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When the right person is in the wrong position – from a pharmaceutical R&D perspective

Ever witnessed a highly capable and skilled employee under-performing in their job? Maybe you hired a bright-minded and motivated person, who also is a good cultural fit for your company. However, their performance doesn’t live up to your expectations. If this is the case, then you are likely to have placed the right employee in the wrong position.

R&D Perspective

You might think that productivity loss does not come with a cost in an R&D setting. In fact, it is the opposite. While performance of an R&D personnel is much harder to assess than, for example, a sales persons’, it is essential to identify and evaluate performance of R&D because R&D provides innovation, growth and competitive advantage to a company. Performance evaluation depend on a lot of factors such as the company’s organisational structure, seniority levels and the characteristics of the R&D program. Similar to other areas of a company, promotions in R&D can often result in sub-optimal performance of an otherwise brilliant employee in their new position. Probably they have come from jobs that depended on subject matter expertise and not managing or coaching others to do it. Managing and coaching require a particular skill-set that differs from associate-level jobs, so hiring managers should assess those before hiring instead of solely reviewing previous job performance.

The vicious cycle

Today, many scientists realise after finishing their Ph.D., or during their postdoctoral years, that they might not pursue a career in their particular research field. Suffering the emotional and financial consequences of a not-so-promising career path, they often choose to leave their area of expertise to pursue a career in industry; often in other research areas, or even in functions other than R&D. Despite having the skills and competencies other job functions require, some might not have the same level of enthusiasm and dedication towards their new job as they have had before in R&D.

The right solution

Challenge and relevance are key to scientists and engineers. If you feel someone might not be fully motivated or engaged in their workplace, instead of thinking of employee termination, think whether they might be happier in another job function. Communication is key. Focus on understanding your employee; their overall impression, their frustrations and motivation. Use positive but honest approach when assessing performance issues. Try asking the following questions:

- Are you challenged in your role?

- Do you feel underutilized?

- Do you think that you do your best at work? If not, what hinders your success?

- What additional skills do you think you should gain to excel in this position?

- How can we help you learn and develop?

Performance evaluations and follow-up interviews during the first year will significantly reduce the risk of employee turnover and will also increase performance. Having the right employee in the right job will increase team morale, reduce employee turnover costs, enhance business growth, increase productivity and will improve your company image.

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