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Managing Talent within the Life Science Sector in Ireland


By Jennifer O'Brien

We have all heard the age-old saying that people leave managers, not organisations. Historic and recent literature both stress the need to hold Line Managers accountable for talent. But, is this the case? Should a portion of the blame not fall on the shoulders of HR, and the organisation alike?

To manage talent effectively and appropriately, the biggest decision an organisation has to make is who is named manager as it is extremely difficult to negate the effect of poor managerial skills and leadership. Defining good managerial and leadership talent can be difficult, as elements of this ability eludes definition and differs per organisation. By developing a matrix of behavioural, technical and leadership competencies, organisations can create a concrete definition of what an effective manager looks like specifically within their organisational context. Furthermore, by assessing a candidate’s current competencies and comparing these to the competencies and skills needed to succeed in a leadership position, organizations can make better-informed decisions when hiring & developing talent and succession planning for leadership talent.

Together, committed Line Leaders and gifted HR Managers manifest the organisational culture, leading to the organisation becoming a magnet for top talent. An organisation should adopt a specific leadership style which promotes said engagement, therefore, empowering their managers and employees alike. CEB research highlights that employees who work in organisations that adopt the above approach show 35% higher employee engagement. Furthermore, developing successful leaders and managers will ultimately lead to a sustained competitive advantage for the organisation. It must be noted, however, that having a great model is hard enough; finding outstanding talent to execute it is even more challenging. 

The historic, operational, definition of the role of a manager is no longer sufficient for the workplace of today. Managers search for process, control and stability while trying to problem solve as quickly as possible, therefore at times not fully understanding the core issue of the problem. Leaders, conversely, are accepting of an element of chaos and lack of structure and are prepared to postpone closure to gain a deeper understanding as to the core issue at hand. Overall, the role of a manager is to continue the organisational functionality while a leader aligns employees to the vision and mission of the organisation. Much recent literature highlights the need to develop managerial and leadership capabilities and address shortages of management and leadership talent as being in the top five workforce challenges. We must realise that team managers are not just managing teams but leading them also. Organisations, ultimately, need both managers and leaders to succeed in the marketplace. Developing both entails less focus on logic and operational exercises in support of an environment which cultivates creativity and imagination. 

A prominent finding of my research with industry professionals outlines that HR lacks confidence in the ability of their Line Managers to deploy a Talent Management Strategy, which poses a sombre dilemma for the industry. It becomes inherently evident in the study that a large percentage of HR participants do not believe their Line Management has the necessary skills and abilities to attract, manage, develop, engage and retain talent. Throughout the primary research, all five respondents elude to the fact that they do not have this trust in their Line Management at numerous points. This is a significant finding that needs urgent attention from an industry perspective. In a marketplace where the war for talent is ongoing, it is detrimental to an organisation to employ Line Managers who cannot effectively execute a Talent Management strategy, therefore impacting their ability to contribute toward organisational excellence. Interestingly, two of the five respondents accepted an element of responsibility for the shortcomings of their Line Managers and opined that it falls to HR to educate Line Management.

Following on from the above finding outlining the lack of confidence HR have in their Line Managers abilities, an additional finding establishes the lack of robust processes in place to support the effective deployment of a Talent Management strategy. Four of the five respondents interviewed as part of the study indicated that their performance management models were based on archaic weighting based systems, rather than a future-focused system, driven by feedback. Additionally, in four of the five cases, performance management systems did not link to other HR processes, therefore hindering the abilities of the organisation to seamlessly integrate Talent Management practices. This has a subsequent impact on the skills and abilities of Line Managers. Without robust processes in place, it hinders their abilities to effectively execute Talent Management strategies. In a positive turn of events, all respondents do, however, mention that they have put in place, or are currently implementing, action plans to negate these skills and ability limitations. This shows the willingness of HR to adapt and to counteract the shortage, allowing Line Managers to build the trust of HR and the organisation.

In connection with the above key findings, HR, and the overall organisations alike, need to take a certain amount of ownership over these issues and implement the necessary processes, strive to educate their Line Managers on the organisational tools available to support a Talent Management strategy, and to promote these tools internally. Equally, this issue precedes the current Line Manager’s managerial role and stems to when that individual was trained as well as the example portrayed to them by past and current superiors, further underpinning the importance of Line Leaders to be educated now, therefore protecting the future of the industry.

Due to the growing global trend of devolving HR responsibilities to Line Management and the viewpoint of HR Professionals in the Life Science Sector in Ireland that this devolution has so far been ineffective, it is, therefore, more important than ever for leaders and managers to be equipped to support Talent Management strategies. 


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