Developing Leaders in the Life Sciences Industry

The future success of life sciences companies depends on quality leaders with the knowledge of what it takes to bring new products to a heavily regulated global market.

Unfortunately, many pharmaceutical employees find themselves moving up the ranks in narrow roles that fail to give them the depth and breadth of experience they need to succeed. Their highly technical training and specialized expertise does not necessarily equip them with the skills they need to be an effective leader, particularly one who can influence others across organizational boundaries

Recognizing this gap, companies are putting more emphasis on preparing future leaders to advance in their careers. In fact, healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations spent nearly $1,400 on training per employee in 2013, providing each with 24 hours of training on average, according to a study by the Association of Talent Development. That’s more than twice the investment in training made by similarly sized organizations in other industries, such as manufacturing.

Given the enhanced importance of training and development in the pharmaceutical industry, here are three trends we’re seeing in this area.

More Companies Seek Formal Development Programs for Future Leaders

GlaxoSmithKline employs nearly 100,000 people across the globe and puts special emphasis on training aspiring second line leaders with the potential to grow into future leadership positions. The program is tailored to those who demonstrate the desire and potential for leadership across departments, from sales and manufacturing to information technology. Each year, 30 aspiring leaders are selected to participate in a combination of self-directed, classroom-based and hands-on learning programs.

Aspiring leaders also assess their ability to influence others across organizational boundaries and learn tactics for influencing more effectively.

The culmination of this training is a capstone project where participants are challenged to find an opportunity for improvement within the company and work with others to propose and implement a solution. Participants present their completed projects to GSK’s senior managers.

Though GSK is just beginning to establish formal metrics for this program, it has significantly increased engagement among employees who participate and among those who hope to be selected for the competitive program, GSK Global Learning Manager Ginny Hobson said.

Measuring ROI of Leadership Development Is Essential

As the pharmaceutical industry follows others in adopting a leaner approach to operations, it’s becoming more critical for learning managers and human resource professionals to demonstrate a real, measurable impact from leadership programs.

Simply conducting a post-training evaluation survey is no longer enough. To demonstrate the ROI of leadership development, managers need to collect feedback from the leaders’ peers, direct reports and supervisors to determine the extent to which behaviors have changed.

It’s also important to evaluate retention and succession over time, which allows managers to estimate the costs saved in recruiting, onboarding and training external talent. That can range from half the cost of an employee’s annual salary to as much as four times that amount, depending on the level of the employee.

More Companies Prioritize Leadership Development for Millennials

In five years, nearly half the global workforce will be comprised of millennials, or those born in 1980 or later. While millennials bring many strengths to the workplace, some research has shown they are more likely to lack essential leadership skills, such as diplomacy and communication, according to study by the Association for Talent Development. They are also less likely to respond well to a traditional approach to learning methods and tend to respond better to training that is shorter, more relevant and offers frequent feedback.

Although many companies that responded to the ATD survey cited the importance of having specialized leadership development for millennials, few actually have these programs in place. This is beginning to change, and we expect to see leadership development programs tailored to the specific training needs and learning preferences of this generation.

Because these three trends appear to be prevalent in the pharmaceutical industry, many organizations would benefit from focusing their efforts, as maintaining a steady pipeline of highly effective future leaders is an ongoing effort that requires a two-fold approach of assessing and developing high-potential employees.

Darleen DeRosa, Ph.D. is a managing partner at OnPoint Consulting. Email Darleen at

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