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Success in Managing Human Resource Challenges in Biomedical Sciences

22 Jun
SCIENTEC CEO ARTICLE IN BIOSPECTRUM - The biomedical sciences is a scientific sector that aims to increase the body of knowledge on topics related to medicine. Its role is to develop or improve treatments, vaccines, equipment and techniques involving health care. This sector includes biotechnology, medical technology, pharmaceuticals and healthcare services industries. Due to the sunrise nature of the industry and rapid expansion across many fields, there are many challenges faced by the sector’s HR departments. What follows is an in-depth assessment of how to avoid many of these challenges. We will address:
  1. Aligning human resource strategy with key business objectives
  2. Building and sustaining an engaged workforce
  3. Managing integration
  4. Talent management and retention
  5. Managing in the modern workplace
  6. Winning the global talent war and managing inflation
  7. Talent management and retention

Aligning Human Resource Strategy with Key Business Objectives

A successful business relies on a well formulated and an equally well executed 'people strategy' which is aligned with business objectives. HR leaders need to demonstrate quantifiable results from their workforce practices and policies and develop strategies that support the organisation's business objectives and increase accountability and transparency around people management.

Some examples of successful human resource strategies aligned to business objectives include the availability to demonstrate improved recruitment processes; thus decreasing the cost per hire. When making the necessary investments in HR technology to accelerate and streamline HR processes, develop a quantifiable return on investment plan. Putting in place training plans for employee motivation, improving productivity, skills and performance, and subsequently have the metrics to measure incremental improvements will also be key. Last but not least, a key but often neglected human resource strategy is about developing a clear roadmap to succession planning and leadership, which is vital to sustain company longevity in the market.

Building and Sustaining an Engaged Workforce

Engaged employees are productive employees. A shared culture and clearly set, shared goals will be the first step to engaging employees. When employees across the organisation are clear and are able to move forward toward the same goals, they will deliver exceptional performance that will lead to realization of business goals. A shared culture comes from well articulated value and beliefs that underpin the principles by which the organisation carries out its activities. It also serves as the foundation in which employees interact with one another. The aim of human resources here is to enthuse and immerse the employees so everyone speaks and understands the same “language” and gain camaraderie.

Another aspect of employee engagement is that leaders of organisations have the responsibility to create an energised environment. Human Resources department will be critical in ensuring policies, practices or systems are closely scrutinised for potential which can dampen engagement, and develop creative programmes to spread contagious enthusiasm throughout the entire organisation.

Managing integration

Globalisation and mergers and acquisitions are common in the business place today. Strategic issues relating to human resource integration include change management. Managing cultural norms, business behaviour and acceptable business practices will be essential to business expansion and integration success.

HR needs to consider country and company specific cultural issues, impact on employee morale, impact of different corporate cultures, security risks, and environment issues in certain regions. Managing a diverse cultural workforce with varying expectations and attitudes can be a tricky and perilous task.

Leaders will also need to approach change management or crisis management in a structure manner in order to excel in a highly dynamic biomedical sciences industry. The trend of globalisation as a strategy and continuing consolidation of the industry is here to stay. This means that Human Resources will need to put in place human resource integration plans and evaluation metrics which can measure the performance of the new culture.

Managing in the Modern Workplace

Expectations are changing in the workplace – mostly in terms of working tools, flexibility and mobility. The rising influence of consumerism has driven the adoption of social networking tools such as MSN, Skype, Facebook, Linkedin, blogging and Twitter etc. and use of mobile devices such as iPhones, Blackberries and video like YouTube Unless there are guidelines with regards to their usage, these technologies can either enable increased productivity and enhanced connectivity, or decelerate performance, reduce social engagement among team members and create a negative impact on organisation’s branding and reputation. Effective HR guidelines and policies can better manage such workplace challenges by setting a standard of realistic expectations.

With the recent surge in the healthcare and biomedical market growth, more young people are entering the industry. However, the industry is still faced with a critical shortage of talents, especially those with significant industry experience of 15 years or more. With an aging population and falling fertility rates, this situation is expected to get dire. HR needs to look at organisational structure and policies to better support an aging workforce while balancing expectations and challenges faced by both the older, more experienced employees with the younger, more energetic leaders.

Winning the global talent war and managing inflation

With globalisation comes the global talent war. Is your HR strategy 'future ready' to join this battle? The right candidate is no longer defined by geographic location but by his or her capabilities. Many companies are now sourcing globally for the right talent and in some cases, have placed them in the candidate’s choice locations barring any form of restrictions that can impact the performance levels of the candidate, as a means to attract good talents.

In the biomedical sciences sector, the gap between demand and supply is getting wider than before. Expiring patents, advanced technologies, and the demand for improved healthcare have resulted in a sharp growth in the biomedical and the supporting sectors. This has led to a global shortage of highly specialised professionals. Domestic competitors have increasingly found themselves hunting alongside large global corporations for the same small pool of limited talent. In addition to a shortage in experienced candidates, the sharp increase of home grown biomedical businesses has added more challenges to talent competition. This talent competition is particularly intense in Asia as many United States and European companies have been moving their research and development, and manufacturing facilities, or setting up new sales and marketing operations in Asia.

Many of these openings can only be filled by certified professionals or candidates with strong technical background either due to governmental regulations or technical competency that is needed to best support the role. Because of supply and demand gap, companies are having to pay more for a candidate with three to five years’ of experience, at a salary level range of a senior manager with five to eight years experience. For some critical positions, a 30 to 50 percent jump in salary is not uncommon. This is especially true for candidates from lower cost countries such as China, India, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Smart Talent Management and Retention

Specialised and talented people are often the key source of competitive advantage within the biomedical sciences industry. So when faced with a scarcity of candidates for critical positions, biomedical sciences companies need to employ even better strategies to overcome the challenges of managing and retaining top performers. This is especially the case with multinational conglomerates competing for the same group of talent with their global talent sourcing strategy.

Candidates’ expectations and requirements change over the course of their employment lifecycle. Talent retention involves paying careful attention to the individual’s career needs. Matching employment terms with current employee needs will be the key to a successful retention strategy. Human Resources need to invest time in gaining employee insights and planning for their career development and advancement to meet long term career aspirations.

Other aspects include setting clear and realistic expectations of employee performance, creating personalised career development plans, and working with managers to build opportunities to develop employee skill sets and competencies. Individual and regular performance management planning sessions should be held for feedback and performance measurement. After all, the individual needs to take charge of their own development and identify expectation and skill gaps.


In closing, these are challenging times for the human resource leaders. The modern workplace is a minefield of issues and challenges that must be addressed in a timely and holistic fashion. HR managers must be leaders and proactive thinkers, able to predict upcoming trends while leveraging past experience. They must have empathetic skills and also able to manage tough negotiations and conflict situations. They must be understanding and yet stand firm on corporate policies. They must be accommodating and yet be strictly aligned to business objectives. Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all human resources strategy that will work for every company in biomedical sciences. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully managing human resource challenges in the biomedical sciences industry by follow the guidelines outlined.

Karen Tok, Founder & CEO, ScienTec Consulting
© 2009 ScienTec Consulting Pte Ltd

This article as published in BioSpectrum Jul 2009: