Building an Agile Workforce in Clinical Research
Most organizations understand the importance of creating a competitive advantage with a targeted, aggressive hiring strategy – but why is this typically exclusively focused on external candidates? While this makes sense at the entry-level, oftentimes, employers are overlooking a critical talent pool available to them: their current employees.
While we usually think of our leadership roles as impact roles, it’s time to rethink highly impactful entry-level roles. For example, organizations may want to consider hiring a clinical trial associate (CTA) with a career in clinical research in mind, rather than just for this first role.
Think of the traditional purely linear talent pipeline – a CTA that may advance to CTA II or III, or perhaps progress into a clinical trial manager (CTM) role. This type of advancement no longer meets the needs of complex, global study team environments where multiple, interdependent perspectives weigh in to develop the best paths for study success. What is missing is strategically utilizing early-in-career movement to break the silo mentality. This can add tremendous value by rotating staff, enabling them to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges they will experience throughout their career.
To realize this potential, the highest leverage in building an internal workforce is to engineer “zigzag” career moves, rather than exclusively linear. It begins with understanding transferrable skills that can apply to other roles in the organization as a job moves to address organizational ebbs and flows.
For example, a CTA I becomes a clinical research associate (CRA) before advancing as a CTA II. A CTA II could benefit from a cross-functional rotation before elevating to a CTA III. It also works in other ways such as a CRA can move to become a CTM. As the benchmarking exercise illuminated, large hierarchical biopharmaceutical companies are seeking ways to break functional loyalty and silo mentality to become more agile and operate successfully in a cross-functional matrix. What better way than to build these future lateral leaders with your entry-level talent?
Reimagining the Linear Path Mindset
Why isn’t the internal hiring strategy more widespread? Simply, there is no quick fix – many organizations look to bring in outside, experienced, “ready-made” talent as a quick fix.
To change the mindset to invest from within, here are a few thoughts and ideas to consider:
- It is rare to find a job posting these days that does not require multiple years of prior experience in an extremely specific niche. This is what recruiters call a “purple squirrel” – something that simply does not exist. These wish lists are not only unreasonable, but they cause you to believe there is no one relevant internally to consider for the position, when in fact there may well be. Rather than hiring these expensive “squirrels” externally, employers would often be better off placing a bet on someone internal who is a fast learner, can learn on the job, and will go the extra mile to prove they were worth the risk
- There are several advantages of internal candidates, many of which are often overlooked. Your current employees already know your values as an organization, how to navigate the culture, how to get things done, and how best to communicate. They can hit the ground running, rather than spend substantial time acclimating to your organization
- Even more important, you know so much more about your employees than you will ever know about an outside candidate, including their strengths and their developmental needs
- Take the “purple squirrel” metaphor seriously, by taking a critical eye – and the delete key – as you edit your job postings. Understand which qualifications are truly required, which are preferred, and if any transferrable skills may apply. If there are skills candidates can learn on the job, list those as well. This will significantly enhance the potential for internal employees to qualify as candidates, and for employers to initiate a “zigzag” path
While these actionable strategies are not complicated to understand, they require steadfast commitment to implement well, and will not happen overnight – especially since strictly linear paths are well worn over multiple decades. Insights and ideas for addressing the barriers and managing the cultural changes required to create “zigzag” internal mobility for another post. And, while we focus on the CTA, these strategies can apply to an entry-level position in the organization.