The Thought Diversity Balance – Innovation in Life Sciences

August 17, 2016

By Sarah Pozek, Director of Life Sciences

In an industry that depends on innovation, it’s important to hire and retain employees that will challenge the status quo. The new buzzword on the rise is “diversity of thought” and it’s changing the way employees are hired, trained and managed.  Instead of hiring “yes-men”, companies are placing an emphasis on having a culture where employees do not all think alike, foster new ideas, and challenge each other to be strategic problem solvers. This type of environment allows for employees to feel comfortable sharing their opinions and ideas openly instead of conforming to the norms of a conventional work hierarchy.

To foster a creative culture with diversity of thought, Life Science companies focus on different ways to hire the right people and manage the company culture.  Five companies shared their tactics and methods to making sure to cultivate diversity of thought.

Hiring

When it comes to hiring candidates who don’t just conform to their workplace, Life Sciences companies have come up with innovative ways to hire for diversity of thought.  For example, Lisa-Jean Clifford, CEO of Psyche Systems Corporation, a company that delivers software applications and solutions for laboratories of all types and sizes, said in regards to interviewing that she has never looked at a checklist of personality traits or used personality testing to hire employees.  Her focus is a person’s skillset, level of dedication, reliability, and background to determine whether they’ll be a good fit for the position.  This is especially important in the Life Science space, as a diverse set of skills among the workforce is needed.  A great amount of employees are directly out of the lab, which is key to success in any healthcare and software company because these employees know what the needs are in the industry.  On the other hand, Clifford says that people with no lab background are essential as well.  She said that by hiring people who are independent thought leaders, and having each of the technical skills represented, you are able to put together a full picture of the different areas of expertise, skillsets, and real life work experience.

Some companies focus on finding problem-solvers who work well in a collaborative environment to encourage diversity of thought.  Cal Collins, CEO of OpenClinica, a company providing electronic data capture software for clinical research to make data more accurate, efficient, and organized, shared insight on hiring new individuals.  Collins stated that working in the HIT and Life Sciences industry is interesting and complex; employees have to work on complex problems to find simple solutions for customers.  He said at OpenClinica, they look for team members that have aptitude and attitude to come in as problem solvers and approach it in a team based, collaborative way.  Additionally, he commented that people bring their skills into the company from the Life Science industry or from other parts of technology, but the top criteria is people who will work well in a team to communicate, collaborate, and work in that spirit.

EDETEK also has a unique outlook when it comes to what they look for in candidates and hiring for thought diversity.  Jian Chen, President and founder of EDETEK, Inc., a CDISC Registered Solutions Provider and innovative clinical solutions company that provides high-quality technology and service to pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device companies, said “We are in a very regulated industry, but that does not mean that there isn’t room for insightful thought and innovation.  We look for people with multiple years of experience, but not the same experience several times over.  We want candidates that have moved, grown, learned and done new things.”  He continued to say, “During the interview process we ask specific questions about how their past companies did certain procedures and what they liked or disliked about what was done.  We ask them about changes that they would have made and what role they played in actually making things better.  There are too many pure dreamers out there and our goals are ‘dreams with a deadline’.”

Furthermore, Bob Arnesen, President and Principal Partner of eClinical Solutions, an end-to-end data management provider for Life Science organizations to proactively manage clinical data across the enterprise, described diversity as a built in part of eClinical Solutions’ culture; an open and casual environment where employees can voice their opinions.  In looking for new talent, Arnesen said that eClinical Solutions hires the best people that can do the job, while following the healthy attributes of the company, which include embracing change, accountability, honesty, being risk takers, and that it’s ok to disagree, to name some.  To distinguish candidates and set apart the unconventional candidates in interviews, he asks people how they embrace change and how they have taken risks.  However, Arnesen said that not everyone can be an innovative thinker, as some positions need to be structured; it is best to have some innovative thinkers and have others challenge that thinking, then finding out which ideas will work.

Ed Seguine, of Clinical Ink, a company who developed the first Electronic Source Record for use in clinical trials that captures patient data as both an electronic source document and the original source data, looks to hire employees who are converts; meaning they have experience but will be able to adapt to Clinical Ink and its platform.  He looks for people to be able to think innovatively in the interview process and come up with creative solutions to problems, as well as showcase how well they can communicate.

Managing

While hiring and interviewing candidates who could bring diversity of thought to an organization is important, managing this type of environment is key to a thriving culture.  At Psyche Systems Corporation, Clifford described her philosophy of team based and group based management; while there is a hierarchy, everyone is encouraged to contribute, and everyone has a voice at the table.  The success of this shows in the longevity of employees at Psyche Systems Corporation, which is an average time of 15 years.  Clifford believes that this success is a reflection of the company allowing employees for the opportunity to grow personally and professionally, expand their roles, and offer meaningful contribution to the company.  In addition, an interesting tactic Clifford described at Psyche Systems Corporation is mandating that employees cannot work more than 45 hours a week without being evaluated and getting permission to continue doing so.  She explained that it is how Psyche Systems Corporation promotes work-life balance; she wants employees to work hard and be dedicated, but not get burnt out.

Similarly, Collins also believes in a culture at OpenClinica that lets employees thrive.  He encourages employees to take on challenges outside of their comfort area, and use that to grow personally and professionally.  A great focus Collins described at OpenClinica is training and mentorship.  The company has an internship program, which is just one way used to develop employees in-house.  Additionally, OpenClinica uses mentoring to show employees the pathway to future success within the organization.

Chen at EDETEK described how the company manages innovative thinking in unique ways.  He said, “Fortunately for us, the difficulty is not in developing creative, innovative ideas but reducing the list to the most promising.  We rate each idea on cost, benefits and risk and never bet the farm on a single approach.”  He went on to say, “One thing we have instituted are regular brief stand-up meetings where issues and potential resolution approaches are discussed by the entire team.  We are fortunate that our senior staff are all very entrepreneurial and foster innovation and that our delivery staff are all seasoned professionals.”

 eClincial Solutions takes steps in managing the company culture to encourage their people to ask questions, embrace changes, innovate, think differently, and offer a forum for them to do so.  Arnesen said that this type of thinking starts from the top, and he believes in leading it by example so that employees engage in the process and work to create better processes.  He commented that he wants people to go to work excited and embrace what they’re doing because ultimately they can help patients at the end of the day.  To maintain this healthy culture and employee attitudes, eClinical Solutions creates an environment that puts family first and supports work-life balance.  Additionally, eClinical Solutions has radically invested in an open, redesigned office for teams to come together.

Seguine says at Clinical Ink they are evolving into a system process culture where employees are thinking comprehensively enough to make good decisions.  This carries into meetings held, where employees need to be active participants by asking questions, challenging one another’s thinking, and bringing up potential solutions.

From these conversations with industry leaders, there are three common threads we can see in hiring and managing diversity of thought in the Life Sciences work environment.

-Diversity of thought doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to be a creative.  There needs to be a balance between innovative thinkers, those who can challenge ideas, and the employees who will take action on implementing these solutions.

-Company culture begins from the top down.  For example, eClinical Solutions’ leadership of the company sets the tone for cultivating a diverse, open culture.

-Each of these companies show unique tactics in implementing open forums for employees to participate in discussions by contributing thoughts, asking questions, challenging ideas, and creating innovative solutions.