Beware of inbreeding: why coveting your neighbour's talent could save your life

Written by
Chris Molloy

29 Oct 2015

29 Oct 2015 • by Chris Molloy

Dont get left behind, diversify

The temptation at times of environmental change is to look internally and try to grow the skills that will enable survival. This is all very understandable, but is actually talent inbreeding. The analogy is simple. Diversity is necessary to create a population that is robust to all that life throws at it. Optimising a trait for a specific need can be done by inbreeding or genetic modification but at a huge risk: one that could leave the organisation vulnerable to disease or only fitted to an environment that is locked in time. 

Let’s take the Biopharma sector. In recent years, pharmaceuticals, biotech, diagnostics and medical devices have been forced to undergo seismic change: patent cliffs, FDA warnings, regulatory guidelines and generics are part of the problem, but in they are a sneeze compared to the epidemic that personalised medicine will be. This future of low patient populations, segmented therapies defined by diagnostics and data, not doctors and datasheets, is spreading fast and not all of yesterday’s companies will survive.

What sectors survive?

At times like these the guardians of corporate talent, the boards, executives and HR should look hard at sectors that have survived and it is here where industries must avoid believing they are ‘special’. No industry is, and every industry can benefit by cross-pollination. For example the Life Sciences can look to retail for how to manage the customer (patient) experience; fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) for how to manage their money in a lower margin business; e-commerce to understand how to bring treatments to patients rather than asking the patient to come to the treatment and; financial services to understand the change from portfolios of big products to a more agile portfolio of personalised ones. 

If this is obvious, and how evolution actually works - why don’t we do it more? It is often because the received knowledge is ‘it doesn’t work’ or ‘people from outside don’t understand’. New experiences, skills and outlooks are challenging and different. Like any medicine it can taste quite bitter at the start. 

If there is not the overt sponsorship, support and nurturing of this new talent then it often fails: the energy of the implant is sapped and they leave. This does two bad things: it upsets the system without finishing the job and cements the dogma that ‘outsiders don’t get it’. 

All senior hires, as with all business decisions - carry risk. The risk is mitigated and understood by ensuring effective Talent Due Diligence is done. In this case the DD must evidence the new skills the future business really needs and rigorously quantify measures of future potential. It must also test the personal robustness needed to overcome the natural rejection response to implantation. 

Leaders must discount the lack of ‘our’ industry experience at candidate selection stage and then nurture the ‘outsider’ if they are to benefit from the life-saving experience of others.