Change is inevitable. In a time when labs were full of scientists, meetings with partners were taking place in conference rooms and cross functional teams were strategizing on the best path forward through your current stage of development; COVID disrupted the norm and forced us into a new era.  Most companies were able to return scientists to the labs, albeit in shifts and with many new safety standards in place. They were also forced to embrace other alternatives for working together as a company, integrating fully remote functional groups and hybrid concepts. As the pandemic slows, this shift is driving the restructuring of many aspects of life science companies as they work to re-establish yet another new way of working together, from the boardroom to the bench. The Leadership Edge, which has been extending its services to life sciences organizations throughout the United States and parts of Europe and of Asia for the past 34 years, recently had the opportunity to gather with an esteemed group of CHROs in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to discuss the best practices on reimagining leadership in this boundaryless post-pandemic world.

More recently, factors have arisen that have propelled the work toward the east coast. Third Rock Ventures (a top life science VC firm with locations in California and Massachusetts) chose The Leadership Edge as their learning and development partner for their portfolio companies, fostering leadership skills and collaboration across the entire ecosystem. At the same time, the Boston community was expressing that CHROs were in need of networking and thought leadership, and The Leadership Edge stepped in and designed a quarterly CHRO breakfast to serve that need. 

It was during our most recent event that we were able to approach some hard-hitting questions about leadership that have come to light since the world embraced these new alternatives to the traditional workplaces of decades past. 

How do you coach leaders in how they make decisions in these new models? Where have they struggled? How do you hone these skills in a virtual model?

Human Resources plays a crucial role in organizational design. Redesigning the internal structure becomes essential, especially when preparing for commercialization. It is important to socialize these changes with the executive leadership team, as they need to embrace the new structure and cascade it throughout the organization. Additionally, if senior leadership hires junior employees without assigning them tasks or responsibilities, it can lead to bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

To foster creative problem-solving, employing parallel thinking is recommended. This approach separates thinking into six clear functions and roles. Each thinking role is identified with a colored symbolic “thinking hat.” By mentally wearing and switching “hats,” you can easily focus or redirect thoughts, the conversation, or the meeting. 

What has your experience been with declining employee engagement and where are you planning to focus your leadership and organizational development efforts? What are the elements that are driving declines in employee engagement? 

Gallup, an analytics and advisory company based in Washington, D.C., has identified key factors such as a lack of clarity in expectations, insufficient development opportunities, and the lack of valuing employees’ opinions as the main reasons for declining engagement. These issues, potentially exacerbated by remote and hybrid work situations, suggest that effective leadership is crucial for maintaining employee involvement. One practical tool that leaders can utilize to identify these challenges within the organization is called “Office Vibe,” a micro pulse survey tool that provides a snapshot of organizational hotspots every two weeks.

One of the shifts we’ve seen with respect to employee development has been a move away from preparing employees for specific roles and towards enterprise skill development. What do you see as the leader’s role in adapting to this shift? What, if anything, have you experimented with at your companies, and what has been the result?

Leadership methods in fully remote or hybrid work environments require clear communication and well-defined expectations. In the case of misaligned goals, a ‘push/pull’ strategy should be adopted, creating ownership and accountability. A succinct one-sheet “roadmap” can be prepared, and employees are encouraged to discuss it with their managers during one-on-one meetings. 

Career journeys can be seen as backpacks, with each role being a valuable experience you take along with you. Leaders should help employees identify the experiences that they find fulfilling while visualizing how that can also add value to their organization. Career journeys should be designed with intention while still remaining flexible, and include at least one or more professional development goals. If you are not vulnerable and taking risks, you won’t see growth. The goal is to help employees understand that building skills is meant to support the career journey, not just for a role.

The three things that will make employees successful are skills, competencies, and a motive. If they lack a motive, there’s no true drive for growth.  For example, some scientists don’t want to do anything different.  They just want to do what they love and are content to stay in that role.

A big focus in the last couple of years has been employee well-being and mental health.  This necessitates a shift in mindset for leaders – what have you seen at your organizations and how are you addressing it?

The development of resilience, agility, and grit in teams is paramount. Resiliency, especially, is a beneficial skill for everyone, while engagement skills are particularly essential for managers. Employee well-being goes beyond simply equipping them with those skills, though. Sometimes it means looking deeper at what makes an employee feel like a vital part of the team. Although the stated reasons for employees quitting a job often include compensation, benefits, or family, the real causes often lie in unresolved conflicts, overlooked insubordination, a lack of respect or appreciation, and a feeling of not being empowered to take on new challenges. In the life sciences sector, our ‘ace card’ is purpose. By implying a strong sense of mission, leaders can motivate employees despite other issues.

In an ever-changing world, being willing to reimagine and restructure leadership is crucial if you want to see your company continue to grow and adapt. By helping you employ some of the strategies and tactics discussed above, as well as many others, The Leadership Edge is ready to guide you and your team through these shifts and set you up for success from the boardroom to the bench, and at any of your sites throughout the country.