Transforming talent acquisition at AstraZeneca

Written by
Maggie Spong

07 Dec 2017

07 Dec 2017 • by Maggie Spong

Over the past year, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has been on an exciting and ambitious strategic journey to return to growth. Maggie Spong explains what this means for the talent acquisition function.

Tell us about your role at AstraZeneca (AZ)

I joined AZ in 2016. I was keen to be part of transforming talent acquisition (TA) to support the overall HR transformation and business: to put the candidate experience at the core; optimise technology; simplify processes and build an expert in-house TA team.

So far this year, we have received approximately 200,000 applications from around the world, including graduates, trainees and experienced hires. These will convert to around 10,000 hires.

What was your impetus for transforming TA?

Before we started our transformation, our TA function was somewhat reactive and focused on process. Our vision is for a sophisticated, agile, proactive, expert function that has strong candidate pipelines.

How did you make the business case for change?

Our people are at the core of what we do, so the business case was met with positivity by our HR leadership team. We need the right people, at the right time, in the right jobs, at the right cost to achieve our mission.

What are your ambitions for the function? 

Our mission in TA is to support the business on its strategic journey. We have a strong pipeline and ambitious goals.

Although we have some talented people in the function across the world, we needed to develop some core items that would support us to be more effective, leveraging technology and implementing consistent processes and standards.

We wanted to transform into a more strategic, sophisticated, proactive, in-house, expert function that would deliver strong candidate pipelines, supported by a strong employer brand.

Acquiring great talent is fundamental to business success. Our people are the foundation of a culture we are proud of.

What initiatives are you looking to implement and how do you hope these will translate into ROI? 

The new TA operating model is set to deliver highly-skilled and diverse candidates; to be more cost-effective; improve candidate and hiring manager experience, and create a stronger AZ, internally and externally. The function will have experts, committed only to AZ, passionate about the people we are attracting and sourcing, ensuring we are bringing in the best people to help us push the boundaries of science and deliver life-changing medicines.

Global TA leads will be accountable for building strategy for their area of the business as well as global ‘talent scouts’ tasked with building external candidate pipelines to support business-critical roles. This reduces over-dependence on third parties and improves ROI. We will work with fewer selected external partners as we will take ownership of this more with our internal expert teams.

How is the disruptive 'fourth industrial revolution' affecting your talent pipeline development?

New technology, processes and systems are a big part of our transformation plans. We’ve implemented a number of new systems and a candidate relationship management system
to help simplify processes, improve our internal system and candidate experience. We are moving some TA roles to off-shore service centres to support a focus on candidate experience.

We rely heavily on social media to attract and hire candidates. A strong employer brand is key to attracting the right talent.

What is your vision for the future?

An AZ ahead of its game with pipelines of the world’s leading scientific talent and a reputation like no other, attracting the brightest and the best in all disciplines.

We have the top talent in the industry working for us. We are proud of our purpose and values, innovations and successes, our career paths and development opportunities. We want like-minded people to believe in us too.

How can heads of TA navigate challenges in the face of ongoing change? 

Heads of TA should focus on the needs of their business;
prioritise and build the basics; ensure they have robust systems and simple processes; optimise the right resources; be the best collaborators; have clear communication internally and externally; and build a great team of proactive, agile, strategic professional talent acquisition experts who will ensure a first-class candidate experience.

I always encourage my team to put themselves in the shoes of the candidate, to deliver the right hire, at the right time, at the right place, at the right cost.