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How to Cultivate Millennials as Leaders in Pharma

Posted by Darleen DeRosa January 31, 2019


As the Baby Boomer generation transitions into retirement, organizations in multiple industries are turning to millennials to fill the leadership gap. Some companies have approached this transition with trepidation, dwelling on the fact that 91 percent of millennials don’t expect to remain at a job for as long as three years. They worry that the moment they’ve managed to place a millennial in a leadership role, that person will already be looking for their next position, potentially at another organization.

But this isn’t the right way to look at the problem. Rather than dwelling on the possibility that millennials might leave a position, companies should take steps to make sure they remain engaged in their work and want to stay to make the most of the opportunities available to them. For pharma companies, this means leveraging some of the unique characteristics of their industry to retain high-potential millennials and strengthen their leadership succession pipeline.

How to Cultivate Millennials as Leaders in Pharma

Get Them Involved

Millennials put a lot of emphasis on their own professional development. They want to capitalize on opportunities and work in organizations where they see a clear path for advancement. Involving them early is critical. From the moment they begin the onboarding process, companies should provide them with a clear view of the organization’s structure and familiarize them with the decision-making process so they can understand what roles they might fill in the future.

Given the sprawling structure of many pharma companies, there are more opportunities for them to move into a position with some leadership authority rather quickly. This not only provides a chance to get valuable experience early, but also exposes them to different responsibilities that will expand their knowledge of the organization. As pharma companies embrace new team structures such as virtual and cross-functional teams, they can empower high-potential millennials to lead initiatives and oversee special projects even when formal leadership positions aren’t currently available. Since many of these companies do business around the world, they may also benefit from giving aspiring leaders international experience.

Emphasize Outcomes

Millennial culture is strongly motivated by a sense of social responsibility. They want to work for companies that are aligned with their personal values and promote causes they believe are important. Pharma companies have a unique advantage here because the work they do literally saves lives. Millennials are less likely to be inspired by the latest quarterly financial report than by stories of the lives transformed by the new drug that went to market recently.

Linking the company goals to values that resonate with millennials not only encourages them to become more engaged in their current work, but also gives them an incentive to pursue development opportunities that will help them make a bigger contribution. Empowering future leaders to identify and implement strategies that could help improve services and get products to market faster will also help them to become invested in the organization’s goals.

Provide Feedback

Millennials are sometimes characterized as seeking out praise, but what they’re really looking for is genuine feedback that can show them what they’re doing well and tell them where they can improve in the future. Whether formal or informal, millennials want feedback as part of their professional development because it helps them to improve and indicates that the organization values them.

This feedback is especially important in pharma because many millennials will likely take on some leadership responsibilities before they move into a formal “leadership” position. They may, for instance, be charged with leading a project team or serving as the head of a change initiative. Providing them with feedback can show them what their strengths and weaknesses are, allowing them to make the necessary adjustments in their professional development.

Improve Education

When it comes to training and development materials, millennials like variety and customizable approaches that allow them to learn at their own pace according to their schedules. Their comfort with technology makes it easy for them to use interactive learning tools and access training materials remotely when they’re ready for them. These programs should be made available quickly, perhaps even as part of the onboarding process to allow them a chance to get started planning their professional development.

The pharma giant Merck, for example, meets this need by hosting an extensive library of e-learning courses, videos, books, and webinars through its Learning Management System (LMS). These resources are accessible to the company’s employees around the world. They are free to access development materials whenever they want, no matter where they are.

Pharma companies can make continuing education even more interesting for leadership candidates by providing the opportunity to learn about different roles that fall outside their current job responsibilities. Since many of these companies are quite large and consist of multiple departments or subsidiaries, there are plenty of opportunities for aspiring leaders to expand their systems thinking and style flexibility, as well as gain a broader sense of how the company operates.

Millennials and the pharma industry have quite a lot to offer each other. Now that millennials are the largest generation currently in the workforce, they must fill leadership gaps and become candidates who are part of robust leadership succession pipelines. Pharma companies can ease this transition by offering development opportunities that get them involved quickly and keep them on a path to make positive contributions to the industry.

Developing Future Leaders

Topics: Millennials, pharma

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