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Pacesetting Pharma Firms Drive Innovation with Systemic HR Practices and Talent Intelligence

Many pharma and biotech companies lack the process and product innovation capabilities required to keep pace with industry disruption. Jordan Schmitting of The Josh Bersin Company offers practical tips on how pharma firms can address this challenge by rethinking their approach to future-proofing talent and product pipelines.

Amidst today’s geopolitical, economic, and regulatory uncertainty, pharma companies are still expected to innovate treatments that improve patients’ quality of life and fund fit-for-purpose clinical trials, all while balancing profit with drug accessibility and affordability. On top of this seemingly business-impossible task, pharma companies of all sizes must grapple with the industry disruption brought on by digitisation and biotechnology. Most pharma companies are struggling to accelerate internal transformation to stay relevant amidst these forces, which are not only evolving the pharma product landscape, but the processes used across the pharma value chain to bring products to market.

‘Pacesetter’ companies

However, there is a subset of pharma and biotech organisations, approximately one in ten, that are not only financially outperforming their peers, but increasing their industry leadership at an accelerated pace. These organisations, referred to as “pacesetters,” are identified through the Global Workforce Intelligence Project undertaken by The Josh Bersin Company. This project brings together a first-of-its-kind combination of data, research, education, and community to conduct in-depth analyses of major global industries. The driving forces behind pacesetter success can vary by industry, but those in the pharma industry have a clear propensity for innovation that extends beyond research and development to all corners of the business.

From a process innovation perspective, the pharma industry’s pacesetters are embracing digitisation to automate data collection, increase the accuracy of sample tracking, streamline clinical trials, create efficiencies across their supply chain, and more. Ultimately, they are asking themselves how they can be digital-first to increase their organisations’ dynamism and agility while improving employee experience. One of the many results is an increased ability to invest in product innovation.

Research and development functions in pacesetting organisations are, on average, 50% larger relative to company size. Additionally, they employ 1.8x more associate research scientists, 2.4x more research scientists, and 6.4x more research investigators. However, pacesetters are doing more than embracing redesign and shifting their talent mix. They are also upskilling their existing talent to future-proof their skill sets with both digital skills and emerging adjacent skills.

Furthermore, they are investing in strategies like employee listening and cross-functional collaboration to foster higher retention. To drive process and product innovation, it’s not enough to simply hire talent with emerging digital or biotech skills, nor is it enough to merely expand the size of an organisation’s research function. Pacesetters are leveraging systemic HR strategies to synergise their recruitment, upskilling, retention, and redesign efforts, ensuring meaningful talent mobility and sustainable adaptability to industry volatility.

How do pacesetters proactively build external talent pipelines that complement internal upskilling? How do they prioritise process digitisation opportunities? The answer is a unified source of workforce insights. Pacesetters unlock innovation capabilities through systemic people strategies that are united through talent intelligence.

Operationalising Talent Intelligence to Unlock Systemic HR

Talent Intelligence is more than traditional people analytics. It enhances the collection, analysis, and interpretation of pharma companies’ internal talent data with artificial intelligence. It can also be supplemented with external market trends to assist organisations in understanding the current state of their talent and skill mix, as well as provide insight into people strategy priorities. Pharma pacesetters are using talent intelligence to make complementary decisions about hiring, development, mobility, and retention, as well as work, job, and team design.

Implementing a talent intelligence platform, however, is only an initial step in pacesetters’ journeys to unlocking radical process and product innovation. These organisations are not only intentional about the platform provider they select, but also their investments in change management, stakeholder involvement and sustainable adoption of insight-informed decision-making. Below are some of the strategies that leading pharma and biotech companies are leveraging to enhance the effectiveness of their talent intelligence. 

Build a cross-functional centre of excellence for talent intelligence

No single HR team can own the implementation of talent intelligence in isolation. To harness insights from both internal and external talent markets, pinpoint challenges, and opportunities, and formulate effective strategies, a collaborative effort across HR teams, hiring managers, and other business stakeholders is imperative.

Establishing a talent intelligence centre of excellence (COE) streamlines the process of identifying the skills, experiences, and capabilities required to support the company’s business strategy and direction.

Identify the most critical talent challenge

Across the pharma sector, the biggest talent challenge is the lack of process and product innovation capabilities, especially from the perspective of specialised research and digitally enabled modernisation. However, there is not a one-size fits all solution to preparing an organisation to adapt with changing industry dynamics. It is important to gain a deep understanding of the primary talent challenges impacting your organisation and establish clear priorities. Is a broad-reaching AI capability academy going to have the highest impact? Or would facilitating mobility across the research function bring the most value? Will defining new or business-critical roles by skills help grow the business by aiding recruitment or learning and development initiatives? By equipping organisations with a skills-based language, talent intelligence enables real-time and long-term insights that help organisations answer critical questions about the future readiness.

Turn insights into systemic action

Once in-depth analyses of skill, roles, and organisation trends reveal a core talent challenge, it’s imperative to approach solution development with a systemic mindset. Recruiting talent with emerging digital expertise doesn’t prepare the existing workforce to utilise digital tools or automated processes in their day-to-day work. Addressing talent gaps through upskilling initiatives may be ineffective at future-proofing the organisation if retention of such talent is not prioritised. Instituting an internal talent marketplace to facility mobility without defining roles by skills doesn’t empower employees to take control of their professional development. Redesigning work without equipping recruiters with skill-level information to build pipelines could result in talent gaps in the future or misalignment between an employee’s expectations and reality. Pharma industry pacesetters recognise the interplays between recruitment, reskilling, retention, and redesign and foster cross-team collaboration amongst their HR professionals through skill-based talent intelligence.

Position talent intelligence to be a stable input to continuous improvement

Just like external market conditions, talent challenges are constantly evolving. Pharma pacesetters leverage their talent intelligence platform’s real-time data to not only measure the success of their systemic solutions, but to proactively predict emerging talent gaps. They track rising and declining skills and roles. They monitor emerging research specialties, and they also aren’t afraid to develop custom talent intelligence solutions that capture company-specific skills, which enhances the quality of insights available to senior leadership, HR teams, hiring managers and even employees. Ultimately, pacesetters leverage talent intelligence to guide the development of process and product innovation capabilities.

Pharma and biotech companies who embed talent intelligence into their HR operations unlock systemic HR practices and are better positioned to future-proof their talent and product pipelines.


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