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Creative approaches are needed to address the clinical research workforce “talent wars”
In the battle for the war on talent, biopharmaceutical companies, particularly those in competitive markets, are having to find creative strategies to enhance their staff recruitment, engagement and retention practices.1,2 In the 2018 Employee Tenure Survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, it was reported that the median tenure for wage and salary workers was 4.2 years and this has not changed in a decade.3 The tenure is even lower in the healthcare industry clocking in at 3.5 years for the category of “health services, except hospitals.” While this may not directly correlate to roles in clinical research, it highlights the challenges that managers and organizations face when it comes to developing and retaining talent. Should companies play an active role in investing in their employees’ growth and development? What practical approaches should employees take to ensure they have a targeted plan for growing the knowledge and skills most needed to be successful in their role? What is the best way to communicate the competency expectations of employees and set them up for success, so they perform and grow in their roles and stay with the organization? And, in a large organization with multiple managers, how can consistency in the interpretation of these expected competencies be ensured? These were but a few of the questions that the clinical operations group at Genentech has tackled over the last few years. In this article we provide a case study for how we went about addressing these workforce challenges, where we are and what we learned along the way.
Genentech, a member of the Roche Group is headquartered in South San Francisco, a hotbed for high-tech and home to many biopharmaceutical companies. Roche, like many organizations, functions around a set of core competencies that outlines the cultural and organizational behaviors that are expected of all employees including such teamwork and collaboration, decision making, and innovation. These competencies include both technical (e.g. achieving results) and leadership (e.g. communication) competencies. These core competencies provide expectations for the skills, behaviors and knowledge (SBKs; sometimes also referred to as Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities—or KSAs) that employees should demonstrate and master to fulfill Roche’s overall corporate objectives.
As part of a larger initiative focused on developing, retaining and shaping our study management leaders to build the culture of tomorrow, Genentech’s early research and development (gRED ECD) clinical operations group wanted to address long-standing feedback from employees and managers on the lack of a consistent framework for mapping the Roche core competencies. Additionally, the group struggled with the lack of a standardized way of defining these competencies across all jobs and job levels.
To address these issues, gRED partnered with the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) and embarked on a journey in 2018 to ideate and develop a solution. The “Competency Framework Initiative '' (herein referred to as “the initiative”) was started with some of these immediate needs in mind along with a recognition of the larger challenge of securing, growing, and retaining talent in a highly competitive market.
Specifically, the goals of the initiative were to:
More broadly speaking, the competency framework and associated training and competency-based job descriptions were expected to be a powerful tool to empower and motivate employees to take charge of their development and use the framework to refine their development plans. In essence, the initiative was designed to help our employees identify areas of focus and to generate clarity on the competencies in each role.
The study management function within gRED consists of four different job roles ranging from an associate Clinical Trial Leader (CTL) to a senior and principal CTL. Specifically, these roles span a broad range of clinical trial leadership and technical responsibilities.
The initiative was a multi-step approach that involved the following:
Figure 1. Competency Framework Development Process Steps
We are currently in the process of:
We plan on updating the defined SBKs within the framework based on feedback from managers and employees. Additionally, we recognize that this effort was unique for the industry, in terms of creating a competency framework for clinical trial leaders. ACRP plans to build upon aspects of the CTL competency framework as they expand their competency resources.
Transitioning from traditional job descriptions and performance assessment tools, to a competency-based roadmap for staff development and assessment was both challenging and rewarding for the core team. Some key take-aways from our experience include:
Creative approaches are needed to address the clinical research workforce “talent wars”. A business-as-usual mindset won’t solve the problems, but a competency-based approach offers many benefits to the employer as well as employee. While every organization will adopt their own approaches to developing their talent, we hope that the methodology discussed here provides some practical guidance for those embarking on a similar journey.
While innovative hiring and engagement tactics may offer a competitive advantage, making investments in our staff is just the right thing to do for the patients we are trying to serve.
We look forward to sharing updates and lessons learned as we gain further experience with this initiative.
Sarah Hamirani is the Senior Clinical Program Leader at Genentech, a member of the Roche Group. Beth Harper is the Workforce Innovation Officer at the Association of Clinical Research Professionals.