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Pharma Needs to Look Internally for New Leadership

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-12-01-2022
Volume 42
Issue 12

Companies should search within to gain talent edge.

As the war for talent continues, most leaders in the pharma industry are looking for ways to secure the best talent. The issue isn’t simply attracting new workers, however; it’s also ensuring that the current employees don’t leave. It is a constant fear and struggle for many that a department that had been running smoothly will suddenly fall into chaos with the unexpected departure of an important team member.

Leslie Loveless, CEO of Slone Partners, a life science recruiting firm, explains in an interview with Pharmaceutical Executive how drugmakers are feeling the heat from the war for talent, especially in the c-suite.

“One of the ongoing conversations I’m having once or twice a week is someone saying, ‘Well, it has to be getting easier in terms of hiring because there’s been quite a bit of downsizing and layoffs this year,’” says Loveless. “The reality is—although you can see in the news that a company is cutting back up to 50% of its workforce—what you don’t see is that those cuts are not happening in the c-suite. The demand for talent at the top levels in an organization is as tight [or tighter] than ever.”

According to Loveless, many recruiters for high-level positions are looking at the same people. This brought up another issue; there may be a lot of diversity among workers in the life sciences and healthcare, but leadership roles remain stubbornly homogeneous.

To combat these issues, companies need to start looking internally. While it’s true in most businesses that promoting from within can be a better option than hiring externally, it’s especially true for life sciences companies. These organizations require professional staff who can both understand the science as well as the business side of the company, especially in leadership roles. Those can be hard roles to fill.

To that end, companies can benefit from identifying key people internally and then building them a solid career path. Since individuals already working within the organization have a proven track record and understand and contribute to the culture, it’s worth it to take the extra time to train them to take on leadership roles.

“It’s about building the bench and making sure that every single time you need to hire someone for leadership, you don’t have to go outside because you have people internally who have been groomed for that next stage of growth in that organization,” explains Loveless. “They understand who the company is, they are believers in the story, and [they] will be a great part of the success going forward.”

Building these career paths requires companies to take notice of their employees’ needs and areas where they can improve. It’s important for management to discuss with their direct reports where they want to be in three to five years and make sure those goals align with how the company foresees those employees’ career development paths. That way, managers can start training employees in the areas where they need improvement so that by the time a position opens up, that person is ready to step into it.

There are also practical reasons why companies want to focus on their employees’ career plans and paths. Employees may feel less likely to look for positions on the outside if they feel they have a solid plan for advancement at their current job. They may also be less likely to be interested in offers that may come their way.

Loveless stresses that there are times when it is necessary to hire externally, especially for smaller and newer companies. A life sciences organization in the early stages, for example, needs someone with experience raising capital and working with regulators to get the company off the ground. It’s still important, however, to make the internal staff feel engaged through a clear shared vision.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives can also have a positive impact on life sciences recruiting efforts, Loveless points out, particularly if companies are offering flexible work options, which can help in attracting new talent and retaining current talent that might otherwise consider leaving the company.

When companies combine smart DE&I initiatives with an internal promotion strategy, this will naturally provide a wider range of internal candidates to be considered for potential leadership positions.

Hiring and promoting internally has traditionally provided pharma organizations with many benefits. During the war for talent, however, it’s a powerful strategy that companies can use to avoid losing important members of their teams or finding themselves unable to fill critical leadership roles.

Mike Hollan is Pharm Exec’s editor and can be reached at

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