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There’s no question that the workforce is experiencing an unprecedented turnover, which demonstrates the importance for employees to feel valued among their team members and fulfilled in the work they are doing. This starts and ends with a company culture that embraces authenticity, an appreciation for the employee experience, and a common purpose for solving the world’s most challenging problems. In biotech, the last two years have made this last point an essential reason for why the industry is booming right now. Biotech is experiencing the combination of unprecedented recognition due to COVID, and at the same time, working to develop life-changing products.
This boom for the biotech industry means that companies competing for top talent, but Tessera believes it has the “secret sauce” for why they continue to expand its diverse team in a competitive field. In this Q&A, Bec Lillie, Tessera’s Chief Human Resources Officer, shines a light on how to stay ahead of recruitment efforts and how to cultivate a corporate culture that not only attracts key talent but also helps to maintain it.
Pharm Exec: What has Tessera done this past year to attract top talent in a competitive biotech industry? And how can Tessera’s approach serve as a model for other companies in biotech?
Bec Lillie: Tessera’s mission to bring about a revolution in medicine and working to treat genetic diseases directly at their source gives everyone at the entire company a sense of purpose. It gives our team a reason to believe and daily motivation to continue progressing our gene writing technology, a breakthrough in genomic engineering that has the potential to impact the future of human health and how we treat disease. Many of us working in the biotech field are here because we want to be a part of something inspirational that can leave a lasting impact on the world so emerging and novel science that is being applied for therapeutics benefit can be a main driver in recruitment.
Strong leadership is another factor that can play a role in helping employee recruitment and retention. In this regard, we have been working to expand our executive roster, continuing to bring on experienced leaders to guide the company to preclinical development, and in fact since January 1, 2021, we have expanded our total employee headcount by 72 percent. But most importantly, we’ve zeroed in on how to communicate our exciting technology to prospective talent: through the testimonials of our employees. By emphasizing the importance of company culture in a world continuing to work remotely, we are building a community that can speak to the perks of working at a company like Tessera.
Similar to any business or organization, forming and maintaining relationships with key stakeholders is integral to Tessera’s growth and the future growth of our entire industry. Tessera has continued to form strategic partnerships, recently with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF), to develop medicines with the capability to write and edit the genetic codes that cause cystic fibrosis using our novel Gene Writing™ platform.
What components in the biotech space create a robust and successful company culture — a culture that would help recruit the best talent?
The biotech industry is naturally a very competitive environment, partly because of the incredible talent in our field. Our culture is driven by our core values and from the diverse perspectives of our employees. This results in us remaining agile so we can continuously evolve our culture, not just for recruitment purposes, but also to ensure that existing employees feel appreciated and recognized for their ongoing stellar contributions. Our culture helps us produce a rich talent pipeline as Tessera continues to grow. We want potential applicants to understand who we are and how we work just by glancing through our digital properties (website, social channels, etc.). Showcasing our team in social media campaigns is also an essential way for a company to recognize its employees’ accomplishments and their work. This external promotion can help give prospective employees a sneak peek at what it would be like to work at the company and envision themselves working in a similar atmosphere.
This year, and as the pandemic continues, what role will culture play in recruiting the best talent in biotech?
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made recruiting in an already competitive industry more challenging. However, remote working has presented biotech with an excellent opportunity to build on and communicate the company’s workplace culture. In this ongoing shifting environment from virtual to hybrid and in-person, employees want to feel connected to their workplace and colleagues from no matter where they are working. We have made some simple adjustments to the way we work to create equality across all of our employees regardless of their physical location as well as providing employees with flexibility. For example, if you are in the office, everyone still zooms in to create that sense that we are all together.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, new employees are oftentimes onboarding to their new roles virtually. Does this complicate how a new employee perceives company culture? And how can biotech companies best ensure company culture is maintained when virtual onboarding is still the norm?
It’s important to recognize that every new employee approaches onboarding differently, and some do struggle to adjust to a new job without having the opportunity to meet their teams in-person. If essentially the first test for the employee to see if their new company is truly a people-first organization. The easiest thing biotech companies can do to make their team feel supported is by regularly checking in, but in a way that feels conversational and organic rather than a manic mico-manager. This could be as simple as asking how are they adjusting to their new role? What excites them about the job? What concerns do they have? What can we do as leaders to best help them navigate a virtual position? If employees feel supported and comfortable engaging in these conversational check-ins, we are simultaneously honoring and building on our culture by prioritizing the wellness of our team. We also find it equally important to ensure that all team members feel they are part of the innovation that we’re working to achieve at Tessera. We believe that every employee plays an integral part in the work we are doing.
How do you continue to stay on the edge of the biotech industry?
I like to do my homework and stay up-to-date on the hiring and workplace trends for the biotech industry. I also take advantage of the many online networking groups such as the HR Policy Organization and some local ones like Boston Area CHRO Group sponsored by Spencer Stuart, and the Boston HR Council. In addition, a lot of great publications on trends come out in the Harvard Business Review, through the HR50 organization and Deloitte Human Capital report. However, what’s most important to me are the voices of our employees.I strongly believe that the culture and experience at Tessera should be driven by the employees.We solicit feedback from our employees on a regular basis to ensure that we are evolving to align with their needs. This includes everything from our onboarding practices, to growth and development opportunities, and to having fun and bonding as a Tessera community.