When is the Right Time to Invest in the Development of the Key Leaders of Your Biotechnology Organization?

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By Rob Byron, Vice President
November 02, 2022
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Chances are, nearly all of us have seen the recent news regarding the activity right now in the biotech industry. Companies are having to make the difficult decision to reduce their staff as funding across the industry has slowed down. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to talk about investing in the development of key people within an organization that is reducing headcount, many will argue this is the most important time for the organization to invest in this development to retain the critical talent that remains.

Why Focus on Leadership Development in Times of Uncertainty? 

It is during these uncertain and turbulent times that you need strong leadership the most. Organizations need leaders to show the way forward and act decisively. It is these leaders that set the example for everyone in the organization and can be the difference between the business thriving or dying. Supporting these leaders with leadership development and coaching during these challenging times will position the organization for success.

After a downsize or reduction in force there is much anxiety and uncertainty with the remaining staff. If not handled correctly this can be accompanied by high turnover. Investing in your key leaders with leadership development during this difficult time will help to retain these critical folks as well as the people that work for them. A recent global survey from McKinsey & Company shows that “uncaring and uninspiring leaders” are a big part of why people leave their jobs (34%), along with a “lack of career development” (41%). Following an event such as a reduction in force it is necessary to re-recruit your employees that remain in the organization. To do this, it is essential to have a strong leadership and management team that can inspire and motivate the remaining staff.

All Technical Experts ≠ Great Leaders… But Investing in Development Can Change That

In biotechnology organizations, many of the key leaders and critical talent are part of the research and development (R&D) team. This is where the science and intellectual property is created. Often these employees are technical experts but struggle with the leadership and interpersonal skills that are necessary during times of change.

The technical skills that make one an expert in their field are not the same skills necessary to be successful in leading a team during challenging times. These are a completely different set of skills, capabilities, behaviors and approaches, and include: communication, delegation, influencing and motivating others, goal-setting, holding people accountable, and dealing with conflict. Investing in the development of this population is a great start to position the organization for success. As my colleague Bob Hewes, practice lead for leadership development group at Keystone says, “Special attention needs to be given to this population. Technical people don’t necessarily deal with these issues often. Developing these folks on how to communicate effectively to both the employees that remain in the organization and those impacted by a reduction in force is critical.”

How to Develop R&D Experts Within a Biotech Company

What are some ways to develop R&D leaders within a biotech organization? There are several different options available to an organization, a few examples of which include: 

Hosting a Leader Exchange

Tapping into internal resources such as C-suite and senior leaders for mentorships and leader exchanges. Hosting an event where respected executives or senior leaders in the organization speak to developing and emerging leaders about their experiences with a certain leadership topic (for example, thinking strategically, communicating effectively, delegation, dealing with conflict) can be a great place to start. Having an internal senior leader as a mentor or part of a leader exchange can be very impactful and relevant to the specifics of the organization. “There is real power in technical experts hearing examples and stories from other technical experts who are now senior leaders within their organization,” says Hewes.

Group Development Programs Using Internal or External Coaches

If there are several leaders that share common leadership development challenges, another option would be to form a cohort and have a group development program facilitated either with an internal resource or an external consultant/coach. This would bring the power of peer-to-peer learning into a group setting. To super-charge the impact of the group program, you could also incorporate a leader exchange event into one of the group sessions.  

One-on-One Executive Coaching

Engaging with an executive coach for one-on-one coaching for a biotech leader is a great investment as they will work closely with the leader to create a personalized development plan and partner with the leader to implement that plan, giving them the tools and capabilities necessary to deal with leadership challenges as they arise.

Now is the Time to Invest in the Leaders of Your Biotech Organization 

While the timing may not always feel ideal, investing in developing leaders during times of change and challenges can position the organization for future success. Strong leadership will impact the engagement and retention of employees across the organization. This is especially critical within the R&D organization of a biotech where much of the critical talent resides. There are several internal and external leadership development options for this population, such as a mentorship, leadership exchange, group development programs, and one-on-one coaching.  Don’t let challenging and turbulent times hold you back from developing your key leaders. This can be a game changer and set the organization up for long-term success.

Keystone Partners has been working with biotechnology companies for decades. We have extensive experience helping our clients fine-tune the skills of current leaders, develop their next generation of leaders, and successfully execute of RIFs of all sizes. Want to find out how we can help your organization overcome its current challenges? Contact us today to learn more. 

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