In today’s highly competitive life sciences industry, a critical success factor for executives is to fully understand the talent they have within their business and how best to organise and supplement it for the future. Executive Chairman of RSA, Nick Stephens, draws on new industry research to explain how the active management of high potential individuals and leadership development will be the key to success.

With the current economic conditions, it is the ideal time for organisations to execute effective talent management strategies. Most organisations are looking to optimise the performance of existing talent, generate greater efficiencies and reduce costs. We recently undertook a survey of over 200 Life Sciences senior executives and HR Directors and it was no surprise that over 90% of executives identified talent management as a key priority. However, almost three quarters (72%) of their organisations are failing to deliver this in practice, operating without an active strategy in place.

The Life Sciences is an ever changing sector and a trend has emerged over the past three years whereby talent management is less well planned and more ad hoc. Much of this is due to the continuing impact of market change and the double-dip recession. 76% of organisations have undergone an organisational review or restructure in the last 18 months and 93% have reviewed headcount. As the Life Sciences industry rates people as its biggest asset, successfully managing talent and developing leaders remains the HR priority. After all, changes to a business often mean changes to the skills and behaviours that are expected from the staff. Life Sciences executives recognise that improving talent management processes is vital if they want to remain competitive.

Attracting and retaining a skilled workforce is challenging and we discovered the majority of Life Sciences’ companies are still looking externally for talent. Respondents noted that recruitment costs remain stable and over three quarters (77%) used external talent management firms in 2012, with the top reason being a lack of in-house skills (55% of respondents).

Amongst the obstacles to building effective talent management strategies, the survey identified that many organisations focus on identifying and responding to current talent needs and do not address longer-term strategic gaps within the organisation. Companies need to think about the skills the organisation might need in the future and build a pipeline of candidates that will meet this need.

Companies also need to align their HR strategies with their key business objectives and focus on identifying, retaining, developing and engaging talented individuals. The disconnect between concept and reality is also shown by the HR priorities that executives set. 74% saw leadership development as a key aim, but only 56% felt that HR would be focused on this, with areas such as change management (38%) and restructuring (32%) taking up HR’s time. Our survey revealed that respondents found leadership development the most challenging part of talent management, with 17% listing it as their top concern; however it remains the HR priority.

HR professionals will likely face several issues in 2013. Effective talent management will therefore become even more important if the UK manages to stay out of a triple-dip recession. Linking talent management practices with a company’s business, vision and strategy is a top issue for executives and one which needs to be advanced even in the sluggish economy.

In today’s turbulent market, a growing shortage of talent and leadership is imminent and organisations are starting to realise that now is the time to nurture, retain and develop top talent. Our survey revealed that six out of 10 (60%) Life Sciences senior executives felt the industry does not give adequate consideration to retaining top talent; but how is talent retention handled? Nearly three quarters of our respondents (73%) assess top talent through performance related evaluation, with 69% based on line manager’s feedback.

Talent Management is becoming an established process within Life Sciences – just 6% said they were new to it and over a third rated their practice as advanced. According to respondents, the top three elements for professional success in a Life Sciences leader were the qualities of engagement (59%), strategic thinking (48%) and personality (48%).

Managing talent is an ever-changing process, but attracting, retaining and developing top talent remain the key components to achieving success. It will be those companies who learn how to do this most effectively who will prosper in the years ahead.

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