Key Elements of Succession Planning In Bioscience

This is a guest post from Steve McLaughlin, Managing Partner and Founder of US BioSearch. Do you have a response to Steve’s post? Respond in the comments section below.

Stephen McLaughlin a (4)Effective succession plans involve a combination of many choices and decisions that are distinctive to each, specific company. Bioscience companies also present their own, unique challenges, as I have learned with my 28 years of leadership experience as a U.S. Marine Officer, Foreign Service Officer, founder of a medium sized European consultancy company, and bioscience recruiter.

The first crucial point is that a solid plan does not center solely on the president and founder of the company. A strong succession plan will focus on the entire company. A succession plan for the president and founder undoubtedly needs to be addressed, but not at the expense of the larger organization.  The following points address this issue.

I strongly believe a good succession plans begins with a company’s target market and not on the structure of the organization, i.e. the good plan focuses on the products or services that the market demands, and this will tailor the other needs of the company accordingly.

A successful company exists to service the market. While this fact is well known it can easily be forgotten as a company reaches a certain size. As organizations grow, the focus often tends to become more “internal” — on structure, internal policy, personnel issues, and the like. At this stage, businesses often forget and focus less on the reason the company exists in the first place, which is to service an outside need, and to do this as best they can.

Some organizations are able to handle change better than others. This was evident to me with the Marine Corps when I served as an Officer in the 1980’s. The Marines never lost sight of their ultimate goal—an effective combat organization in a changing world–and utilized the best skill sets and technology available to achieve it. However, when I was employed with the State Department, I saw that the organization did not understand how to adapt in a changing world. I found this institution struggled with many issues, one being the rapid growth and importance of the Internet, and was not able to define a core function.

How does focusing on the target market relate to good succession planning? A company which does not understand the reason it exists – what service it provides to its market – cannot possibly comprehend which staff positions are essential. For example, a drug company subsists to provide drugs to the marketplace. It’s therefore critical to understand the key skill sets involved in creating these new drugs, which brings us back to the company’s succession plan. Will the business lose some of its key members to retirement? Does it have the right scientific skills and technology to develop these new products? These are some of the key questions to ask.

A good succession plan also involves having a solid understanding of the intricate needs of the current and future structure of the company. Businesses require different types of organization depending on their revenue model. A company that grows past a certain threshold of revenue, for instance, will require different skill sets from its employees and need more experienced leaders. A good succession plan will include this important concept.

A related example is a succession plan that includes a strategy for when the business needs to have certain Human Resource functions internal to the company. If the company anticipates growing to this point, and has a general idea of when that point might be, it can create a plan for internally grooming the right individual to take on that position at the appropriate time.

A solid succession plan will also take into account the various skill sets available to and required for the business to be successful. Employee talent and technical skill sets are required to produce quality products or services and determine the overall success of the company. The plan should estimate the training, experience, and skill sets required for each function. It should be dictate where or how these skill sets can be acquired, and it should include a logical career progression in the market for each position. The plan needs to additionally include the market value of each skill set and any potential shortages that may exist. For example, good bioscience companies know that bioinformatics individuals are in high demand by companies outside bioscience, and therefore, they must plan for this accordingly.

In addition, a strategic succession plan will include several levels of staff promotion opportunities, and in particular, prepare for the next two or three levels of promotion for each key skill set within the company. This would include plans for employee training to gain the skills needed for individual advancement. The plan should also project potential deficits in staff numbers caused by retirements, attrition, or other events typically beyond the control of the business.

I have seen this balancing act successfully applied in the corporate world and in the bioscience sector. Well led companies understand this balance. It is the reason such businesses can exist and thrive long-term, supporting the needs of individuals who will rise in the organization.  I also believe the right external expert, who has years of experience dealing with leadership and talent challenges, can aide companies with the issue. He or she can correctly guide an organization and company to create a strong succession plan, without endangering revenue.

About the author:

Prior to starting US BioSearch, Steve was a Managing Partner at Beckett McLaughlin International, LLC. He was responsible for the firm’s Global Life Sciences practice as well as international business development in Latin America and Europe. In this role he was responsible for developing Executive Recruiting and Market Research business in the Energy, Life Sciences, Information Technology, Banking and Finance Industries.  Steve was also a senior executive for a risk analysis firm which advised a major financial house on private equity, venture capital, and hedge fund investments. Previously, he started and ran a successful European consultancy advising U.S. clients on penetrating emerging European markets.  Earlier in his career Steve worked as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, conducting risk analysis and geopolitical reporting in Chile, Peru, and Mexico.  Steve served as a U.S. Marine Corps Officer with four years service. Steve was born in the Middle East and lived in Israel, Italy, Nigeria, Somalia, Mexico, Barbados, and the Dominican Republic. He is a graduate of Rice University with a B.A. in History, where he was student body president. He also completed graduate studies in International Trade Theory at the Universidad Mayor in Santiago, Chile. Steve speaks native Spanish and English, and fluent French.

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