Finding the Right Fit: Hiring for Cultural Alignment in Life Sciences

Achievements in the life sciences industry are rarely the work of isolated geniuses, but rather the result of dedicated team collaboration. From developing life-saving drugs to pioneering groundbreaking medical technologies, success hinges on the ability of many different individuals to effectively their varying skillsets.

That’s why cultural alignment is a piece of the hiring puzzle you can’t afford to overlook. Picture a scientist joining a team known for its open communication and iterative approach. If this new hire prefers solitary work over brainstorming sessions, frustration and disengagement are likely to follow. Issues like these directly translate to missed deadlines, stalled projects, and ultimately, a slower pace of innovation.

The good news is the Compass team has been helping life sciences leaders build synergistic, productive workforces for over 15 years. We’ve seen firsthand the transformative impact that prioritizing cultural alignment can have on biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. In fact, research shows both employees and company leaders believe culture is more important than strategy or operations when it comes to delivering business results.

So, how can you leverage cultural alignment to create a thriving work environment? Read on as we take a closer look at the power of hiring for cultural fit, explore strategies for defining it, and discuss how to strike a balance between cultural alignment and inclusivity.

4 Steps to Define Your Company Culture

A clearly defined company culture is like the DNA of your life sciences team. It allows you to attract and retain high performers who both possess the expertise you need and align with the values, behaviors, and work styles that drive your organization’s success.

Here’s a step-by-step approach to identifying and articulating your unique company culture:

1. Conduct a Mission and Values Deep Dive

Begin by revisiting your company’s mission statement and core values. Are these aspirational statements, or are they truly reflected in your day-to-day operations? For example, if your mission emphasizes patient focus, consider how clinical trial design integrates patient feedback, or how patient advocacy efforts are woven into your company’s fabric.

Alexion Pharmaceuticals, a leader in rare disease treatments, is a stellar example of walking their talk. They actively partner with patient advocacy groups to make certain that real patients have a voice in shaping clinical trials and have access to essential resources. Their commitment is evident in their numerous initiatives, such as the Alexion Patient Assistance Program, which helps patients overcome financial barriers to accessing their medications.

2. Encourage Leadership Introspection

Leadership plays a critical role in shaping culture. Senior leaders should reflect on their own communication styles, decision-making approaches, and interactions with team members. Are these behaviors aligned with your desired culture?

At Genentech, a culture of calculated risk-taking and scientific exploration is fostered by leadership that encourages a healthy dose of fun. Their leadership style is highlighted in their long-standing tradition of employees dressing up in costumes for Halloween and other company events. Even the co-founders, Bob Swanson and Herb Boyer, actively participated in this tradition, demonstrating their commitment to a culture of approachability and lightheartedness.

As former Genentech CEO Ian Clark emphasizes, “this atmosphere empowers employees to feel comfortable sharing ideas and challenging the status quo, ultimately leading to groundbreaking scientific advancements.”

3. Empower Employee Voice

Don’t underestimate the power of your existing workforce. To tap into the full potential of your current team, conduct surveys, run focus groups, or gather employee feedback through anonymous suggestion boxes on the current work environment. This can reveal valuable insights into existing cultural strengths and areas for improvement.

Companies like Amgen, a leader in biotechnology, understand the value of employee voice. They utilize employee resource groups (ERGs) to provide a platform for employees from diverse backgrounds to share their perspectives and contribute to shaping the company culture. These ERGs function as a forum for open communication and collaboration, fostering a sense of belonging so that all voices are heard.

4. Champion Your Future

Identify and empower employees who embody your desired culture. These “culture champions” can serve as mentors and role models for new hires, ensuring a smooth integration into the team dynamic.

Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), a global biopharmaceutical company, fosters a culture of mentorship through their extensive employee development programs. These programs target employees at various stages of their careers, providing opportunities for growth and leadership development.

For example, their junior scientists can benefit from collaborating with senior researchers through programs focused on technical expertise.  Additionally, their Catalyst and Talent Accelerator programs identify high-potential individuals and equip them with the skills necessary to become future leaders.

3 Strategies for Hiring for Cultural Alignment

Now that you’ve defined your company’s culture, the next step is to uphold it through your hiring practices. Here are a few research-backed strategies to integrate cultural fit assessments into your recruitment process, while promoting an inclusive work environment.

1. Embrace a Values-Driven Interview Framework

Ditch the generic interview script. Instead, develop a framework that delves deeper into a candidate’s values and motivations. Craft questions that explore their past experiences in research settings.

For example, pose questions like: “Describe a time you had to navigate a challenging ethical dilemma during a research project,” or “How do you approach collaboration in a fast-paced environment?”

Look for responses that resonate with your company’s core values. For instance, if your company prioritizes patient-centricity, a strong candidate might discuss actively seeking patient feedback during clinical trials.

2. Leverage Project-Based Assessments

Go beyond theoretical questions. Incorporate project-based assessments that simulate real-life research scenarios. Present candidates with a scientific challenge relevant to your current research focus.

Evaluate how they approach problem-solving, communication, and collaboration within a team setting. You’ll gain valuable insights into their thought processes and work style in a practical context.

3.  Partner with a Specialized Life Sciences Staffing Company

Finding your ideal team members isn’t simply a matter of checking resumes. You need a partner who understands the intricacies of the life sciences industry, the specific challenges you face, and the unique skillsets that drive groundbreaking discoveries.

By partnering with Compass, you gain a trusted advisor with the expertise, track record, and talent evaluation skills necessary to cultivate a high-performing and culturally aligned team in your company.

And remember: Cultural fit isn’t about creating a homogenous team. Diversity of thought and experience is crucial for scientific innovation. Strive for a cultural complement—a team where individuals share core values but bring unique perspectives to the table.

By incorporating these strategies, you’ll foster a richer environment for brainstorming, problem-solving, and ultimately, groundbreaking discoveries in the life sciences.

Building a successful life sciences team requires a strategic approach that goes beyond resume matching. Reach out to Compass today, and we’ll find the cultural fit who can propel your scientific advancements.