Race for talent hots up as pharma giants seek competitive advantage

5 min

The pharma world is currently experiencing one of its more volatile phases.

Some of the biggest players in the sector, such as GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, are investing considerable amounts of time building for the future, formulating and implementing strategies that they believe give them the best chance of success.

In the case of GSK, its Chief Executive, Emma Walmsley, used her first big address to announce the company’s plans to focus 80 per cent of its capital on four key therapeutic areas. Two of them, respiratory and HIV/infectious diseases, are already strong for the company, while oncology and immuno-inflammation are seen as having substantial growth potential.

While a move like this is not unheard  of, the termination of 30 pre-clinical and clinical programmes and the planned sale of 130 brands in a move to overhaul R&D and to save costs, is on a similar scale to AstraZeneca’s 2016 US $1bn (£683m) savings drive to invest more money into its oncology pipeline.

Walmsley commented: “There is lots we want to keep about GSK’s culture, our focus on purpose, values and quality, but we need to bring more edge, more of a performance focus, more accountability, more pace into our decision-making and definitely more cost and cash consciousness.”

Walmsley added that the US market would become an increasingly crucial battleground for GSK.

Over at AstraZeneca, the summer was marked by rumours about the possible departure of its Chief Executive, Pascal Soriot – all firmly denied. Then there was the news at the end of July that its Mystic immunotherapy drug trial had not achieved the hoped for results, followed by the more positive news that the same treatment had received breakthrough designation status from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The one certainty amidst the ups and downs in the sector is the competition for critical talent.

We are observing increased efforts to align the required capability improvements with strategic workforce planning to identify current and future internal skill gaps and to address these with a better understanding of the external talent market. These insights allow not only benchmarking of existing employees but also feeds into strategic talent planning and management.

In a market where expert talent is not ready available, long term succession planning is more critical than ever and requires a strategic approach and solid talent market knowledge to be better prepared in the race for the next life-changing medicine, its successful registration and launch.

The role of Talent Acquisition is changing from a reactive hunt for talent to a more strategic future-focussed approach of continuously identifying, engaging and attracting strong talent.

At the same time, the importance of retention, as well as internal talent development and management, is increasing. This requires a good understanding of the career drivers and motivators of this population as well as an awareness of what ‘best in class’ talent management looks like, for example, by learning from other organisations.

This needs to be an agile process to answer the changing and evolving requirements of capabilities, scientific and technical advances, changing regulatory and market environments.

The businesses which build a talent strategy based on both the here and now and the future view and an internal HR, talent acquisition and management function to reflect this are the ones giving themselves the best chance of winning the race for talent and the next medicine to address unmet medical needs and improve patient lives.

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