Developing a Winning R&D Culture in the Life Science Industry

In recent years a confluence of factors in the life science industry research and development has contributed to the increase in productivity in the drug discovery we see today.  This includes development of exciting new technologies, a better understanding of human genome for target selection, development of ultra fast computational and IT infrastructure, vast array of sophisticated instrumentation for every conceivable application, and equally vast supply of reagents to support various R&D efforts.  In spite of these impressive advancements, one aspect of this equation which needs attention is the human factor.  Why is human factor important?  Because the cost in lost productivity from disengaged employees are billions of dollars per year in US alone.

The culture of an organization determines the culture of the individual’s engagement with the organization, its teams, technology, and the goals. The culture of the organization determines how the decisions are made, in the organization, and how the goals and objectives are expected to be met.  Lack of communication and clarity of purpose at various levels lead to misunderstandings, in fighting, missed targets, unnecessary delays of critical projects, and cost over runs.  The culture is a set of beliefs, objectives, or purpose understood by the members of the organization at every level and clearly communicated throughout the organization. In large organizations different units may have their own sub culture.

One of the major changes in culture is when an employee hired from an academic background. In academia the priority is in publications in the peer reviewed journals.  In academic context, usually investigators keep their findings to themselves and their group and guard it from competing lab for being able to publish first.  In industry, publication of the results from a study is much less important than sharing the data with the team and uses the data in a collaborative effort to advance the drug discovery development.  This change of culture is a very striking difference during the transition from academia to industry. The key differences between the two are in academia the goal is to advance the science and knowledge through scientific publications. In industry the goal is to advance the knowledge to develop a product, accumulate intellectual property, and get a competitive edge over your competition.  In industry the management has to answer to the board, work towards a healthy balance sheet.  Naturally, new projects, new product development effort would be under strict time line, with a clear development path.  These goals and deadlines have to be communicated to the groups with absolute clarity and make sure everybody buy into that.

One of the ways in large companies they organize their drug development efforts are by dividing the groups into separate groups based on therapeutic areas. These groups function independently and control their own budgets, setting targets for their own portfolio, and compete for resources with the other similar groups.  These independent groups function as if they were a separate biotech division fostering the small company feel and nimbleness within the large organization. In this system individual unit head to have to give clear leadership for the group, communicate the goals to the group, and make sure the goals are in line with the corporate strategy.

Some of the key areas where the winning culture can be fostered are by valuing each member’s opinion, whether it is regarding the time line or selection of targets, or new product development.  Especially in group meetings, listen and value the member’s opinion as well as concerns. Encourage to ask questions, or suggest ideas and solutions.  Encourage to think outside the box for unique solutions for the problems, or for a new product idea.  During these exchanges value the member’s comments.  Never put down the member’s ideas with comments such as “it is the dumbest thing I have ever heard”, or even before the ideas are completely explained, make the comments “it won’t work”.  Even if the comments are not very useful, or the product ideas are not very practical, respond such a way that the team and its leader appreciated the comment and encourage coming up with more ideas in future.  Putting down a member for suggesting an idea or asking a question creates ill feeling, and could lead to disengagement and could cost the team tremendously by way of lost productivity.

Make sure that the members of the team understand and believe that they have significant stake in the project and their contributions are critical for the success of the project.  When the project succeeds, compliment them and reward them. If the project fails, instead of singling out a person or group of people and blame them, share the responsibility.

Provide a clear path for careen development in the organization. Encourage the members to take on more responsibility and help them achieve their goals. If they are successful they will have the expectations of promotions as a supervisor, manager or director. Make sure the members are clear on what it takes to be in their chosen career path.

Open an effective communication channel between the staff members and human resource department.  Encourage  the members to discuss any issues within the team or between teams to the HR personnel and try to resolve the problem as quickly and effectively as possible. It may be useful from the human resource department to be proactive, and have periodic discussions with groups and individuals to share their concerns, or excitement and could be a very valuable bridge between the management and the staff of the organization.   In summary, I have described various ways to enhance the company culture to a winning culture which leads to enhanced productivity and happy work force.

About James Maliakal

I am James Maliakal, writer of this blog and is with Pioneer Scientific. I have 12 plus years of experience working in the research lab in academic and leading life science companies. From my years of experience, I have designed and developed unique products which made my work a little easier and efficient in the lab. I have authored and published in peer reviewed journals. Pioneer Scientific is a leading manufacturer and distributor of innovative products, high quality laboratory instruments, and research tools. Contact me to know more.