Last week RSA attended LEAP HR: Life Sciences in Boston, Massachusetts. From past experience we were expecting a high value event and we were not disappointed. The conference featured high level debates and discussions between life science HR directors, primarily from biotech but there were also a handful from pharma and CRO companies.

What was on the agenda?

Discussions focused around what is required for HR to have maximum impact in a life science company. Noticeably, a very clear distinction emerged between the HR directions of Pharma and biotech companies.  Understandably, big pharma is more reliant on detailed processes whereas smaller biotechs are pursuing more hands on, less policy driven hiring procedures, basing their decisions on common sense and the current needs of the company. It’s critical to recognise that just because a strategy works for big pharma, it doesn’t mean it will work for a small biotech. HR directors can’t just sit back and wait for their policies to drop the right candidate in their lap.

Due diligence is still key

That said, biotechs can’t rush or ignore due diligence. In such a fast moving space, it may be tempting to fill a position as quickly as possible, but a mistake can be very costly in both time and resources. The extra couple of weeks required for sufficient due diligence is a price well worth paying to make sure you get talent best suited to your needs. Due diligence is something RSA has always championed, and if anything it’s even more important for small biotech, where a costly mistake may be more difficult to absorb.

Agile Biotech

Also reflecting the needs of this fast moving sector, discussions at LEAP HR covered the importance placed on creative thinking and how to drive innovation within companies. As before, pharma’s usual tactics aren’t always appropriate for small, agile biotechs. What biotechs need instead of just a weighty, inflexible annual review is a culture of constant communication.  That way companies can really encourage growth and creativity among their team. Not only does this help biotechs innovate and respond to a changing market, but it helps boost retention of the top talent you’ve gone to such effort hiring. Some HR directors are even discarding annual appraisals all together, change simply happens too fast for them for an annual appraisal to be meaningful.

Finally, if you work in life science HR you should seriously consider attending next year’s event. There’s a lot of insight to be shared with the world’s life science HR thought leaders, and a lot of value to be gained.

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