In the build up to this year’s event, Clinical Trials Innovation Asia 2018 and PharmaIQ released an interesting article entitled “Is the Clinical Trial System Broken?”.
The article explored the way that clinical trial methods are developing in order to keep up with the rapidly advancing technology in the life science sector. It concluded by arguing that despite the current clinical trial system being somewhat “broken” and outdated, the constant evolution of clinical trial operations, particularly by big pharma, is creating a better, more efficient model.
One of our associate recruiters (biotechnology) Michael Evans, had some interesting insight:
“From a recruiting perspective, I often speak to candidates frustrated by their current companies either being slow on the uptake, or completely ignoring new developments in clinical operations. With big pharma on the forefront of clinical trial disruption especially in the artificial intelligence and patient management side of things, candidates are starting to consider taking lateral moves into big pharma in order to gain early experience with systems and methods that they see having the biggest impact in the industry.
Considering that big pharma has the budget, resources and reputation to attract and retain some of the brightest minds in the industry, it’s no surprise that smaller companies are often facing difficulties when retaining talent. It’s not necessarily the fault of the companies themselves (there is no way that a company of less than 100 people strong can match the $43m deal in AI that GSK recently announced), but they can take onboard ideas from staff at all levels and at least consider the implementing new ideas.
The majority of candidates I speak to who are somewhat hesitant in regard to moving to big pharma are worried about being a small cog in a big machine and their ideas being lost in bureaucracy. Smaller companies would without a doubt benefit from capitalising on these concerns by engaging and listening to the ideas of employees at all levels.
A company doesn’t need a budget the size of Johnson & Johnson’s to innovate and disrupt, it just needs a good idea and a motivated team.”
So, a company’s ability to keep its employees engaged in their jobs, and its reputation as a workplace that values ideas at all levels, can make or break a recruitment decision. As companies grow, they can leave employees feeling excluded from key decision making processes, if not feeling left out of the company’s success. Whether a job candidate feels he or she will be able to make meaningful contributions to their firm’s success may more meaningful than the dollar figure on the paycheck.
Yet the same processes that have helped a company survive and succeed often become formalized into the day-to-day routines of the job, and process formalization in a company’s growth is always going to be double-edged. It’s what allows the company to grow, as new employees no longer have to relearn and rediscover solutions to problems that have already been encountered. But on the other hand, new ideas can then seem to be squeezed out, and the voices and concerns that helped grow the company may then go unheard.
Process formalization means a company’s founders no longer need to be consulted on the details of the job, as there is now a shared knowledge base that both creates and reinforces shared organizational values. In this sense, employee engagement – as well as customer engagement – are shared organizational values. They can help define the value adding processes that shape a company’s growth, making best use of human resources available at any level of its operations, and of customer feedback that is available externally.
For clinical operations, from the smaller scale to Big Pharma, it is vital to understand the interdependent relationship between resources, processes, and values. It’s also important to understand how a company’s capabilities migrate from one to the other. Big Pharma means access to funding and resources that are unavailable to smaller scale operations. But how valuable are these resources to a Big Pharma company if it’s human resources either can’t see emerging opportunities to be successful? What if they lack the processes needed to get there?
The observation that an organisation evolves through these three stages [resource, processes, and values] was made by innovation specialist Clayton Christensen. According to him, at the beginning of an organisation’s existence, in the so-called “start-up” period, all it can do is attributable to its resources, and mainly its human resources (founders and first employees). The problems that arise are solved directly by the founders. It is quick and efficient and is the main reason for the agility of start-ups. 
Clayton Christensen is an expert on industry disruption from technological innovations. These can be “incremental” and create new value but do so within an established industry structure, or they can be “radical” and able to flip an industry to where new players can overturn long dominant incumbents. He’s written numerous industry-specific books on disruption, including one for the U.S. health care industry . His “RPV” framework (resources, processes, values) can be very useful for understanding how a company’s available resources set the stage for its values, and then its core capabilities, to emerge. Of course it’s a company’s processes that are effectively the lynch pin that keeps the wheel in place and the machine moving forward. In this way, processes can be seen as the configurable connections that link values to resources.
For Big Pharma, financial resources are a given. However, attracting human resources requires more than just the signing bonus. Potential hires in this space may be looking to make lateral moves to a Big Pharma firm in order to gain early experience with leading edge systems and methods. These are the processes and best practices that are seen as having the biggest impact in the industry. They may also be attracted by the possibilities of having the resources needed to explore new developments in artificial intelligence and patient management. But what if stakeholder values are misaligned, for example, in the design of successful clinical trials?
A clinical trial’s success hangs upon the people participating in it. That means understanding as much as possible about those patients. From developing the clinical trial design to gathering the patient outcomes, it all requires patients to be fully involved and motivated to work with the clinical trial team. 
Deciding to make the career move to a Big Pharma company will hinge upon many factors. One of them may be the ability to successfully align the goals and values of the company with the goals and values of the potential hire. In the case above, it’s also aligning the goals and values of the clinical trial team as well as the patients. In this case, it’s not just a matter of engaging the employee engagement, but engaging the customer, i.e. the patient, in the design process.
Perhaps someone working in the clinical trial team no longer believes his or her efforts will end up benefiting the patient. Perhaps as designers of the trials, they feel that clinical trial processes have become too formalized and rigid in a Big Pharma context. Do they have any way of affecting change in such environments, as they might have had more freedom to do in their past roles at smaller firms? Are there company processes in place to engage this kind of feedback?
For the potential Big Pharma hire, the decision might come down to confirming and reinforcing the value their potential new employer sees in its human resources. And it might simply be a matter of first communicating the values it shares with its employees and with its customers.