Dietmar Eidens, Executive Vice President, Head of Human Resources, Merck speaks to Viveka Roychowdhury on the HR challenges faced by the global pharmaceutical industry, the evolution of job profiles and shares his top three recommendations for making the industry become an ‘employer of choice’
Given the current business scenario what are the most serious challenges that the global pharmaceutical industry faces today, in terms of getting the right people?
The current work force dynamics in the global pharma industry throws up two challenges: How can we continue to attract expertise, particularly in specialist functions such as R&D, and secondly, how do we engage and retain them.
In addition to these main concerns, there are regional issues. The European Union will have different challenges from North America and emerging markets. In many countries of the EU qualified people outnumber the number of vacancies as the EU pharma market is under pressure. Conversely, emerging markets are in a growth phase so employment opportunities are there but the challenge is to find enough qualified candidates. Agility and flexibility are key company attributes to attract talent in these markets.
Mergers and acquisitions that are so common in today’s scenario also contribute to changing organisations’ game plans and creating skill gaps in talent pools. In addition, the pharma industry is not seen as progressive as other industries, for instance the IT or high-tech industry.
As Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Merck Serono what are some of the trends you see in the evolution of job profiles in the pharma industry?
The nature of many traditional roles in the pharma business is changing. For example, Medical Representatives (MRs) today need to be up-to-date with very specialised medical information as they are dealing with specialists rather than general practitioners. Increasing competition and the “fight for time with the doctor” leads to the need for innovative sales approaches.
A good example of this is what we have piloted successfully at Merck Serono last year: broadband SMS communication with doctors. IT does not replace the MR, but builds the foundation for a different relationship. Thus the technological approach loaded with information leads to a more targeted visit. The webinar is the use of technology at its best as we are empowering doctors and other decision makers by providing information in a targeted way. This allows the doctor to invest time with the patient and puts the effort where it is needed the most.
Again, flexibility is key – we will continue to hire the standard MR profile as well as a cadre of specialised sales consultants for specific products in specific disease areas. Consequently, the sources from which we hire these employees are very different.
A country like India is an ‘employee-driven market’ – there is high demand for employees with specific skills and customer interaction skills. Candidates and employees alike today are more aware and better-educated, demand empowerment and career opportunities. Along with changing lifestyles this has made balancing work and life more complex for employers as the offerings that need to be provided are diverse and flexible than even 10 years ago.
How do you keep up with these changes and what is HR’s role to keep pace?
This very much depends on the type of position you target and the type of country you are operating in. Pharma is an industry with many specialist roles that require specialist profiles, such as in R&D. For these, you will go to academic institutions or the competition to find what you are looking for. There is no difference between mature and emerging markets. It also applies to the fact that, generally speaking, scientists and researchers in the R&D function often have different interests and drivers from employees in the sales and marketing functions. This is driven by the different nature of work they are expected to do. These factors mean that employees in these areas define organisational culture and job satisfaction differently. As an employer, we must meet the different demands equally well to ensure retention of these key employees.
HR’s role is to stay close to the changing demographics of the workforce and to ensure the company provides the right instruments for attracting, selecting, rewarding and retaining these talents. HR needs to work closely with the business and demonstrate agility and flexibility in working with the business leaders on successful talent management.
How has your company engaged with the Gen Y workforce?
We have achieved this in a number of different ways. First, we have adjusted our EVP (Employer Value Proposition). Based on our Merck values*, we have defined more clearly what we stand for and modernised the way how this is communicated internally and externally.
Second, we have launched specific development programmes to engage the GenY workforce and build the leadership pipeline by enhancing diversity within our talent pool. These programmes are targeted at providing accelerated career paths and enriching employee development by fast-track company-internal education.
Third, we develop Gen Y employees primarily through exposure and experience, rather than formal education and training programmes. This is based on our belief that practical work experience combined with exposure to senior leaders and challenging assignments provides the best framework for job satisfaction and good performance, not only for Gen Y employees, but especially for them.
What are your top three recommendations for making the pharma industry (globally and in India) become an ‘employer of choice’?
I believe that the top three priorities for making the pharma industry an ‘employer of choice’ are: Career progression: providing diverse opportunities where an employee benefits from having an exposure to varied experiences to support her/ his career, Quality of life and content of work: being flexible and attuned to the pulse of the employee Opportunity for learning: to evolve and flourish both personally and on the professional front as well.
The magazine can be viewed on: http://pharma.financialexpress.com/latest-issue/3377-february-16-28-2014