The Power of Workforce Planning

Practical Tips for Managing One of the Most Expensive Line Items in Your Budget

By Patty Adams, Head of Human Resources Consulting

Economic conditions are challenging the life sciences industry in unprecedented ways. In my 30+ years as a business and HR leader in pharma and biotech, I’ve never seen such widespread constriction. Our industry used to come through economic downturns relatively unscathed, but that is no longer the case. Additionally, the halo effect life sciences companies experienced as a result of the pandemic is fading. 

The result? Clients across the industry with whom I consult are delaying plans – including business development activities, raising capital, and headcount expansions – for more favorable economic conditions. Meanwhile, investors wait it out on the sidelines for more clinical and regulatory wins.

Yesterday’s solutions will not solve today’s business challenges.

Yesterday’s solutions will not solve today’s business challenges. The days of “finger in the wind” headcount planning exercises are over. It’s time to stop relying on the friends and family plan (i.e. hire who you know) and instead take a more disciplined approach to determining what roles are needed, who to hire, and when. Following are the top three reasons for more rigor in defining your workforce plan.

1) Connecting the dots: making a clear line between your business strategy and your people strategy

Our inclination is to start at the end with “who do I need to hire?” But smart workforce planning starts with your business strategy, which then informs key projects, which then inform the critical skills needed to execute those projects. The result is a gap analysis that highlights the difference between existing skills and those needed to execute critical projects and voila! Critical positions materialize.

Beyond being more practical and aligned to the needs of your organization, this approach to workforce planning also galvanizes your team around your strategy. You aren’t just hiring to hire: you have a plan.

You aren’t just hiring to hire: you have a plan.

I’ve seen this time and again while conducting headcount planning exercises, where disconnects between critical functions can be uncovered before they present roadblocks to achieving business objectives. And it starts with asking the right questions to connect the dots and ensure an ongoing understanding of – and alignment on – priorities.

2) Risk mitigation: avoid future headaches!

A good workforce plan isn’t just about headcount. It also should outline key components and standards for roles, including:

An upfront investment in a workforce plan prevents having to undo or redo today’s decisions down the road, mitigating the risk of turnover and legal exposure – which is especially critical in the age of increasing focus on pay equity.

3) Options, options, options!: avoid future headaches!

Not sure how to determine whether investing in a full-time employee is the best solution? Workforce planning informs whether you should buy (FTE), borrow (contractor/consultant), or build (develop from within – now referred to as silent hiring) talent. Fractional headcount mitigates risk and expense as you monitor the business dependencies in your plan to determine whether investment in a full-time headcount makes sense.

Workforce planning informs whether you should buy, borrow, or build talent.

A workforce plan will help you ride the ebb and flow of the talent management lifecycle, allowing you to determine whether to bring resources in-house or leverage flexible options like RPO solutions, minimize risk during a product launch with a CTO, or leverage fractional HR support to reduce your risk and financial exposure while preparing to scale. 

And, from a stakeholder management perspective, effective workforce planning demonstrates to investors that you have a solid operational plan to deliver on your business strategy while ensuring alignment with the financial planning process. 

The best news – it’s not rocket science! You and your team have the answers. It’s a matter of putting a framework in place to drive a disciplined, pragmatic approach to creating your headcount plan. 

If you are interested in learning how Mix can help you with your workforce plan, please contact me. And be sure to watch this space for more information on how to weather the storm.

About the Author

Patty Adams, MSHR

Head of Human Resources Consulting

Patty is an accomplished Human Resources executive with over 30 years of internal practitioner experience in the life sciences industry. During her tenure, Patty has led human resources departments in small, mid-size, and large pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Her diverse experience spans various stages of organization development to include start-ups, commercial launches and expansions, M&A activities, IPO filings, and downsizings. Patty leads Mix’s Human Resources Consulting practice, which helps companies achieve readiness for their next stage of growth. Whether acquiring an asset, transitioning from an academic/research lab, and/or preparing for clinical studies or a commercial launch, Patty’s expertise brings clients practical solutions to manage those milestones.

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