COVID Changes the CHRO Role

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted senior management teams globally and in particular has brought greater focus on the role of the CHRO. COVID has greatly impacted organsation structures and ways of working which in turn has demanded new capabilities and responsibilities

CEO’s have turned to the CHRO and wanted solutions immediately – it was now more like a line management role. Line Managers were already in panic mode – restructuring production and revising supply chains, stores were closing, online was the new sales channel.  Leaders needed to create a new work culture, restructure jobs and lay people off while at the same time maintain morale.

Some larger companies had disaster plans to refer to, modify and implement. But many companies did not have them. CHROs needed to focus on rapid results, be resourceful and devise and implement action plans. Few were prepared for this as the HR role was traditionally advisory and not implementing major change, especially at short notice.

One of the biggest people impacts has been working from home. Remote working was more prevalent in US with approx. 40% already working from home but for the rest of the world it was a much more dramatic change. In Europe, Indian Sub Continent and Asia Pacific homes were much smaller, staff lived in tall blocks in 500sq ft flats with their family and grandparents. Kids were at home not at school, mothers (your employees!) needed to look after them. The kids needed the fast internet for Zoom lessons (and games!), but many homes did not have hi-speed internet connections or printers at home. Working from home became a sudden necessity without the time to think through and manage the consequences

Leaders suddenly needed to create revised organization models. Working from home revealed that many duties could be carried out from home without harming quality or efficiency. However others needed contact with numerous colleagues and the resources in the office. Important information was retained in peoples heads and not on line!

Now in early 2021 companies are starting to see the shape of a new normal and are planning changes. The CHRO is expected to play a key role in this. New policies and protocols need to be devised. Some staff are planning to leave their company as the new normal does not work for them or because it is a blend of job change and home change which clash.

CHR0’s now need to work with managers to define the new set of customs and practice, revise existing work rules and protocols and devise communications strategies to embrace the new reality.  Who will pay for remote workers’ connectivity and any required equipment as many roles need terminals not IPads to connect to complex company systems.  Data access and data security will need a major rework

Managers themselves may well be finding the new normal stressful as they cannot cope without their team being in the office or that having 20 faces on screen all day does not work either! Finally the role of the coffee machine is better understood!

Managing the new normal

Many roles will need redefining as they will be carried out in different ways. Staff who were based in a Head Office or Regional Office may find their role has significantly changed, or, perhaps is no longer needed. Offices may have been transformed into workspace. Leases have not been renewed and offices relocated to smaller premises in a different less expensive district. CHROs need to ensure that changes are carefully communicated especially those working from home! Not all line managers are good communicators!

Not only talent acquisition but also retention will remain a critical task. Employees need to be recognized and engaged, no matter if they are working remotely or waiting to return to the office in a changed role. New recruits joining a company may be nervous about new roles and how to meet subordinates and colleagues online in post-pandemic company structures they are not familiar with.

Control needs to give way to trust. Staff will need help to learn how to work remotely and with far less oversight. They may find they have a new boss and need to learn about what works and what does not work when based at home.

The pandemic and lockdowns have put pressure on employees in ways that not only test their wellbeing and private lives, but also that of our society. Caring for the workers’ well-being is one of the most important challenges for the CHRO and senior leadership.

CHROs will need to be creative, decisive, empathetic and leading these changes and communicating to the staff affected. The corporate culture will need to be rebuilt as soon as possible. A well-defined organizational culture is critical for long-term success. Culture is vulnerable in times of crisis. With financial problems on the one hand and structural changes on the other, it is easy to put organizational values, mission and identity aside

Looking at the positive side COVID has forced leaders to operate in a more agile way, which will probably benefit them in the future. Business leaders now have a better idea of what can be done outside of their traditional processes. Many are finding simpler, faster and less expensive ways to operate. The pace and scale of workplace innovation is growing rapidly

The CHROs who are effectively dealing with it while avoiding harming staff performance have gained a new sets of skills and responsibilities There will be new normswhich will promote and value human communication and feedback, adaptation to change and producing working results. The status quo ante has gone.

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Growing Your Company

Your research projects have started to show potential and you need to raise more funds for research, development and clinical testing. As your company grows the development of your management team will become as important as the scientific development. You will next need to be thinking ahead to strengthen capabilities in regulatory affairs, finance, commercial and market development in your management team.

The Biotech industry is growing rapidly. Talent is very much in demand. Demand is greater than supply. You need to have a talent development strategy comprising recruitment, succession planning and competency development. If you do not have a talent management strategy in place you also risk losing your own talent!

Potential investors will want to meet your management team as part of a due diligence process and hear them speak about how the business is developing and overcoming the challenges it faces. I have been through it with my own business!

Having a high quality management team will help to maximise the value of your business in the eyes of investors. A weak team will hinder your attempts to raise investment funds. A mis-hire or a non-hire while your business is growing at 15 – 20% a monthly can be crippling.

Raising funds

Whichever route you take to raise capital the requirements are similar. The major change is that the financing of the business has become as important as the scientific development

  • Predictable and consistent revenue. The business needs to be mature enough and its systems robust enough so that it can reliably forecast the next quarter and the next year’s expected income or reduction in losses! Investors or stock markets do not like it when companies miss earnings targets or have trouble predicting what they will be. Potential investors will question your team about this
  • A strong management team. You need an experienced top teamin place who have been with the company 2-5 years. Recent joiners with less than a year’s service will not be credible
  • Trade Sale is much more discrete and may not become public until it happens. An IPO becomes public a year before the event because of “book building” and getting approval to join the listing queue. This will put a lot of pressure on your team
  • Robust Systems and Processes. Investors will look for robust business processes in place. This is important even if a company stays private. But going public means every aspect of how the company is run will be closely examined.
  • Long Term Plan. The company needs to have a long-term business plan with financials and sales forecasts prepared for the next three to five years to help investors and the market see that the company knows where it is going.

Quality of Leadership

This is one of the biggest factors investors look at beyond the financials when considering buying into your company.

Your top team will typically include: Chairman, CEO, CFO, CMO, SVP Early Stage Development, SVP Late Stage Development, Head of Govt & Regulatory Affairs, Head of IT & AI, Chief Business Officer (Purchasing, HR, Administration), Chief Commercial Officer (Marketing and Sales). These people need to be high quality and not just names on doors. They will be quizzed by the Venture Capitalists and Investment Banks. Your investors will expect these people to have track record and have been with your company at least 2 years.

Our Role

Preparing for and executing major loan finance, a trade sale or an IPO involves major business transformation and operational disruption. These can be heavy burdens for startups which have been used to running lean.

Your recruitment and development plan will be almost as complex as your scientific development plan. It will need to be executed in parallel to ensure you have the right people in the right place at the right time! Recruiting a senior executive from a competitor typically takes six months as there will be a 3 months notice period in addition to the hiring process. Senior recruits may take longer as C suite recruits are often on 6 months notice.  If you want to recruit a senior executive from a competitor you may need to do this very confidentially and using an executive search firm.

Your company may also need part time Independent Non-Executive Directors with prior experience to sit on audit, compensation and governance committees.

We can help you to set up an HR function and assist them when there is a surge of recruitment. We are experienced in biotech, food tech and medical device recruitment, have a database of candidates and can manage the necessary confidentiality. We have a global network of offices to enable us to find the talent you need. We will work with you to develop and execute this plan in a cost effective manner.

Need Help?

If you need advice or a discussion, please contact Mark Geary, CEO of Asianet Consultants:

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What Will the New Normal Look Like?

The US – China trade war has already caused companies to re-examine their supply chains. In 2019 Retail was already under attack from Online and many famous names like Sears, Penny and Kmart were already in trouble. Then in 2020 Covid arrived.  Supply chains were halted and badly infected areas were “locked down”. Staff were asked to work from home. Many countries closed their borders. Many airlines were grounded.

With access to workplaces was limited, intercontinental airtravel travel almost halted and employees have had to learn how to work at home. But with schools closed and children at home for many employees working at home (in 350 sq ft flats) was very difficult with only basic home computers, in truth mostly Pads, which were set up for games and not linking to office systems and having poor quality internet connections.

Transitioning to a new normal will require a reduction in manual and repetitive roles and an increase in the need for staff with analytical and technical skills. The more advanced larger companies have started to use digital tools to communicate and collaborate with colleagues. But many small and medium enterprises are in survival mode and cannot raise the finance they require from banks as they lack the assets to secure loans to invest in more advanced digital technology

A change in the way of working will therefore require financial resources and a major program of reskilling with operations roles affected more than most.

Some companies have supplied staff with new higher powered laptops and set up remote learning and coaching programs. However the companies themselves are having to reconfigure their own systems to make them accessible while worrying about data security which is slowing down progress.  As business starts to recover organizations will need to significantly accelerate their reskilling programs to develop a workforce with the capabilities and connectivity needed to run their new-normal operations.

The recovery from the crisis will also be a catalyst for changes in how work is done as well as where it is work is done. The need for physical-distancing measures has caused manufacturers to re-examine their organisation and methods and have found that the new arrangements have improved productivity and required fewer staff!

Healthcare providers in the USA and Europe have been rolling out e-health services using new remote treatment systems to treat thousands of patients in their homes instead of medical centres

In consumer services we are seeing significant increases in the adoption of online and omnichannel delivery models. As leading banks reopen their retail operations, some are changing their branch networks to self service

Companies are reviewing product value chains to become more regionalized as companies reassess the risks of global networks and supply chains. For example, to cope with regional shutdowns, fashion retailers started to develop new supply sources closer to major markets, using local suppliers of crucial raw materials, outsourcing logistics and reducing dependency on Southeast Asia.

In consumer services there has already been a significant increase in the adoption of online and omnichannel delivery models. Retailers have applied advanced analytics to slim down product assortment, trim warehouses and logistics requirements through optimized planning and reducing procurement costs.

Companies with overseas manufacturing operations have delegated more responsibility closer the point of supply, introduced video reviews of production and quality and found that they do not need so many staff micro-managing from head offices!   As organizations master the challenge of managing physically distributed operations teams, they are having to adapt their operating models accordingly, with staff on the ground in local markets able to draw upon technical expertise either locally or remotely via digital connectivity tools.

This trend will continue – welcome to the new normal

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Countries led by a woman dealt with the COVID crisis better

A recent study from Liverpool University study shows that countries led by women were locked down earlier, “followed the science” more rigorously, and as a result have so far seen half as many COVID deaths.

The results clearly indicate that women leaders reacted more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities. In almost all cases, they locked down earlier than male leaders in similar circumstances which has certainly helped these countries to save lives

The study combed data for 194 countries up to May 19, with 19 of them led by women. The study excluded Taiwan and Hong Kong – both led by women – because the World Bank (the study’s main source of consistently comparable macro data) covers neither. Had they been included – given that Hong Kong and Taiwan have been among the world’s most successful on containing the virus the study would have reached even stronger conclusions about the superior performance of women leaders during Covid-19.

The Liverpool University study confirmed the findings of studies from teams at Trinity College Dublin, and from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy at King’s College London, both undertaken in May. The Trinity College study of 35 countries found that women-led economies suffered six times fewer confirmed deaths, with more rapid “flattening of the curve” and caseload peaks six times lower than those in male-led countries.

It drew particular attention to Scandinavia, where female-led Denmark, Norway and Finland moved so much more effectively than male-led Sweden. Most women-led governments have also placed a stronger emphasis on social and environmental well-being, investing more in public health and reducing air pollution.

The Liverpool team confirmed this conclusion: “Nearest neighbour analysis clearly confirms that when women-led countries are compared to countries similar to them along a range of characteristics, they have performed better, experiencing fewer cases as well as fewer deaths”

From Montreal, a study using data from an annual World Economic Forum gender parity survey, credited the superior performance of women during the pandemic on common features: resilience, pragmatism, benevolence, trust in collective common sense, mutual aid and humility. Gender-balanced environments produced more robust decisions.

The Liverpool study challenged a widespread conventional wisdom that women leaders are more risk averse. Women leaders were risk averse with regard to lives and they were prepared to take significant risks with their economies by locking down early. Risk aversion may manifest differently in different domains, with women leaders being significantly more risk averse in the domain of human life, but more risk taking in the domain of the economy.

These studies seem to agree that male leaders have in general served their countries less well during the pandemic. With examples such as Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Boris Johnson, the view seems hard to challenge. In contrast, the steadiest and most trustworthy leaders in recent months have clearly been Angela Merkel of Germany and  Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand – and their steadiness has been rewarded with thousands of saved lives.

The authors are nevertheless anxious to emphasise that this is still an early stage in the development of the global pandemic and that their study was based on immediate reactions to the first wave. The study needs to be repeated when the final toll of the pandemic is measured – both in terms of lives and economic cost – perhaps more than a year from now.

Even at this early stage, certain conclusions seem clear: there are systemic and statistically measurable differences in the efficacy of policymaking when countries are led by women, that “gender-balanced” policymaking produces more robust decisions.  Qualities normally viewed as “female” – such as empathy, compassion, listening and collaboration – are hugely valuable not just in a pandemic or other health crises, but also on issues that demand close international cooperation, such as the climate crisis, environmental pollution, resource use, ageing, and skills shortages.

Differences in approaches to risk also seem important. The study noted that while both men and women are often overconfident, men are more overconfident of success in uncertain situations. Perhaps even more important when faced with negative experiences or setbacks men tend to react with anger, while women react with caution.

With women leading just 19 of the 194 countries studied, it will clearly be some time before there are enough women leaders – and women in positions of power in more general terms – to build an exact science around the difference that female leadership makes.

(Source: SCMP – David Dodwell, Executive Director of the Hong Kong-APEC Trade Policy Study Group)

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Do You Have the Talent to Achieve Your Goals in the post COVID world?

Do you have the right talent in the right place to achieving your goals? COVID has caused many companies to rethink their business strategy and how their business is organised. Some staff will have performed well, others may have disappointed. Many companies are talking about making more use of technology

Some of these changes may be things you have been discussing for the last two years but not implemented! Some will involve moving in a new direction with new people with new skills. However, without clarity of direction people will not know how the organization will achieve the vision and what their role is.

A football team may have the strategy and leadership, but if they do not have the right players they will not top their league, or, may even get relegated. Similarly if you have a talented team but the game plan is not clear you will lose matches.  Making course corrections becomes intuitive when all players know the game plan and your team members are not moving in different directions. They are making the right decisions, supporting each other and achieving goals.

Your business needs to be able to adapt quickly and smoothly and continue to perform while your competitors are struggling to stay on course

Your business strategy will need the talent requirements built into it rather than bolted on after the fact.

  • What are the talent inhibitors preventing you from achieving the strategic goals?
  • What are you doing to remove these?
  • Are talent requirements aligned to achieving business goals?
  • What roles have you identified as essential for you to enable your new strategy to be  implemented?

Do you systematically review your talent and how they are performing just like you would review new product development, production efficiency and monthly sales?

Too often succession planning and talent management has become an online exercise which when completed with all the boxes ticked it ascends to the Cloud not to be seen again!

Let’s simplify this and bring it back to earth.

Do a quick analysis of your staff under the following headings. No fancy forms with lots of boxes! List out those staff who are

  • Mission Critical
  • Core
  • Nice to Have

Mission Critical – Ensure you have the right people in these roles and a succession plan to reflect the future and not just today’s needs.

Core – Not necessary superstars, but essential to keep business running.

Nice to Have – What is the plan to reduce some of these roles and develop alternative ways of managing their work. If a person is doing the same job in the same way as a year ago then it is likely that the work can be done by a machine/robot or digitised!

The focus for achieving your goals is “People, Products, Profits”. Are all of these on your monthly board meeting agenda? Is one of them missing?

If you would like to discuss further, please contact Mark Geary, CEO, The Asianet Group:

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Skills Shortages continue in Life Sciences

With more IPO’s, the demands of COVID, Patient Trials and the need for more Data Scientists ensures that shortages of talent will continue in 2021 & 2022 and probably longer. There is also pressure on the regulatory authorities to speed up trails for the major disease categories where there are as yet no cures.

This is a recurring theme among the life science and healthcare industries and a fear that the shortage of skilled employees will lead to a decrease in innovation. It is not that the educational system is letting these industries down, it is because these industries are changing so quickly, it is difficult to keep up.

The increasing use of artificial intelligence and process analytical technology in drug production, as well as research using data science, big data, and machine learning will require more life scientists with mathematical and computing skills.

The traditional manufacturing positions have been the easiest roles to fill but the skill sets required to manage biopharmaceutical manufacturing processes—in particular involving engineering, data analytics and process development remain in short supply.

With Brexit creating lots of uncertainty in UK and Europe and the clashes between US and China this may disrupt the flow of graduates starting careers the R&D sector.

The academic institutions do a great job in serving the life sciences sector eg innovation hubs in Boston in the U.S. and Cambridge in the UK, as well as emerging centres of excellence in AsiaPac. The problem is not with the quality of the students coming through these programs it is practical industry understanding that these students lack when it comes to applying scientific knowledge in a manufacturing setting.

At San Jose State University in Medical Product Development Management they have significant background in clinical program management as they are offering a more practical, hands-on training program bringing in experts, guest lecturers, people from all different disciplines who can speak to the topics current in the industry.

Academic institutions often find it hard to keep up with the pace of change in the industry and some do not believe universities should be expected to do this. The Biofactory Competence Center in Switzerland was founded in 2016 to create a suitable bridge between academia and industry and provide courses for highly skilled academics and researchers to help them build the practical skills required to work in R & D and manufacturing, in particular around new and emerging areas such as automation and the increasing use of AI and data science.

A recent European Talent Acquisition survey found that 42% of companies saw skills shortages as their biggest problem. The only way they thought it could be fixed was for their organizations to invest in innovative ways to attract and retain top talent. Companies need to identify where they are losing key candidates during recruitment and whether the process is at fault or if the skills they are looking for do not actually exist!

Talent acquisition executives are busy with the day-to-day recruitment demands of the business, which is why many are shifting away from traditional, in-house recruiters and launching partnerships with specialist recruitment companies to develop Talent Pools and a more structured approach to recruitment such as “Talent Harvesting”.

The competition for top talent is intense. It is important that companies do a better job of showcasing their values, company culture and career paths to candidates. It is imperative for organizations to have an ongoing dialogue with academic institutions and candidates who have the key skills they are looking for.

For more information on Talent Pools and Talent Harvesting contact

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