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Life sciences industry failing to adequately manage talent, research finds

Life sciences industry failing to adequately manage talent, research finds

Latest global RSA survey identifies growing gap between principle and practice

While 90% of life sciences executives identify talent management as a key priority, over three quarters (77%) of their organisations are not delivering this in practice, operating without an active strategy in place. This is the headline finding of a global survey of over 550 life sciences senior managers carried out for executive search organisation RSA.

Overall how companies manage talent is becoming less planned and more ad-hoc since RSA carried our previous research in 2010. Much of this is due to the continuing impact of market change and sluggish economic conditions. Two thirds of organisations (66%) have undergone a review or restructure in the last 18 months, with 78% reviewing headcount.

Not only do fewer organisations have a formal talent management strategy (up from 67% to 77%), they are also not using recognised processes when cutting jobs. Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) admitted that they use no formal talent assessment exercises to identify which employees will face redundancy (up from 62% in 2010), while 38% don’t consider future demand for skills when making staff cuts. 

However on a positive note understanding between business and HR is improving. While only 40% of executives believe that HR has a clear understanding of the skills the organisation needs in five years time, this has nearly doubled from just 24% in 2010. Almost 7 in 10 (69%) felt that HR would have a key role to play in redefining long-term resourcing needs, broadly similar to 2010.

Nick Stephens, CEO of RSA comments, “Our research shows that the life sciences industry rates people as its biggest asset and understands that it is imperative that they are developed and retained. However the continuing pressures of the recession and major market change are forcing businesses and their HR departments to focus on short-term fixes, rather than long-term strategy. The situation has actually worsened since 2010, with a widening gap between actual and best practice when it comes to managing and developing staff.”

Talent- buy, not develop?

The impact of the recession has also swung the pendulum back towards buying in, rather than developing talent. Whereas in 2010, it took six months or longer to fill senior vacancies in 71% of cases, this had plummeted to 11.5% in 2011, with 41% now in place in less than three months. The outlay has also dropped – with 39% of respondents confirming that recruitment cost between 20-30% of the position’s annual salary, down from 50% in 2010. No wonder that in 4 out of 10 life sciences businesses, less than 20% of senior managers are appointed via internal promotion.

2011 priorities – still dominated by the recession

The disconnect between idea and reality is also shown by the HR priorities that executives set. 66% saw leadership development as a key aim, but only 44% felt that HR would be focused on this, with areas such as restructuring (27%) and downsizing (13%) taking up much of the HR department’s time over the next year.

Long term planning has also taken a back seat – 7 out of 10 admitted that they still didn’t assess employees against the business’s medium and long term goals, a dramatic increase from 47% in 2010.

Talent management improving, but slowly

Life sciences executives recognise that improving talent management processes is vital if they want to remain competitive and do see positive changes since 2010. While last year 78% felt they needed to improve how they developed leaders, in 2011 this had dropped to 62%. Future planning is also improving slowly – 47% had no clear leadership succession plan in place, but this had reduced from 55% in 2010.

“From the outside it does feel as if the life sciences industry is enveloped in gloom when it comes to managing talent, but there are glimmers of light.” said XX, XX of RSA. “Processes are improving, albeit slowly, as companies balance immediate and long-term needs moving forward. Now is the time for companies to invest in developing talent so that they can benefit from the opportunities in a still-changeable market.”


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