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Did someone say crisis? Why executive search business grows but Life Sciences practices don’t

September 27, 2018

 

Recent numbers from big executive search and business consulting firms have confirmed a trend that shows throughout the industry. Even though business for executive search continues to grow the Life Sciences practices in particular don’t follow the trend. They seem to be in some sort of crisis. And, believe me, I’m the first one who can tell you why. So let’s shed some light on the issues.

 

Exponential changes in technology

 

The life science industry is – we’ve all heard it by now – undergoing some changes. The changes have to do with a lot of things: one of those is technology. The technologies need to change because demands change and technology needs to adapt to benefit patients and clinical trial productivity. What this goes along with is a significant increase in data volume, which means that there is an increased need for scale and security in the business. These kind of changes in technology call for major structural changes within life science companies who need to partner with large and small technology companies to derive insights from the high volumes of data. Who is in charge of making these changes work?

 

Geopolitical change

 

Not only technology brings a disruptive element into life sciences businesses, geopolitical changes have their share too. That concerns issues like pricing, securing market access, good value propositions, not to mention what comes with the uncertainties around geopolitical boundaries and policies, changing tax reforms and so on. In order to stay on top of changes like that it needs plans to mitigate potential risks, revisit investment decisions, and take advantage of potential opportunities. And who is in charge of making these changes work?

 

Who are the people you’re not looking for?

 

What I’m getting at is that although life sciences are deeply engaged in quite fundamental reconstruction processes there is an imbalance when it comes to getting the right people in at the right time to bring these processes along. Because life sciences today have an exponential need for people who are cross-functional, who think and see through whole change processes. These people are a) highly specialized, b) rare and c) hard to approach. Like a MSL position – especially when it’s a search across regions.

 

Life sciences companies need to change but can’t – or don’t want to?

 

But life sciences companies have a hard time making the ends meet. They avoid the risk when it comes to more challenging candidates; they have a hard time deciding who is the one to go to when industries fuse together. The tendency to follow old roads when it’s actually really time for some new ideas goes a long way…

 

The change within is the big challenge for life sciences companies. Because it ultimately means: organizations with less hierarchy and more autonomy at team and individual level. This is key. Culture is critical and it becomes more critical the larger a company is or becomes. Life sciences organizations need to center around redesigning jobs and assignments by using the more fundamental human abilities and incorporating them with innovation. That may mean that it's important to set up cross-functional steering groups to incorporate R&D functions with commercial, medical affairs, clinical, market access and external partners.

 

The people are there but the positions don’t fit them

 

Building cross-functional teams can help life sciences companies break down silos, so that knowledge can be shared between departments and therapeutic areas. But that calls for people who are able to “cross-function” and although they exist, they more often than not don’t find their way into the right positions. Which is even more of a pity considering that life sciences are more and more a skills-based economy where talent will be a differentiator. So why is talent the area that causes executive search the most headache? What’s your take?

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