HOW TO MITIGATE TALENT SHORTAGES IN LIFE SCIENCES - SHORT AND LONG TERM.
Let's get down to solution talk - short term and long term - rather than spending editorial space on a long introductory piece on the talent shortage issues facing the Life Sciences industry.
Being an executive search firm focused exclusively on the Life Sciences industry, we are privileged at Albright Partners to gain first hand insight into the many challenges facing Life Sciences companies in the Nordic region and abroad. From our dialogues with our clients, it is evident that todays number one obstacle to growth in the Life Sciences industry is talent shortage. And not just talent shortage in QA, RA and Market Access, as has been the case up until recently, but across most line-of-business functions. So what is the solution? How can the Life Sciences industry mitigate this devastating talent shortage?
SHORT TERM SOLUTIONS TO MITIGATING THE TALENT SHORTAGE IN LIFE SCIENCES
1. MOBILITY & FLEXIBILITY
Until the political system truly starts taking the talent shortage challenge seriously, you need to act, and act now. The first place to look is at your current operating model.
You need to take a quick and critical look at your current operating model - what are the current capabilities (people), systems, processes and structures in place in your organization to support your business strategy execution? Are they currently aiding or limiting your ability to work more effectively?
So, what should you concretely do:
Leverage transferable capabilities. Make a capability gap analysis. Identify skills set that are more easily transferable and train them in developing the relevant skills in the area within which you have a talent shortage. Fore instance, design control people in your R&D department could potentially make a (relatively) quick switch - periodically - to e.g. QA Design Assurance or QA Operations or RA functional areas that may be experiencing a serious talent shortage. Why? Because they are already working in close collaboration with people from those areas and are delivering much of the documentation and some of the work processes that they are supporting. The transition complexity is relatively low and intense training in the short run may do the trick.
Leverage digital mobility. Do you have skilled workers at other sites - globally or locally? Switch them - periodically - to take on roles and tasks in a challenged area, but first make sure you have a strong digital infrastructure in place. This is key because, even though you should also pursue leveraging physical mobility between sites - Corona is still standing in the way of moving people to your challenged location and you can come a long way with digital means.
2. INCENTIVIZATION & LEADERSHIP
Incentivize employees to go the extra mile. You are in the middle of the storm and now it's time for the leadership to step up. Show the way. Create a working environment that speaks to the higher purpose. Strong and engaging leaders and freedom to incentivize employees at their discretion (within clear corporate boundaries) will be key to move forward in the short term. You should consider both monetary incentives, increased flexibility and educational incentives a.o.). If you are too bogged down in the longer term consequences of creating extra-ordinary incentives, you will probably move too late. Explain to the employees that these are unique times that call for extra-ordinary short term solutions (in addition to other long term solutions), and that they are offered unique incentives in recognition of their dedicated support in times of difficulty.
3. SHORT TERM RECRUITMENT SUPPORT
By now, you are mobilizing "all men on deck" in the organization to support you in recruiting the staff you need. Your internal recruiters are swamped in work. You are asking your employees to help identify relevant candidates and you are even asking them to actively reach out to their network on your behalf. This is all fine and great. But it's not enough. You need external support. Why? Because the challenge is not finding the right employees, the challenge is to actually getting them to move jobs. You need help from people who knows the industry inside and out and who can help say the right things to motivate the candidates to move to your company.
Employees are enjoying the flexibility and trust from their current employer accumulated from 18 months of working from home with continued good productivity. As a result, many employees are reluctant to change employer as they feel insecure whether or not they can attain the same level of trust and flexibility as they are currently enjoying. Having said that, we are also beginning to experience some increased openness to change employer as employees are becoming less attached, less loyal to their company as a result of being physically detached from the company's site (we will talk more about this later in the article).
Finally, and as mentioned previously, you need to give your entire operating model a quick run through to identify quick fixes - i.e. identify gaps and non-optimal elements in the current way you structure work and exploit capabilities in the organization. Is it perhaps better to periodically instal a network-based organizational structure that can better support key projects? Moreover, take a look at the current processes framing the way you work - do they help or limit you in dealing with your short term challenges? Are they agile enough? Finally, you need to take a hard look at the systems supporting the organization. Are the current systems agile enough? Do they support your way of working? Are they fore instance supporting the sales team with the necessary digital/omnichannel communication tools so they allow the sales team to create impact with their Health Care Professionals (HCP's).
4. ORGANIZATIONAL SET-UP
Classical organizational structures no longer suffice when solving short term talent shortages in todays hybrid work models combining working from home and in-office presence. As a result, many companies have successfully embraced more agile, fluid and network-based organizational structures including the introduction of "mission teams" that are formed under e.g. a project or core team and designated to solve specific underlying tasks. Mission teams bring people closer together increasing loyalty to the team and consequently to the company. Fore instance, smaller team structures, such as mission teams, that are dependent on being able to operate partly or wholly virtually, can be a great format when e.g. innovation or "finding new ways" on a narrow/specific problem are on the agenda requiring close interactive sparring.
There are many other short term initiatives that one must consider to improve the current talent shortage. However, the bottom line is that either the current operating model is supporting you in your short term solutions or you need to make the necessary changes to the model if you are to improve the situation - here and now.
So, what about the more long term solutions?
LONG TERM SOLUTIONS TO MITIGATING THE TALENT SHORTAGE IN LIFE SCIENCES
In our experience, retention principles engulf some of the key long term tools to solving the talent shortage - including:
1. CREATING AN EMPLOYEE CENTRED ENVIRONMENT
Send a clear message that your employees are important. This involves making employees feel valued and requires an open and flexible workplace that contributes to work-life balance. Today’s employees simply want time to enjoy life beyond work. Moreover, make sure you build strong employee value propositions - why should they come work for you or stay with you?
2. EMPOWERING YOUR TEAM
Allow employees to take full ownership of his or her own responsibilities and make sure you truly use their talent and skills in the workplace.
3. PROVIDING EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP & SUPERVISION
People leave managers and supervisors more often than they leave companies or jobs. The supervisor has a critical role to play in retention, starting with setting a clear purpose, direction and expectations of the employee.
The most frequent employee complaints that I hear are:
Lack of clarity about expectations
Lack of transparency
Lack of feedback about performance
Failure to hold scheduled meetings
Failure to provide a framework within which the employee perceives he or she can succeed
4. PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR DEVELOPMENT
When asked what a boss could do more of, the general feedback from employees are: 1) make use my skills and abilities and 2) encourage my development.
5. MAKING EMPLOYEES FEEL REWARDED, RECOGNIZED AND APPRECIATED
Employees in Life Sciences want to make a difference and be recognised for their contribution. Whether one likes it or not, increased competition for the best people also means that the scales have shifted in favor of the individual, with a move away from benefit packages that are based solely on pay, within prescribed bands, to reward systems that can be tailored to the needs of each individual within an organisation.
6. IMPLEMENTING LOYALTY INITIATIVES
Post Covid-19, we are now coming out of 18 months of working from home. Currently, companies are implementing hybrid work models introducing in-office solutions removing "fixed office" slots for their employees and replacing it with fluid, "non-fixed office" slots at their sites. All put together, studies indicate a clear decrease in organisational commitment from employees who have gained a new perspective on what’s truly important to them. Employees no longer define themselves as much through their jobs as they used to and are hence less emotionally attached to their employer, resulting in reduced loyalty and an increased openness towards joining a new employer. Out of sight, out of mind. Moreover, many employees are currently being distracted with home improvement projects and day trading activities or like started up during the lock-down. Hence, leaders need to implement loyalty initiatives to retain and engage their employees. They need to acknowledge that a close connection between the employee and the work place needs to be re-established. Not in the traditional sense, as in every day at the office. But through the creation of creative spaces and physical connectivity platforms promoting the ability to sparre with your colleagues and to take part in creative sessions where it is possible to build on each others ideas and think both in- and outside the box. Finally, leaders need to communicate more with their employees and turn-up the "why" conversation continuously reminding employees of the purpose of the company, their work and their role.
In addition, you should also look to have a clear focus on your employer brand and future recruitment strategies:
KEEP YOUR EMPLOYER BRAND STRONG
A respected employer brand can help you win the war for talent. Are you known for treating your employees well? For investing in your employees etc.? This and other elements can be key to your ability to attract key talent.
RECRUIT FOR THE FUTURE
You need to make sure that your organization is strategically aligned to the business of the future, and that you map your business-critical talent analyzing where potential skill gaps exist while building a long term strategy enabling you to better recruit the right talent and transfer expertise when needed.
If you employ the above short and long term strategies combined with a strong focus on your employer brand while being prepared to promote an adaptable organisation responding to the future of work being more networked, mobile, project-based, and fluid, there is a high probability that you will be one of the winners in the war for talent in the Life Sciences industry.