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‘The need of the hour calls out for a mindset change on how we manage employees’


Richard Cowley, Founder, WorkAmmo, in an interview with Viveka Roychowdhury, talks about the need for leadership to support a learning culture

What are the top challenges facing the life-sciences talent pool in India and globally today?

20160131ep26In my opinion, the most critical challenge for the life-sciences talent pool is the imperative to stay current in an industry that’s constantly changing in all directions. At a more granular level, a major challenge is the ever-increasing gap between what we’re taught in university and the skills and capabilities organisations actually need as a bare minimum.

What are the top challenges facing life-sciences HR in India and globally today?

The top three critical challenges in my opinion are capability building, employee turnover and skill gaps (education).

Building capability in the life-sciences context requires a systematic approach to learning and development as an integral part of workforce planning. Along with learning and development planning, there is a need for alignment with other workforce activities, and the need for leadership to support a learning culture.

The evolution of ‘hybrid talent,’ professionals who not only possess scientific knowledge, but also the business skills necessary to help advance products through their life cycles, is resulting in the need for a far more well-rounded learning culture, and HR is struggling to keep pace.

Another key element to building capability is the retention of key personnel, this includes employees who are senior or close to retirement. This may also necessitate the need for a review of the norm in terms of work hours, benefits and hourly pay arrangements.

India Inc, not just the life sciences sector, also needs to get together and share a very robust communication of future anticipated needs with government and academia to help drive student education programmes and curriculum development. I believe it’s a crucial strategy for the future.

Given these challenges on both sides, how do you think the role of the human resources function within work places should evolve, given the scarcity of talent, the changing nature of business, etc? Is this happening and if not, what are the options for both sides?

I believe the challenges are essentially the same no matter which side of the pond one are on. In India, generally speaking, HR is at a more nascent stage of the HR evolution cycle, so the challenges are starker. The need of the hour calls out for a mindset change on how we manage employees – less personnel management and more business partnering.

All the challenges I have articulated above can be addressed by robust planning. Poor planning leads to poor performance! As HR leaders, contributing to the preparation of the future workforce 10 years down the road, believing we are responsible now and can help will deliver this critical need. We must definitely manage workforce demands and capability for the next three years using a global mindset and the build, borrow or buy method. We should partner with the business today to deliver people strategies that overcome this period of industry turmoil — there is no better time to step up.

Another challenge is managing cost in an era of talent scarcity. HR departments are pushed to reduce fixed costs, whilst hiring the right people on inflated pay scales, primarily owing to scarcity in specialist areas. For India, there is a need to deliver a very focused build/ borrow/ buy talent/strategic workforce plan.

One huge potential impact on research and pro-active medicine is of the ever-evolving digital world — set to drive new business models and ways of thinking, as it has done in other industries. In this regard, the belief is that it will not be tech geeks but industry specific geeks that will create the next generation of platforms. The various forms of engagement with technology will include disease prevention, monitoring, treatment and more personalised care. This may also extend through to the commercial and supply process where products will be available in models not too dissimilar to Amazon!

The HR capability in this context is clearly the challenge of merging different structures and cultures, the consolidation of which can be difficult. With so much opportunity, large demographic countries like Brazil and China are being supported by government initiatives. It will be key for India to move with assertion if they are to maximise the global opportunity or focus on targeted geographies. The demand therefore will be on accelerating the inventory of current people’s capability against the future need to deliver competitive advantage in the exploration of future opportunities.

With anticipated investment in the digital space, HR professionals will already be pro-actively starting to understand people needs in terms of hardware/ software capability, and if they aren’t, now is as good a time as any.

What is the vision behind WorkAmmo? What is the value add?

WorkAmmo was founded to fulfill a straightforward objective: to help people achieve in the workplace. From my personal and professional experiences, I have truly come to believe that when we invest in individuals, transformation is inevitable. WorkAmmo was built to fuel this transformation. We believe that when individuals achieve, teams, organisations and economies achieve. All our offerings are fuelled by this vision and built on this principle, and will be fundamental in solving challenges at the workplace, globally.

What are the products/ services being launched next month and for which sectors? is our first offering, which was rolled out in December 2015, with a soft launch in India in October. With, we hope to be instrumental in shifting the focus from jobs to careers. We believe that with the right tools and guidance, individuals can build successful careers they love and own. With, individuals can assertively take control of their career, starting with young people aged 13, at the cusp of educational choice, all the way through to post-retirees. It is a free, private space for life – a place to document an individual’s career, receive help to develop their career, and finally help deliver their career by pushing jobs to them based on their profile and preferences. CareerLine is available on the web, as well as on Android and iOS.

How is CareerLine different from recruitment sites or other career management tools?

For starters, CareerLine is a private space that only the member (CareerLiner) has ownership of. CareerLiners can document and manage their career and develop themselves, in complete privacy, at their own pace – any time, anywhere. While we do push best-fit jobs to CareerLiners, members only engage with prospective employers that they choose to engage with, and share information with them in stages. Even our personal development offerings are pushed specific to the stage of the career journey CareerLiners are in and are tuned to their career development needs at that time. WAKE, our proprietary algorithm ‘learns’ members – the more specific they are with their goals and career aspirations, the more precise our content and learning resources get.

Job boards and social recruitment sites give users a false sense of gratification because of the ‘connectivity’ and the sheer volume of listings. How many of these thousands of available jobs are actually relevant to users, though? How many are in line with users’ career aspirations? Plus, there is no immediate feedback on where users are in the recruitment process.

CareerLine is also a great place for reflection, by plotting out their career journey, their history, present, and future goals – all in one place, it allows CareerLiners to reflect on where they have been, where they want to go and everything they need to do to get there.

What is the business model? Where will your revenues come from?

CareerLine will always be a free service. While members may have to pay third party service providers for development resources that they sign up for, they will never have to pay to use CareerLine.

Our revenues will come from our second offering – PiAmmo – which will be rolled out in early 2016. PiAmmo is a cloud-based SaaS (software as a service) workplace performance platform that will enable companies of all sizes, from SMEs to enterprise, to manage all their important people processes seamlessly. We will be launching with our recruitment module.

Why was India chosen as the launch market and which are the sectors first on your list?

My bond with India goes back many years. I have been coming to this beautiful country for 27 years now because of my regional roles in the organisations I have worked for – British Aerospace, DHL, Kimberly Clark, managing teams and recruiting people for the various India divisions. I have come to develop a deep respect for the untapped talent in this country, and also learnt how a lot of really capable people are limited by the opportunities available to them. While a lot has changed over the years, aspirations of the Indian workforce have kept pace. There is a clear gap that needs to be addressed. The geographical spread and hiring demand within India itself, supported by the culture where jobs versus careers is dominant lends itself to our offerings. Employable Indians are very young, mobile demographic. A number of countries are looking for talented, educated, and motivated individuals to meet their hiring needs – fuelled by ageing populations that cannot sustain economic growth. The Indian government has been doing a stellar job by initiating a number of programmes to develop relevant skills for the workplace. If some of these initiatives cater to the specific hiring needs of other economies we will have a winner. India has the potential to be the talent export hub of the world – there is a very practical fit.

We will be targeting the IT & ITeS and life sciences sectors to start with. Both come with a unique set of needs that make the adoption of our offerings a compelling proposition.

What is your two-year strategy roadmap for WorkAmmo, in terms of future offerings, etc.?

When it comes to the workplace one can have any number of offerings, the workplace is literally our oyster. In terms of a two-year plan, our launch in India will be followed closely by launches in Thailand and Sri Lanka by the first quarter of 2016, and in Australia, New Zealand, and other Asian countries towards the end of 2016.

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