In Conversation with Dr. Sunil Kumar Singh on Talent Mobility challenges in Pharma Industry

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Sunil has over two decades of rich experience in Human Resources with corporates having businesses in diversified industries e.g. Oil & Gas, Exploration, Drilling, EPC, Construction, Telecom, IT, and Pharmaceuticals. 

Prior to joining Cadila, Sunil has worked with Reliance Industries Limited as Vice President –Human Resources (Head-Leadership Academy). He joined Reliance Industries in 2012 as Head of Talent Management – E&P. And after one year, He was handed the mandate to lead the Leadership Academy at RIL. The role required him to define and execute the approach to the development of executive education and core leadership capability, within RIL.

Previously Sunil Singh has also worked with companies, such as Mineral Exploration Corporation, Sasken Communication, Gulf Oil and Punj Lloyd. Sunil is an alumnus of Xavier Institute of Social Service (XISS), he also holds a doctorate in Organisational Behaviour (OB) and HR from IIM-Bangalore.

Q- Heartiest Congratulations to you on your first work anniversary with Cadila. Tell us more about your time with Cadila Pharmaceuticals?

Thank you for your kind wishes and for choosing me for this interview. It has been a year since I joined Cadila and it has been a fantastic year so far.

We have been able to move to a stage higher in terms of HR in the past year. We have worked on all Businesses and HR throughout the year. Cadila at this point is ready to jump another higher level in terms of talent practices, employee engagements, and many other initiatives. Cadila is prepared for more innovating and progressive HR initiatives.

I would mention 4 major things that have been done in last year within Cadila,

1- Setting up and correcting Hygiene policies

When I joined Cadila, I was made aware of the frequent changes in the last 3-4 years be it HR leadership or within the HR team. It also led to some discontinuity and breakdown in HR Practices and Policies. Hence, there was a need to set up standard policies, normal culture, and standard work infrastructure.

We launched a new policy handbook, brought in progressive policies such as flexi-time, paternity leave, modified leave structures, and last but not the least summer break. The new policy structure is the same for all employees. We also worked on employee work practices wherein we observed and improved upon how managers dealt with people, how they delegated work and collected feedbacks through multiple forums, meetings and town halls across locations. We can now see their experience is changing.

With better infrastructure, I mean to say is the infrastructure within Cadila campus. We have a standardized cafeteria, which provides basic amenities to all our employees. Simpler things such as phones and laptops are now also provided without any hesitation. This is what I meant by the hygiene. Taking care of the small things.

2- Preparing leadership for change

This took me longer than expected. It was difficult to make people understand that HR is an enabler for HR. Before I start making any changes, all leaders had to understand is that every leader is an HR leader.

I started helping them realize that they are the ones who have to be an HR leader and drive HR. Our team will support them but they have to own their teams and drive them.

3- Preparing employees for the change

For people to accept the change, they need to be exposed to HR. Supposing, you have never seen an airplane, you cannot imagine traveling in one. It is the same in this scenario. We needed to expose them so they could start creating demands. The younger workforce, however, was a welcome change as they come from campuses where newer things keep happening and they expect the same from Cadila.

4- Creating awareness around modern compensation practices

This is not as easy as it looks. Many organizations are conservative when it comes to compensation and even the employees are tuned to regular practices. Employees were used to promotions every 2 years and regular increments and that was the challenge in the last PMS. However, we are bringing in the system of incentives and performances.

Q- What are the top talent challenges in your industry and how to mitigate it?

Top challenge: 40 years ago, a science graduate’s first choice was to be a field officer. Graduates used to join as officers and become business heads. But today, the root problem of the pharma industry is the field officers. In the last 2 decades, many more options that are lucrative have come up. For Science or pharma graduates, this is not the preferred route. Hence the quality of field officers remains a challenge.

The other challenge with the pharma sector, particularly within the Indian pharma sector, is that it lags by at least 5-10 years in terms of modern practices. Our leaders need to be exposed to the outside world. We have been closed to other sector’s talents and hence mobility has been restricted from other sectors.

One more problem is of buy-in of modern practices. As I said earlier, we are at least 5-10 years behind as compared to manufacturing, automobile, etc. when it comes to HR practices.

Some of the organizations have adopted good HR practices such as Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Cipla – to name a few within the pharma industry. But this is not as widespread as other sectors.

Q- What is talent mobility to you and why is it important?

To me, Talent mobility is more of social mobility. When we see the history of India, social mobility has been happening and has been prevalent. And it is not just talent or social mobility. There are various levels when we talk about Mobility specifically- Cultural mobility, Skill mobility, and Practice mobility and geographical mobility.

Skill mobility – Everybody brings with them their own set of skills, but I want to give them a new bag of skills so that our talent can move upwards.

Cultural mobility – When people from different backgrounds join hands in collaboration, the world gets broader and new perspective comes in due to the diversity of opinions.

Technology/Digital mobility– It provides a sense of comfort with mobility but as an organization, we can help them develop it further.

I will say that it is fungibility i.e. how changeable my resources are. Today can I chose someone from banking who is leading branch office and put them into API sales, or how will they do in cement sales?

Today it is easier to find talent but difficult to find a fungible talent.

Q- What are the top emerging challenges in internal and external talent mobility?

The top emerging challenge is – Welcoming people in the pharma sector from other sectors.

Indian pharma is going through multiple regulatory changes including Ayushman Bharat, Price capping which will reduce the investments from MNCs.

It also means opportunities in the short-run will be reduced. High potential talent will move out of the pharma sector to where growth is faster. Overall, both challenges will affect profits and margins.

Q- What are the best strategies to optimize talent mobility?

The Best strategy to optimize talent mobility is to create fungibility. The employees should be adaptable to change. Therefore, it is necessary to move the employees early in their careers as they become resistant to change later. The next strategy will be to create diversity in the workforce. A diverse workforce will lead to a diverse culture in the organization. And the final strategy will be promoting digitalization. Right digital exposure can enhance an organization’s growth to a large extent.

Q- What are talent mobility practices in Cadila Pharmaceuticals?

One of the best talent mobility practices in Cadila, which is very close to our CMD, Mr. Modi’s heart, is internal promotions in the organization. He strongly believes that any vacant position should be filled by our own employees first. Hence, eighty percent of vacancies at Cadila are filled through internal promotions, which can be even interdepartmental. This is the one practice that has been promoted in Cadila even before I joined. Apart from this, job rotation happens regularly in the organization. Minimum 5 percent of the workforce in each department has to be rotated every year.

Q- What are the common global mobility trends in 2019 and beyond?

Largely there are two common mobility trends that I can see in the future. One will be the Personalization of modern digital technology. With the help of personalized modern technology, one will be able to deal with two people in very different manners. The second will be the Digitalization. Digitalization will create much easier forms of working and will fuel various contract models. This will promote work from home, gig economy, etc.

Q- Any last few words for our readers?

The generation is changing. Hence, companies need to, too. Organizations have gone bankrupt because they refused to change with newer times. It is hence advisable to not resist change and modernize the organization according to the needs by keeping the values intact.  

 Thank you, Sunil!

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