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Drug Maker's HR Business Formula

August 24, 2007
More than a year ago, HR executives at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals U.S. sat down to discuss what the company could do to get all 12,000 of its employees focused on driving business performance. Penny Stoker, vice president of human resources, met with Workforce Management New York bureau chief Jessica Marquez at the 2007 Conference on People Performance Management to discuss how her HR team is handling the challenges the fast-moving pharmaceutical market presents.

Workforce Management: How do you make sure the team keeps in mind the needs of the business?

Penny Stoker: One of the first things I did when I started three years ago was sit down with my team and ask them, "How many of you have been outside of HR and outside of AstraZeneca within the past 18 months?" And they all had a look on their faces like they had been found out. So I said, "OK, your goal now is to go and understand those parts of the business that you might not understand today. Get involved with those organizations." HR is useless if it doesn’t have the core understanding of how the business works.

WM: Many consultants say that pharmaceutical companies can no longer predict the talent they will need in 10 years. They say these companies need to create a "just-in-time workforce." Are you moving in this direction?

Stoker: [It’s] more from the perspective of how we create a workforce that is the right-size core, and then we can increase and decrease as we need it, depending on what’s going on. And it goes across the value chain. So if you look at, for example, development, we have been on-and-off users of clinical research organizations, which outsource researchers. We go up and down with them, depending on what we are working on, and we are looking to do more of that. With sales reps, we have relationships with clinical sales organizations and we use them up and down depending on what our needs are.

WM: Many other pharmaceutical companies are outsourcing their HR processes. Are you looking at this?

Stoker: We outsource when it’s appropriate. We look at it from a couple of different perspectives. First, do we have the processes in place so they can be easily replicated no matter who does it? Then we ask if it is a core process or not. Then we look at whether there are providers that can do this particular service at a level that we think is necessary.

WM: AstraZeneca recently signed a recruitment process outsourcing deal with the RightThing. Was this a hard sell for you?

Stoker: No, it really wasn’t a problem for us. First of all, I haven’t seen many internal recruitment functions that work effectively. That’s always the first thing that people want fixed. The RightThing told us that we would get better-quality candidates, faster, and get them up to speed quicker. We thought we would have a year to get through the cycle and see how it went, but the relationship paid off within the first three months.

WM: Are you considering signing an end-to-end HRO deal?

Stoker: No. I’m not convinced that the value is there yet. I think it’s still an immature market and I have enough issues without being someone else’s guinea pig.

Workforce Management, July 23, 2007, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!