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How Talent Management is Vital in Driving the Growth of a Pharma Company
- Vanita Sahgal, Head – Learning & Development, Aurobindo Pharma

The author addresses the various issues related to human resource management in a pharma organisation and how effectively it can be applied in promoting the growth of the company.

Pharma was once the only indestructible of industries; investments were high, revenues were never a glitch and recession did not matter. However, Indian pharma industry adapted well to the emerging business scenario in 90”s and developed India to be a hub centre of Generic pharma business, by quickly understanding the requirements of the regulatory markets. Today, India is the only country which has largest number of US FDA approved facilities outside of US.

The new emerging scenarios are two fold, one for advantage and another of a challenge.

Indian generic market offers huge potential of 12 per cent growth both internal and external. The growth in the last 20 years was based on basic skill sets and technologies. For it to sustain the same it would face a challenge of – New emerging technologies coming out of innovator laboratories , which would require high levels of skill sets to train and adopt to these technologies . Most of the technologies would be in the old and new areas like;

  • New Drug delivery systems.
  • Bio pharmaceuticals.
  • Clinical studies.
  • Oncology (25 per cent of the current research pipe lines).
  • Biotechnology and medical devices.
Indian generic operators need to look into the Business strategies – from a service provider of cheap and low end offering CROs and CRAMS to Innovative, technology intensive organisations. This outlook is not only for the Indian and Chinese business organisations but the same is being looked at as enablers of growth by major global innovator companies.

A very recent global survey of 126 CEOs indicated that they would like to have 50 per cent of their focus on human resources development.

However today;
  • New patent laws allowing process reproduction,
  • Growth of emerging markets,
  • Thriving Asian manufactures,
  • Availability of many generic formulations,
  • Proliferation of competing drugs in the same therapeutic areas,
  • M&A mayhem,
  • Price wars,
  • Rising costs,
  • Affordable medicine, and
  • Aggressive and ever changing regulatory laws.
All of which has created havoc in the Pharma market scape. All the big pharma innovator companies have been undergoing tremendous stress on their revenues, due to the patent cliff, and now recognise emerging economies, as their growth engine. The 8-12 per cent increase in the E8 markets cannot be ignored by either Global players and or Indian domestic companies.

There are several global players increasing their stake in Indian companies , either through partnership, wholly owned set ups, or taking over the Indian companies which have a significant market share. Easai India, Otsuka, Periggo are some examples of the wholly owned category and recent acquisition of Piramal generic business by Abbot stands for the last category.

Indian economic policies are quickly made friendly towards FII in pharma sector. With the large player’s trying to consolidate their positions to grab the growth in pharma sector and also to make best use of very economical operating costs in India, especially the high chemistry capabilities, good regulatory awareness and very well trained manpower in India.

The challenges to the growth from the human resources front is coming from – areas like technology transfer for highly critical processes, training of HR , lack of academic institutions support (in the form of curriculum) for scaling up, ambiguity on regulatory frame work (a proper guideline by Indian drug authorities on clinical trials is long pending requirement) and trained manpower on emerging areas like Clinical trials, regulatory requirements for Clinical, new process and packaging technologies, etc.

For the industry to grow at 8-12 per cent and to sustain the same the leadership teams are now focusing 50 per cent of their attention on resources to train and retention of quality talent. Its only obvious that no Knowledge based industry like Pharma can really sustain the growth without the required emphasis on HRD, with specific skill sets, for the emerging technologies.

However it’s easier said than done…
  • Quality of hires at affordable remuneration,
  • Settling down time,
  • Skill deficiencies,
  • Knowledge regulatory requirements and global best practices,
  • Leadership crisis, (dearth of leadership cap,
  • Attrition of quality talent,
  • Non-execution of big plans hindering progressive growth.
If one looks at some random data, even though it’s emerging markets, the fact of the matter is that there is lack of focus on managing business strategy and its people. Next, one of the greatest HR challenges companies face is retention. Only proving the fact that hiring quality talent, developing, maintaining culture of an organisation therefore retaining an engaged employee all are different sides of the same coin. Booz and Company have looked at emerging markets versus HR challenges and found Retention is the most difficult of the sorts!

I have always been inspired by Bersin & Associates High Impact Talent Management model, taking a few cues from the model, developed & designed for the organisations I worked in; Contract Research and Pharma Manufacturing.

Keeping current scenarios, future expectations, linear versus organic growth, we came up with our own lean strategies to manage Talent and ensure HR developed into a Strategic Business partner rather than just any other functional department. We took care that we were two steps ahead of Business; we aligned the HR team Core Business wise & Capability wise.

Based on a diversified strategy (portfolio), we relooked at the big-picture, reworked on Values, collaborated with internal customers, initiated project management to improve cycle times, worked on HR Cost to company, resolved to be anytime ready, and much more. Soon we had a roadmap and a Governance model in place. HR goals were:
Goal 1 – Increase profitability by 20 per cent,
Goal 2 – Increase revenue by 25 per cent.

We invited think tanks to iterate and formally draw up a final document of actionable items. Talent management played a vital role in all aspects.

For attracting the best new hires, we initiated industry academia interface, where our Scientists (seniors from operations) helped academicians design programmes suitable for organisations so that transition from college to corporate was lowered. We offered higher education after tying up with a few esteemed universities. Intellectual attraction was well taken care off.

We created a huge resource pool of Certified Internal Trainers to train existing employees in technical areas. Various technical programmes like; cGMP norms, Safety aspects and anytimereadiness are today managed by them. Identified the bridge between shop floor operators and managers, trained them to be effective Supervisors through a Young Leaders Programme. Out of which about 15 per cent grew to be successful managers managing larger roles. Second line leaders underwent a year-long MDP, owing to which 70 per cent of them moved vertically/laterally or simply increased their span of control in their current positions. Action Learning projects, Coaching, Functional training, were part of the wide portfolio that help create availability of skills and ready-made talent to meet strategy demands.

We shaped enthusiastic employees to run an employee engagement forum organising cultural and sports events for the rest of the employees. Every year it grew in size to be managed professionally with the tiniest of budgets, offering challenge and excitement. Through many forums we got the CEO to speak to the Employee and share business plans. Year on year measured HR performance through employee satisfaction surveys. We organised three month long OD initiatives by Collaborating Scientists & Functional Teams to get stronger on Internal Customer service, ended it with a Bamboo dance where all departments participated, ensuring employees were fully engaged.

As Business strategies became aggressive, M&A’s impacted our client surface; the Sales team was geared up in various ways. Management Trainees were set up as backbones for research, client calling. Sales competencies were redefined, team was put through vigorous training & Sales Coaching, making certain right man for the right territory was recognised and appointed all based on hard data & psychometrics. A CEO-controlled self managed team handled Key Accounts to increase depth of understanding Client requirements and ensuring value addition. As a conscious strategy we increased penetration in emerging markets and ROW by hiring local talent who understood local law & its procedures. Technology, processes and engagement all were put to work. Within a period of a few months, results started pouring in. Quality retention was well taken care of.

This is a Strategic competitive edge design generated through a Brainstorming session by HR folks on Impact on Profitability. Its initiatives giving very positive and simply positive outcomes were derived into actionable items and a road map; as a result of HR commitment we accomplished 80 per cent of them.

What worked for us?
- Step 1 Perspective - Determined our Business Goals
- Step 2 – Scan - Scanned the environment
- Step 3 – Analyse - Conducted a gap analysis
- Step 4 – Prioritise - Set HR priorities to help achieve business goals
- Step 5 – Performance Metrics - Measured, monitored and reported progress

Ending with a note that we today need to be quick on our feet! Strategise & plan hard, but monitor harder!! There must be a total paradigm shift in the education curriculum, training methodologies and of course large investment in the facilities that should come up. Get people to dialogue with each other especially at the top, groom your finest the max; make commitments outcome based; don’t stop looking at improving processes, guaranteeing key differentiators affordability, reliability and sustainability. All of which help attract the best and retain the best of the best.