The General Manager’s Mind-Set

AstraZeneca’s HR team takes a holistic approach to being an active business partner and contributing to the company’s growth and competitive advantage.

Even the most successful companies can’t rest on their laurels when it comes to finding great talent. AstraZeneca, the pharma and biopharma company known for its marquee medicines such as Prilosec, Nexium, and Crestor, is careful not to become complacent, and is always seeding the product and talent pipelines.

Its people strategy, for instance, helps develop organizational capabilities, invests in leadership development, and drives a vibrant performance culture that keeps the company nimble in a dynamic and competitive business environment. As part of this forward-looking initiative, Lynnsie Peterson, senior director of human resources, is quick to point out that AstraZeneca has always believed in developing and investing in every employee. But now, there is a focus on ensuring that those efforts target business-critical roles and capabilities that fuel growth, facilitate proactive insights, and develop competitive advantages.

“We used to focus on an individual’s functional knowledge in a particular discipline, but that’s just the price of admission today,” Peterson says. “To maximize effectiveness, we need employees to be agile, resilient, and able to collaborate and look beyond their own areas of expertise.”

Regardless of professional responsibilities or business units, this approach requires a “general manager’s mind-set.” Within HR, this includes having strong business acuity and understanding every aspect of the business. In practical terms, this can be applied to developing strategic workforce plans that analyze current talent needs and anticipate future capabilities to support the organization’s three-to-five-year business objectives.

Peterson refers to these plans as “an integrated and continuous process that identifies critical gaps between urgent workforce resources and future needs in the context of business strategies.”

“Workforce plans include internal and external data insights that enable us to better understand our workforce and clearly articulate talent needs in a proactive way. We can accelerate internal talent development, develop effective external talent acquisition strategies, address retention of employees with key capabilities, and identify surplus or soon-to-be-irrelevant skills. Ultimately, it all helps us bring life-saving medicines to patients more quickly and effectively,” Peterson explains.

To support this approach, HR business partners must have comprehensive functional understanding of AstraZeneca’s business, as well as expertise about what drives the demands and behaviors of its clients. For this reason, Peterson often accompanies sales teams to hospitals and physicians’ offices to get firsthand feedback about company products and how clients are responding. This can also provide insight into what core marketing messages are resonating—and which concerns may need more attention.

“Hearing firsthand from customers helps identify gaps in training or where we might have an opportunity to improve how we operate,” she says. “It marks a real evolution of HR in the role of active HR business partner.”

Successfully fulfilling this new role is critical to contributing to AstraZeneca’s goal of establishing a reputation as a great marketing company. In the past, this meant that pharmaceutical companies created marketing messages and collateral built on clinical data and extensive market research. It also relied on outside agencies
for distribution.

Now, however, customers have access to all of this information online. As a result, companies have to make clinical attributes part of the initial value proposition and use internal resources to develop customer-centric visions of the brand. New strategies also require using the underlying science to leverage the values, behavior, and demands of physicians and consumers.

The HR department at AstraZeneca has taken numerous steps to help facilitate development of the expertise and capabilities needed to succeed in this environment. “We develop leaders to appropriately assess talent so that we have the right people in the right positions, and also maintain a rich pipeline of talent with the potential to move into various roles across the commercial business,” Peterson says.

To foster this notion of working differently and going beyond boundaries, the business also created cross-functional working teams that eliminate traditional silos. “Most people weren’t used to working outside their business units. But now we have a diversity of talent and expertise across the commercial organization with sales people going into marketing and vice versa. That scenario of integrating skills, experience, different ways of working, and various perspectives has produced great results,” Peterson explains.

All of these efforts to integrate business specialties, to reorganize HR’s operating model to be fit-for-purpose, and to prioritize the capabilities necessary to secure AstraZeneca’s success and recognition as a leading pharmaceutical company, have, in fact, benefited the company. The depth of succession plans in business-critical roles across the company has greatly increased, and the ability to attract the best talent in the industry has made a difference over the past two years.

Encouraging innovative risk-taking has resulted in more thoughtful solutions to business challenges, and facilitating cross-functional initiatives has improved levels of collaboration, enterprise thinking, business acuity, and engagement scores year after year.

“These are the kinds of results we need in a market that’s changing rapidly,” Peterson says. “To stay competitive, we need to change just as quickly by working smarter and more effectively and by putting innovative workforce-planning strategies in place that are completely integrated and coordinated with business priorities.”

By leveraging HR professionals’ innate passion for developing people and having the foresight to build future capabilities, Peterson and the HR department—along with all of the company’s business units—are helping to support the platform to ensure AstraZeneca’s success for years to come.

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