What's in Store for 2009?

Published: Jan 21, 2009

By Wendy Lalli -- It's the time of year to review our accomplishments of the past 12 months and consider our goals for the 365 days that lay ahead. But what does lie ahead? And how will it impact the role of the recruiters in the fields of pharma and life sciences?

According to Mike Huckman, Pharmaceutical Reporter for CNBC-TV, 2009 will find large pharma companies merging and acquiring other drug companies. Plus, they will also acquire biotech companies of all sizes. Assuming Mike Huckman gets it right, 2009 clearly will be a time of transition in pharma as well as national politics. Let's explore how to deal with these changes, whether you’re downsizing, restructuring, or simply recruiting for new talent.

Remember - change of any kind can be stressful
Letting people go is always challenging. Obviously it’s difficult for those who must face unemployment in a down economy, but it’s often just as distressing for those who remain. The employees who stay on usually have more work to do and may be facing a disconcerting shift in culture. They may also want a raise just when their company has to reduce expenses. For all of these reasons it’s common for people to leave a company after their colleagues have been downsized.

Since we’re in a recession, retention may be less of an issue than it was in 2008. Still, in industries like technology and life science employees will probably be able to find new employment more readily than those in the financial or other service sectors. According to Timothy J. Galpin, author of The Complete Guide to Mergers and Acquisition, managers will be doing well if, once a deal closes, they are able to retain 80 percent of the employees they want to keep on for a year.

Share what you know as soon as you can
Retaining employees and maintaining positive morale depends a great deal on effective, on-going communication with everyone in the company. Mari Paul, founder of Life Science Leaders, suggests in an article on recruitment for Nature Biotechnology that “senior management get coaching during an acquisition and integration to help them craft their message and stay in communication with their team.”

Other experts make the point that when you share information with employees can be as important as what you share. In an excellent piece for About.com – “Survivors Can Soar After Downsizing,” Susan M. Heathfield writes, “I believe that an organization should tell people as much as possible as soon as information is known with some certainty. Throughout the layoffs and downsizing process, communicate the facts as honestly as you can and with great compassion.”

Value the employees you have
While the present economic environment is seemingly a “buyer’s market” for hiring managers, retaining the leaders of your company’s social network is vital if you hope to hold on to your most valuable people. Galpin suggests that you actively “re-recruit” such individuals by offering rewards that would be most meaningful to them such as a new title or committee assignment. Through this core group you can also assure the continuation of the company’s culture including a corporate commitment to serve its customers.

Jim Lee, founder of Hamilton Communications, an independent healthcare communications, branding, and strategy company, has put this to the test with his own staff. “Our business depends on building strong relationships with our pharma clients,” Lee observes. “We begin by treating everyone on our staff - whether they’re an intern, a senior level account executive, or a new applicant - with the same consideration we give our customers. Because demonstrating a commitment to helping our employees grow and prosper is the best way to inspire them to do the same for our clients.”

Don’t be pennywise and pound foolish
Paying people what they’re worth is another axiom of the Hamilton hiring policies. “In a down economy some companies are tempted to cut corners when it comes to salaries,” Lee notes. “I think that’s a mistake. Good people are always going to be sought after. And while negotiating minimal salaries may save a few dollars up front, it will cost you more in the long run if your best people leave to find greater compensation elsewhere.”

Show respect to get respect
In these days of social networking and instant Internet communications less than optimal treatment of employees – or applicants – can reverberate negatively in e-mails and blogs. Read by thousands of people including clients and talent you might want to hire, these communications could seriously undermine a company’s reputation. The best way to prevent this from happening is to be honest and considerate of people’s feelings. Treat departing employees with the same kindness you showed them when you first hired them. And if someone interviews with you give them the courtesy of a response – even if it’s a rejection – so they know where they stand a soon as possible.

Treating people respectfully can also reduce you legal liability. In a Workforce Week article by Fay Hansen on how to deliver rejections to applicants, labor lawyer Michael Elkins observes, “Litigation is rising because of rising unemployment… If recruiters are straightforward and treat candidates with respect that goes a long way toward defusing any potential problem.”

Test for skills
Ellis also suggests that employers use specific criteria to make their decision regarding who to hire and who not to hire. “Make sure these criteria are met by successful candidates,” he advises, “and that successful candidates are more qualified than unsuccessful ones.”

Brian Adkins, Executive Vice President at Hamilton, believes strongly in this practice but with this caveat. “Technical skills are relatively easy to confirm,” claims Adkins. “For example, a technical writer either has samples of work he or she has done or they don’t. But at Hamilton we look at other aspects of a candidate’s qualifications that are equally important. We pride ourselves on being a company committed to continuous education and we expect that the talent we bring on board will have the same dedication to expanding their knowledge and skill sets. We are also a company that fosters team interaction, so prima donnas, however talented, don’t generally succeed here. We’re very protective of our culture and we spend considerable time making sure people are a good fit in addition to being able to do their job day by day. We’ve found this caution pays off across the board. New hires are happier, our staff is happier and our clients are better served.”

Hope this helps you make 2009 a prosperous year for everyone in your company.

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