Unleashing the power of R&D talent

Authored by: Tadaaki Taniguchi, Chief Medical Officer and Head of Medical and Development, Astellas Pharma Inc

There has never been a more exciting time to be working in biopharma: we are truly at the forefront of accelerating innovation to solve some of the world’s greatest healthcare challenges. Yet, across the world, we are seeing significant changes in talent and workforce dynamics. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work forever, demanding organizations embrace new structures and working models that better meet the evolving environment around us. As part of this, we’ve seen considerable shifts in employee expectations, with the ‘battle for talent to innovate’ now one of the most pertinent issues facing the pharmaceutical industry today.

One thing is clear – as the industry seeks even greater innovation to address our growing and ever more complex global healthcare challenges, the leaders helping to realize the innovation are now more empowered than ever before, seeking an environment where as individuals, they can bring their whole selves to work, with the freedom to think differently, take intelligent risks and fail without blame, quickly learning from mistakes.

As such, an organization’s leadership approach and culture, where innovation can truly be unlocked, is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but business critical to both attract, grow and retain the best and most diverse talent. Achieving this is paramount to unlock new innovations to transform patient’s lives worldwide.

Setting bold ambitions and empowering talent

Future innovation is heavily dependent on people power – our most critical and valuable resource. But the digital, data and scientific advances of the future require a new class of talent who think and act differently, with a growth mindset.

As Astellas’ Chief Medical Officer, I have made it one of my highest priorities to maximize the potential of our scientific team and build the right environment for talent to thrive. As an organization, we are increasingly moving into uncharted frontiers of medicine in areas of high unmet need in underserved and serious diseases.

That’s why we look for people who thrive in an agile, entrepreneurial environment and encourage them to think beyond their day-to-day function or role. Cross-functional collaboration, learning and adjusting quickly throughout the R&D process, not only accelerates innovation, but also helps individuals become more impactful and influential both within and outside our business. As organizational structures become flatter and we move away from traditional, hierarchy-based decision-making, leadership skills that are centered around collaboration and shared ambitions will become increasingly essential.

Leaders are of course a fundamental driving force in empowering employees to make brave decisions and take the intelligent risks critical to accelerate innovation, particularly in breakthrough areas. Working in this way may not have the desired outcome every time, but it’s essential we learn from mistakes, openly sharing knowledge and insights that will support continuous improvement – or organizations risk being left behind in an increasingly competitive market.

Attracting and inspiring the best talent

Despite the working environment evolving significantly in recent years, I believe that what inspires talent has not drastically changed, but it has intensified. People want to work for organizations that have a clear purpose that aligns with their own personal values. They want to make an impact and for their work to be recognized and appreciated. They also want to be listened to, understood and accepted. Leaders need to be aware and empathetic towards this, seeking opportunities for employees to positively contribute throughout their careers.

Some of the key principles that I feel are integral to attracting the best talent include:

Giving employees a united purpose

At Astellas, our purpose is to positively impact patients' lives by improving their health. This drives our strategic thinking and informs our day-to-day decision-making, recognizing the life-changing impact of new treatments for the patients that need it most and that each of us will be a patient or support a patient in our lifetimes. Harnessing the diverse backgrounds, cultures and values of our employees and reflecting their varying perspectives in our business, heightens creativity, helping to deliver genuine innovation that will make a positive, sustainable difference to patients. Embracing diversity in our people and leaders also better positions us to understand and address unmet needs to fully represent our patient community.

Enabling people to work with autonomy, continuously learning

We support our leaders to act as ‘multipliers’, empowering whole teams and individuals to work with autonomy. We also encourage continuous learning and development across the organization, stimulating opportunities for progression as part of our culture to accelerate global talent. As well as motivating employees, this approach enables people to solve problems, make decisions and take intelligent risks, achieving things never thought possible.

Working with empathy and valuing emotional intelligence

Developing life-changing therapies is one of the most challenging, essential and personally rewarding fields in science.  As such, understanding and supporting each other in our professional roles is crucial. At Astellas, we are dedicated to nurturing an inclusive culture that values diverse thinking and supportive behaviors in all that we do.

Collaborative partnership

We apply the same approach to the way we work with our employees with our business partners, key opinion leaders, academics and our wider scientific network. These external partnerships are critically important to our success and our leaders seek collaboration opportunities that will enable our employees to access expertise and capabilities beyond our organization to realize innovation and create VALUE for patients.

Looking to the future

In today’s competitive climate, leaders have an even greater responsibility to inspire and grow the potential of their talent as we seek to unlock innovation to address complex, healthcare needs. Together we must shape a culture that allows innovation to thrive, while always remaining mindful of the changing internal and external factors that influence the roles and motivations of our people. Seeking new talent with unique experiences and ways of thinking is crucial to ensuring diversity and inclusion and creating empowered, high-performing teams. Getting this right holds great hope for the success of organizations, the healthcare industry as a whole, and most importantly, the patients we serve.

Changing tomorrow: Join us and turn innovative science into VALUE for patients