• Estimated read time: 6 mins
  • Date posted:01/07/2019
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The life science industry is amidst a period of radical transformation. For an industry renowned for being at the cutting-edge of science, it was slow to respond to changes brought about by digital technology – Artificial Intelligence (AI), the cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT) to name but a few.

Nowhere is this more evident than across pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities. The advent of biopharmaceuticals – the industries fastest growing subsector – is transforming standard manufacturing process. This and the move from batch to continuous manufacturing practices are driving demand for particular skillets – engineering, data analytics, process development and regulatory affairs across the industry.

Failure to attract and retain this talent is a significant concern among life science executives, as demonstrated by several studies. According to Price Waterhouse Cooper, sixty percent of the sectors CEO’s are concerned by the availability of digital talent, with fifty-seven percent expressing difficulty in engaging and hiring tech talent today. These findings were reflected in a report by Kelly Services, who also highlighted stiff competition for talent tech talent, not just within sector but with other industries across the globe. Senior and leadership positions are particularly challenging to fill.

“Hire right, because the penalties of hiring wrong are huge”

That’s a quote by Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates and king of hedge funds.

It has been proven time and again that the ability to engage and recruit top talent can be the difference between success and failure. According to an Allegis Group report, 80% of businesses cite applicant quality as the biggest challenge in their talent strategy, with 40% reporting it as a “significant” issue.

Finding and securing top talent can give you a competitive edge. The right hire can transform a business; growing the bottom line and developing strategies to ensure its sustainable, perpetual growth.  However, a bad hire, especially at the C-suite level, can jeopardise the future of your organisation.

According to the Harvard Business Review, over 80% of employee turnover can be attributed to poor hiring choices. Making the wrong hire, especially at leadership-level, is a catastrophic waste of business resource (time, money, energy). A bad hire costs the organisation from 50 percent to several hounded percent of an employees salary.

Understandably, human resource (HR) functions are putting in place rigorous processes to help them make informed hiring decisions and mitigate the impact of a bad hire. This begins with internal procedure but might extend to the consideration of appointing an external search partner. Here are 7 reasons why life science organisations choose to retain executive search firms:

1. Time = Money

The executive search process can last 8-12 weeks or more, with 11 weeks being the industry average. The executive search process will typically include:

  • Planning and internal sign-off;
  • Long-listing of candidates;
  • Qualifying and shortlisting;
  • Interviews and reference checks;
  • Job offers and negotiation;

This represents a considerable time commitment when undertaken in-house, diverting the hiring manager and other resources from critical business tasks. Hiring managers are time-poor individuals who must now balance their operational and line-management responsibilities with the need to find and hire a new team member. What business opportunities might be squandered or internal processes compromised as a result of diverting crucial resources from operations to recruitment? While you might be able to recuperate capital, you’ll never make back time. If the cost of a vacant leadership position significantly outweighs the cost of the search, then investing in the services of a retained executive search firm might be a cost-effective solution.

2. Limited Expertise

The quality of long-listing and shortlisting is dependent upon the team members understanding of the role; it’s remit, objectives and significance. It’s not uncommon for employees to have limited experience hiring senior executive roles, as there are naturally fewer senior or middle-management roles to fill compared to more junior or technical positions within an organisation.

If there is a general lack of experience when it comes to conducting executive-level searches, this can manifest itself in:

  • Long-list overload: Hundreds of potential candidates with tenuous fit.
  • Poor-quality shortlist: The wrong candidates brought forward to interview.

Executive search firms are experts in candidate qualification and shortlisting. They will work with you to define the key criteria for success and assess candidates against these criteria before submitting a shortlist of individuals for interview. That way, you can rest assured you are interviewing candidates with the skills, experience and competencies you desire in your new hire.

3. Compromised Resources

Leadership level searches require exponential effort. Not only do they typically last longer then searches for junior staff, but there are more stakeholders involved and an extended sign-off process.

The burden of this extra due-diligence falls on Talent Aquisition (TA) and Human Resources (HR) teams, but do they have the expertise and capacity to deliver? HR departments, in particular, are prone to become overstretched, their remit extending far beyond hiring to encompass activities like employee onboarding, engagement, well-being and compliance with employment law. Many do not have the luxury of a TA outfit to help them out, and even if they do, they may not be a skeleton crew or lack the expertise required to deliver on an executive search.

As a result, hiring processes efficiency can be impacted and excellent candidates lost. With business-critical hires, time is a luxury you do not have. You can’t upskill or expand your TA or HR function to pick up the slack; you need expertise on tap. That’s where specialist executive search firms – with their industry expertise, extended networks and honed processes – deliver value.

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4. High stakes

The greater the roles’ remit, the higher the stakes. Senior management roles that define strategy or implement and optimise process carry a particularly high risk, as decisions made at board, VP or director level can have a lasting legacy on an organisation, for better or worse. Employees look to these leaders for direction; an uninformed decision can have repercussions few could imagine.

Recovering from the blunders brought about by poor leadership will cost an organisation dearly in capital, resources and reputation; a risk no discerning life science organisation can afford. The impact is amplified by the tendency for leaders with a poor cultural or technical fit to make poor hiring decisions of their own, causing a snowball effect throughout the organisation. Conversely, hiring a leader whose values are aligned to the organisation, who is enthused by the mission and has the prerequisite skills, experience and competencies for success can have the opposite effect. 

With such high stakes involved, many life science organisations choose to retain executive search firms to find the best talent; widening their prospective candidate pool from job ad applicants, company referrals and their wider network to high achievers with the necessary skills, experience and competencies to succeed in the role irrespective of their  employment status or locality.

5. Rare skills mix

Leadership-level roles with specialist and niche skills sets are notoriously difficult to fill. Finding the right mix of talent, personality, experience and fit for the organisation can feel like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. These high achievers are highly sought, not just in the life sciences but across similar industries like speciality chemicals, energy, food and manufacturing.

Complicating matters further is the fact that many of the best candidates are full-time employed. If they’re in demand, chances are they have a competitive compensation package and other perks which could be challenging to match. Success in attracting this talent lies in the power of your brand, your willingness to negotiate and the ability of your team to sell the ‘Why’.

Executive search firm are highly experienced in selling the ‘Why’ of your company, most importantly: Why they should join your company and the potential the partnership can have in the future.

6. New or reborn positions

If your new leadership-level hire is a new position or one loosely based on a previous role, but with a substantial change of remit, there is little to serve as a benchmark when determining the skills, experience and competencies required. What does success looks like, what timescales are necessary to achieve it, and how will you know when they’ve accomplished their goals? Likewise, if the previous post holder failed to move the goal posts, or worse still, was a bad hire,  your views of what success looks like could be wildly distorted. Chances are the role will need to be redefined.

Executive search firms, with their expertise in hiring senior roles across your domain, can assist you in determining the skills, experience and competencies necessary for success. They will have likely filled similar executive roles for your competitors and will be able to conduct market mapping exercises to assess the skill and expertise in similar positions to plug the knowledge gap.

7. Confidentiality

Discretion is a prerequisite in executive search when replacing an underperforming executive. Should employees or outsiders get wind of a change in leadership, chaos can ensue.

Internally, only key internal stakeholders and members of the hiring team should be privy to the search. Put simply; you cannot afford to comprise your operational integrity due to internal or external uncertainty about standing or tenure of an influential executive. Not only can it cause rifts internally, but it can dent shareholder confidence and even affect share price.

On a similar note, prospective candidates applying for the position must also trust that you will keep their application history confidential. After all, if they are a good fit for the role, they’ll have a similar standing with their current employer. You don’t want them to withhold their application because of the risk of repercussion. Trust is paramount for all parties involved.

Executive search firms use ethical practices to can conduct searches in a discreet manner without risk of divulging the true identity of your organisation. Prospective candidates are only informed as to the hiring organisations’ identity having signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), and unlike TA or HR, there is no way for the prospective candidate to trace the role back to its source.

Wrapping up

By hiring an executive search firm, you’ve made a commitment to finding and hiring the very best talent. You’ve widened your prospective candidate pool from job ad applicants past and present, company referrals and those in your wider network to high achievers with the necessary skills, experience and competencies to succeed in the role regardless of their employment status or locality. You’ve also invested in tried and tested search and selection methodologies, a team of experts who are experienced in making senior-level hires and crucially, selling your organisations ‘Why’.

For more hiring advice tailored to hiring managers in the life science industry…

* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.