Pharmaceutical companies have widely adopted strategies to outsource elements of their business operations, as part of an ongoing drive to deliver a more flexible model that unlocks cost efficiencies and alleviates some aspects of risk associated with drug development.

Recruiting talent is one such element. However, pharma companies should be wary of saving on recruitment at the risk of missing out on the best candidates, particularly when it comes to senior staff. Director of Interims of RSA, Dafydd Wright explains.

Volume recruitment relies on reducing risk through the use of IT systems and (often) subcontracted manpower to drive candidate attrition. Bespoke hiring at executive level uses a relationship-driven, knowledge and networking-led approach.

The emergence of the Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) provider field has seen a downward shift in the quality of the talent acquisition process, often criticized by expert recruiters and candidates alike, because RPO services are first designed to drive down cost per hire without addressing how quality of hire will be maintained or improved in the new process.

Pharmaceutical companies have an opportunity to address this to their own competitive benefit through demanding the utmost from their RPO provider to adopt a balanced approach to talent acquisition. This will require greater visibility on which subcontracted recruiting firms the RPO will seek to engage with downstream – and pharma clients need to drive home a pharmaceutical industry message that there is an expectation of working with expert recruiters as well as volume recruiters within the service model. This will benefit all levels of the hiring process, including interim management, drive better PR understanding of the hiring organization’s key qualities, leave successful and unsuccessful candidates alike with a sense of satisfaction beyond the process, and create a talent pull that will drive future hiring programs. Critically, pressure for this change is coming from the interim executive community of candidates and providers.

Understanding client needs

Interim executive firms are not designed to – and simply do not want to – wade through mountains of job vacancies to identify the one relevant and available interim role. Neither do they want to sign up to preferred supplier agreements constructed for high volume business models. Therefore they avoid positioning their services alongside the 50 or more recruitment firms that bear no resemblance to their core services for fear of a branding disaster. Most importantly they do not want to lose sight of what matters – direct discussions with senior management to understand exactly what the client needs from the interim, what success looks like, and how an interim executive will add value. Interim candidates mirror these sentiments; they want relationship-driven outcomes and interesting projects to discuss their skillsets against – something that is lacking in standard RPO setups.

Case study

At present, pharmaceutical industry adoption of the standard RPO model has led to a separation of the suppliers, which fails to add value for all; and ultimately wastes valuable time. Let us examine a pivotal case study.

A medium-sized pharmaceutical organization with a long-term established RPO needed a middle- to senior-management marketing specialist, with projects ranging from pre-launch to lifecycle management. The interim requirement was circulated across 10 to 50 firms registered with the RPO and failed to deliver. The client subsequently engaged with a specialist executive interims firm directly. That firm restarted the discussion, understood the requirements and identified the “right” candidate. A few days later a service agreement was put into effect. Were the specialists at the executive interims firm just better at finding good candidates? Not in this case.

Ironically, the “right person” had already been contacted for this project and submitted to the client under the RPO. However, under the volume process, the client had declined interest in the candidate. When asked why, they said the sub-supplier feedback had been sparse and incorrect representations had been made for the candidate. In contrast, the executive interims firm was able to rapidly get this individual in front of the client, with the right message of endorsement.

Had the RPO process allowed for person-to-person communication, as opposed to an IT-led system, they would have been directed to the right person at the right time, with the right outcome for the client and for the RPO. This example demonstrates fundamental differences in strategy to access top-tier talent. Business-critical solutions that rely on interim executive services only through mainstream RPOs are often doomed to failure; and when RPO providers address key performance indicators (KPIs) with their clients, these failings are easily lost in the volume of everyday recruiting metrics. Pharmaceutical businesses must instruct their RPOs to consider engaging specialists, for their own benefit and for those of their client.

Understanding interim executives

A voice of choice is emerging from the interim executive community and this is as encouraging as it is concerning. Online forums are rife with gripes about volume-led/RPO approaches. Ask any interim candidate how appreciated they feel when the first question tabled is one of price; or when they are rejected at the first hurdle because the dialogue centers on, “But my client’s maximum rate is…[not enough]”.

One recent conversation with an executive level interim candidate centered on the fact they simply did not wish to be represented by a recruiting firm whose brand was more aligned to volume recruiting and that relied on weekly timesheet reporting requirements that were built for unskilled or semi-skilled use.

Interim executives take immense pride in the services they deliver, whom they deliver them to and the types of projects they see as attractive. They naturally seek commercial terms that reflect the value they will provide. So the service approach should be to understand the services an interim is prepared to deliver, the skills they bring, and how the value adds up against their proposed rate – which is often something that cannot be defined until a first meeting (post-endorsement) with the client and is not something the standard RPO model can bring to their pharmaceutical clients. Interim executives appreciate honest and knowledgeable discussions on behalf of pharmaceutical clients, and when using qualified interim executive partners, pharmaceutical clients will see an uplift in quality and hence value, represented overall as better hits on target and a reduction in time to engage.

Informed decision-making is about choice through excellent market intelligence. The pharmaceutical industry is in an ideal position to engage in proactive communication with their current and future RPO providers to require inclusion of specialist firms alongside generalists, as there is strength in variety. There will be differences in how to engage the two, but the model will evolve through client demand, pushing for value-led conversations between specialist recruiters and RPO firms to create valuable outcomes for all involved.

Article published in The Pharma Letter

Share this: