Raising Renaissance Managers - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Raising Renaissance Managers
Talent management strategies help groom tomorrow's leaders


Pharmaceutical Executive


Before people are promoted into positions as institutional managers, they should master 50 to 75 percent of the competencies required in such a position. First, they need to succeed in roles where they are accountable for basic building blocks in the management skill-set, such as:

  • Setting and articulating a business strategy
  • Financial oversight, including management of P&L
  • Analyzing and solving complex business problems in various situations
  • Long-term planning
  • Cross-functional or cross-unit coordination
  • Global aspects of the business
  • Influencing and getting buy-in from more senior levels of management
  • Staffing and managing an executive team.

The best jobs for providing these experiences cut across the organization and force people to leave their functional silos. Unless they are moved through roles that require this skill set, people come to senior management positions with depth—but no breadth. They are unable to add value outside of familiar terrain. Jobs in product development, global marketing, branding, and franchise/portfolio management are all examples of positions that can provide cross-functional experience and broad business perspective.

Consider, for example, how a person responsible for a therapeutic area is required to run it like a small business—from managing the P&L on a daily basis to coordinating input from clinical, medical, and regulatory departments. The area manager must develop a long-term strategy, present and sell that strategy, and be accountable for global results. People in such roles learn what questions they should be asking in order to make sound decisions and set new directions. From there, they can move to managing larger therapeutic or geographic areas with a broader scope.

The catch is, in most pharmaceutical companies there aren't enough of these positions to go around. Companies must either cycle people through them fairly quickly, perhaps in two-year rotations, or they must manufacture other similar experiences. Assigning people to special task forces or internal initiatives can give high-potentials the opportunity to forge relationships with people in a wide variety of functions across the company. For example, twice each year one of the major pharmaceutical companies assigns 18 high-potential employees to spend six weeks addressing a strategic business issue.

Pharmaceutical employers have created a talent gap by relying too heavily on coaching and training. To nurture the next generation of leaders, companies must shift their focus to providing the foundational experiences that future general managers need. Once they begin to view talent development in terms of actively accelerating and auditing an individual's experience, the mission changes from training the next generation to finding the right position to foster future growth. The question on every manager's mind should be: "Who are my high potentials, and how am I going to prepare them for the next big role?"

Accepting Responsibility for the Next Generation Finally, closing the talent gap requires pharma to alter a mindset that pervades all of corporate culture. When an employee fails at any point along the way, managers usually are not viewed as personally responsible. Companies blame the poor performer rather than the bosses who hired him and were expected to assess, train, and develop him. When managers begin to be held accountable for the success of their top hires, organizations will enjoy much more management continuity. But top leaders will have to add yet another layer of responsibilities: assessing potential, socializing newcomers, setting expectations, rewarding desired behaviors, and advancing people successfully.

The pharma industry has the knowledge to make and carry out long-term strategic plans. Every company in the industry can plan the launch of a product 15 years into the future. In fact, any failed launch would spark an investigation into its planning and preparations. Ironically, the same industry has been unable to plan its own leadership a decade in advance. Pharma finds itself unprepared in one of the most crucial aspects of the business. But if the same thoroughness, resourcefulness, and innovation that shapes product operations is brought to bear on pharma's management talent gap, future generations will be in good hands.

Ian Wilcox is vice president and pharmaceutical sector leader at the Hay Group. He can be reached at


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