The life sciences industry is in a state of flux. An avalanche of change demands a radical response, redefining and (potentially) confusing the roles that life science companies need their talented people to play and, hence, changing how they should attract, select, train, retain and motivate them.

Change is here

Healthcare costs in the US are approaching 20% of GDP and in socialised systems such as the NHS spending is c.9%. Politically, both are at their upper limit despite ever-growing demand.

  • Payers continue to grind down margins and their desire to pay for real-world outcomes creates demands on the industry to work more closely with patients and providers. Whether it’s online GPs or using diagnostics to select the best therapies, healthcare delivery is changing.
  • Pharma, one of the most regulated sectors in the world, is moving from ‘blockbuster’ mass market products to developing more targeted ones and is shifting focus from the ‘purchaser’ to the ‘consumer’. So we shouldn’t be surprised when it starts to take ideas – and data – from new, unregulated consumer tech products.
  • Innovations in biology, data and devices are enabling new ways of measuring, treating and preventing disease. Regulators, patients, industry and investors are caught in an exhilarating yet disruptive storm.

The response: widen the gene pool

So where should that change begin? It’s much too simple to look at the down-sizing of mega-pharma and expect the victims to line up neatly at the front door and to be ‘tomorrow’s talent’. Evolutionary diversity is the only proven success strategy in changing environments of any kind.  So ‘hiring the same types of people and expecting new and different business strategies’ could be neatly described as insanity. Existing high-quality talent is in limited supply and further ‘in-breeding’ can lead to sterility and failure. The answer then is obvious: widen the gene-pool.

For a forward-looking industry, the life sciences is remarkably conservative, rarely looking ‘outside’ for talent and often trying to ‘home-grow’ its skills. Its opportunity is to look to industries which have overcome similar challenges to those it faces today; in automobiles, retail, finance and energy.

We should do our due diligence on a wider pool of leaders then make ‘investment decisions’ on high-potential people, with a vision for tomorrow rather than those with an eye on the past. Once these people are in place they need to be supported from the top so that they can be positively disruptive.

They need to look at the potential of transformative hires, not the ‘cost’ of hiring; there is no ‘cost’ of hiring, if it is done well it is an investment, if not then it’s a waste! Organisations need to create a compelling employer brand that aligns what they do with what people want to believe they are doing, they need to engage with potential candidates actively and with urgency, always remembering that choice is a two-way process.

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