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Developing High Potential Leaders in the Pharma Industry

Posted by Darleen DeRosa March 1, 2019


Most organizations understand the importance of good leadership, but putting the systems in place to ensure that they identify and develop those leaders can be a difficult task. Although the instinct of many companies is to reward high performance with promotion into leadership positions, the truth of the matter is that only about one-in-seven high performing employees is a high-potential leader.

Developing Leaders in Pharma

Finding these leaders is especially important for a dynamic industry like today’s pharmaceutical sector, where change is fast becoming an everyday business reality. The industry is expected to grow by about six percent annually for the next few years. As the stakes continue to increase, their ability to adapt to disruption while still managing resources effectively can mean the difference between record-setting profits and financial ruin.

By implementing comprehensive assessment and development programs, pharma companies can fill their leadership succession pipelines by developing agile leaders capable of stepping in and handling problems on day one. A strong candidate pool helps companies avoid damaging talent gaps and allows them to develop leaders with the precise skills and qualities needed for sustainable success. When those assessment and development strategies are not in place, however, organizations leave themselves vulnerable to shifting circumstances and confusion.

Finding High-Potential Leaders: GlaxoSmithKline

As one of the world’s leading pharma companies, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) faces a number of challenges in a competitive global marketplace. Having effective leaders in place is crucial to the company’s ability to execute strategy successfully and meet future demands.

Despite recognizing the value of developing leadership skills, GSK did not have a program focused on identifying high-potential employees who could fill second-line leadership positions. Without these potential candidates in place, the company was left with a critical gap in its leadership pipeline. The challenge, then, was to implement a formal process that could engage people aspiring to second-line leadership positions. Without such a program, these high-potential employees could potentially become disengaged or even leave the company to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Keeping these candidates on a clear development path was absolutely vital if GSK was going to build a talent pipeline capable of meeting competitive global demands in the pharma industry.

Implementing The Solution

OnPoint Consulting partnered with GSK to help the company resolve its succession challenges. The process began with a complete redesign of leader expectations in the organization. GSK considered what competencies needed to be emphasized to help its leaders better meet the demands of the global market. Once those new expectations were in place, OnPoint helped GSK to redesign its assessments, assessor training, and leadership development programs to bring them into alignment with the updated parameters. The new process focused on developing leadership competencies.

This collaboration resulted in a high potential program that focused exclusively on developing aspiring second-line leaders in area such as strategy execution, making unbiased decisions, coaching, change management, and influencing strategies. It also incorporated an action learning project and a customized Situational Judgment Test based on real problems that existed within GSK to help promote systems thinking and organizational awareness.

The program culminated with a three-day live assessment center activity that captured a wide range of data GSK could use to provide a development report for every participant. After this session, feedback was reviewed with candidates and their managers to help them better understand the development themes. Much of this feedback went into the creation of professional development plans, which are crucial to developing leadership competencies.

Evaluating Results

In the six years following implementation, the program proved to be a great success. Subsequent reporting by GSK has shown that the program not only boosted both engagement and retention, but greatly improved work performance. Many graduates went on to take second-line leadership positions, demonstrating the program’s overall success at strengthening GSK’s leadership pipeline.

Identifying and developing high-potential leaders within an organization is one of the greatest problems facing the pharma industry today. With the job market more competitive than ever and pharma companies facing an unprecedented level of change, the ability to grow effective leaders from within is crucial to the success of any company. By implementing better assessment programs, companies like GSK have demonstrated that high-potential employees can be found and prepared to assume vital leadership roles in the future.


Topics: pharma, high potential candidates

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