Workforce: The People Puzzle - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Workforce: The People Puzzle
How do you find employees that are the right fit and keep them in the picture? Get involved, get visible, and be patient.


Pharmaceutical Executive


Retaining winners has many advantages, from leveraging the ability of stars to raise the performance levels of those around them to neutralizing the threat of having your crème de la crème siphoned off by competitors. Chances are, if you've noticed a stand-out performer on your team, the competition has too.

Never underestimate the power of location envy. It is easy to overlook the importance of location in employee retention. "In the pharmaceutical industry, the New Jersey area is the place to be," says Engle. "Since we're in [San Francisco's] North Bay, we have to work even harder to attract and keep top people."

The fact that one of the nation's most desirable areas is considered pharma-Siberia should give executives a clue about how far outside the box they have to think to retain performance stars.

Cash isn't necessarily king in abating the challenge of employee churn. "All of us do benchmarking right now," explains Reinhardt. "We know what the overall compensation levels in the industry are. Everyone is more or less in the same ballpark, so financial reward isn't a significant issue."

As a result, employees take unique, qualitative variables into account when sizing up an organization. "The long-term prospects of a company are extremely important for highly talented people," says Reinhardt. "Perhaps the number-one factor is pipeline and growth." He tosses out some questions that critically thinking employees ask about organizations: "Are you growing only the R&D sector or the whole company? What's the company's overall reputation for groundbreaking science? How is the organization's reputation for innovation?" Asking these questions about your organization—before your top performers do—could be of significant value in retaining your best and brightest.

Talented high achievers typically favor clear, measurable performance goals. At Novartis, exec team up with subordinates in the company to create individual "personal development plans." Each employee sits down with his or her direct report to define exactly what is needed for the employee to grow. Adds Reinhardt, "Together, they also define what potential next steps or positions might be right." By listening to the needs and hopes of employees, the organization can create a career track likely to keep the most ambitious and productive workers engaged long term.

Engle points to his company's rigorous management-by-objectives plan as an important retention tool. Every year, Engle and his senior executives establish the top-five goals for the entire organization. Each member of the senior team then sets a personal five-point agenda for his or her segment of the organization. These agendas align with achieving the organization's five overall goals. In turn, every direct report under each member of the senior team then sets a five-point agenda that aligns with the level above. Such top-to-bottom alignment creates a clear, objective way to drive the business and evaluate performance.

Engle believes that this cascading alignment of objectives is key to retention: "At the end of the year, when we review who has met their goals, the performers know how well they've done. So does management."

It also helps to deploy resources in an era of fast-paced change. As Engle explains, "The alignment process becomes extremely valuable if the company has to take a 'detour' to reach its destination.... Everyone stays on the same page."

Which brings us to the most vital part of both of these retention-aimed initiatives: hands-on leadership. Genomic Health's Popovits begins to engage new hires as soon as they walk in the door. At her organization, every prospective employee is interviewed by a member of the executive management team. Popovits isn't exaggerating: She recently interviewed the person who will be responsible for managing incoming samples to her company's reference laboratory.

The company also holds new-employee breakfasts, and each month Popovits and Genomic Health's CEO meet with all employees who have an anniversary with the company during that month. Concludes Popovits, "It's the best way to protect a special culture and ensure we keep the bar high as we move through a critical growth phase."


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