, new digital platforms make it convenient for your emerging leaders to access leadership training anytime and anywhere, with built-in accountability to measure progress. First, look for solutions that offer self-paced, level-specific content and exercises that promote individualized learning experiences. Second, make sure that your training supports active user engagement, offers progress assessments and has the ability to measure results. Third, find a platform that engages active manager involvement, live coaching and peer-to-peer interaction. Creating a sense of community is essential to unifying virtual employees, building loyalty and helping to retain leaders.
- Look to neuroscience. To quickly upskill talent, we find that many healthcare clients are looking for more effective ways to help employees learn new skills in a shorter period of time. Pharma companies should consider a neuroscience-based learning approach to leadership and talent development. This means that HiPo employees are trained by using principles designed to form new, long-lasting habits and optimize skills retention in typical workplace situations. Neuroscience leverages a “practice, reflect, refine” methodology that allows individuals to singularly focus on developing one skill at a time, which leads to better assimilation and retention of information. They take these learnings and then apply them to real-world scenarios so that they can test their newly developing skills and receive feedback. Reflecting on that input helps emerging leaders to make the necessary modifications to refine and perfect that skill before moving onto the next.
Final Thoughts: Modern Tools Make for Future Leaders
Developing new leaders is a process. One that takes dedication, patience, practice, and discipline, especially when daily work priorities often compete with development initiatives. That’s why it’s important that managers actively guide team members to focus on leadership development. Upskilling talent in the current pharma industry requires interaction and motivation. Today’s HiPo candidates are tomorrow’s leaders. The pharma companies poised to succeed are those that make their internal workforce a priority. Just-in-time leadership development is one proven way to ensure individuals are well equipped to be effective innovators, communicators and collaborators.
For more information about pharma leadership assessment and development programs, please visit www.vayapath.com.
1 “Major Challenges in Pharmaceutical Industry and How to Overcome Them,” Business Wire, July 2020, https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200609005518/en/Major-Challenges-in-Pharmaceutical-Industry-and-How-to-Overcome-them-Learn-More-in-Quantzig%E2%80%99s-Recent-Article
2 “Pharma Operations: The Path to Recovery and the Next Normal,” McKinsey, May 2020, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/pharmaceuticals-and-medical-products/our-insights/pharma-operations-the-path-to-recovery-and-the-next-normal
3 “Pharma Operations: Creating the Workforce of the Future,” McKinsey, April 2020, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/pharmaceuticals-and-medical-products/our-insights/pharma-operations-creating-the-workforce-of-the-future