Performance Management

3 Steps to Motivate Top Talent in Life Sciences Companies

January 11, 2023
November 7, 2023
Emma Stenhouse
Lattice Team

None of the challenges currently faced by the life sciences sector are new. A looming recession, swift mergers and acquisitions, and a straining labor market are just some of the sector’s current economic burdens.

But as a sector tasked with solving many of our society’s most pressing health concerns, these challenges feel especially acute when viewed in the context of employee and organizational performance.

Ultimately, company performance is intrinsically tied to the performance of your people. And at a time when every dollar affects the bottom line, focusing on employee performance will help future-proof your business.  

1. Know Who Your Top Performers Are

Performance matters — and not just for the bottom line. High-performing organizations are linked to higher job satisfaction, employee commitment, and productivity.

And once we acknowledge just how important it is, it’s easier to see that creating a culture where top performers are recognized when going the extra mile — and rewarded for it — is one of the cornerstones of success. That means HR teams need to laser in on the top performers. To do that, they can leverage technology in two key ways.

Combine performance reviews with technology for micro and macro insights.

One of the first steps for tracking performance and knowing who to reward is gathering the right information. Regular, formal performance reviews are an excellent opportunity to get ratings and feedback from managers and directors.

But these reviews can be time-consuming and disorganized if completed on paper, meaning it’s harder to connect the dots on what’s driving individual performance.

Investing in a performance management system can consolidate all the micro-level information about each employee, while giving HR leaders a birds-eye view of the entire company’s performance. This means HR can spend less time filing paperwork, and more time making strategic decisions about supporting the business.

Use a performance management system for rapid, in-depth results.

A performance management system with detailed analytics gives HR teams yet another layer of detail. With Lattice Analytics, leaders can quickly see at-a-glance how teams are performing,  if top-level performers are engaged, whether they’re being compensated competitively, and if their career track matches their ambitions for growth.

This enables them to spot any hotspots that could be hindering performance, and remove the blockers hindering them from giving their best.  

A screenshot of the HR manager view in Lattice Engagement
In Lattice, HR can review engagement survey results grouped by employee performance, department, or manager.

2. Find Out What Matters to Top Performers  

If you want top performers to remain motivated, engaged, and loyal, you need to know what drives them at work.

“Once a top candidate is hired, retention becomes paramount in this highly competitive employment environment,” said Krista Hartin, vice president, life sciences practice leader at IMA Financial Group. “Outside of offering a competitive salary and bonus structure, companies are becoming more creative in the ways they attract and retain talent.”

Use engagement surveys to zoom in on what matters.

Company-wide employee engagement surveys can be a great way to drill down deeper into what matters to your workforce as a whole. Through the lens of high performance, these results will have the most impact if you can cross-reference engagement scores with your top performing employees.

Results from pulse surveys and other engagement surveys can take a long time to analyze manually — but feed these into an analytics program and you can easily detect patterns and behavioral trends that help you make data-driven decisions.

For example, remote work hasn’t always been at the forefront of life sciences companies' radars — in fact, almost half of respondents to our 2023 State of People Strategy report working in life sciences companies said they expect their employees to be working remotely less than 10% of the time or not at all. But offering hybrid and flexible opportunities can drastically bolster performance and productivity while keeping employees happy.

“By being open to remote or hybrid arrangements, you open the doors to a larger pool of talent while also providing options to existing colleagues,” noted Mariko O’Neill, life sciences expert at PA Consulting. “This is of particular importance in those life sciences hubs like Boston or San Francisco where competition is strong, and in those skills areas where there is significant competition for talent from other industries including data, digital, and tech.”

Don’t reserve interviews for entries and exits.

Stay interviews are an incredibly valuable, but often underused, engagement opportunity. While 72% of organizations use exit interviews, only 28% carry out regular stay interviews, according to a 2021 talent retention survey. These are subtly different from performance reviews because they tend to focus on one thing — why an employee is motivated to stay at the company.

Ask a blend of questions to uncover insights and actionable feedback which can be used to keep your top performers motivated, and ensure they have what they need to do their best work. You might even discover larger issues that are currently hindering performance or productivity across their team.

3. Incorporate Your Findings into Your People Strategy

Once you know what matters to your top performers, you can make meaningful changes to your people strategy to create a culture of high performance — where the connection between employee growth and business success is not just recognized, but actively cultivated.    

Invest in management training at all levels.

Research from Gallup shows managers have more influence over their team’s engagement than any other factor. But managers are also under a huge amount of stress, with 43% of middle managers saying they feel at risk of burnout — more than any other job level.

“Traditional leadership approaches are resonating less and less with new generations,” said O’Neill. “Factors like authenticity and kindness are having more of an impact on talent retention and business success. But this often requires upskilling, and a significant mindset shift for leaders.”

“By investing in more rounded and more human focused leaders, life sciences organizations will find it easier to retain and develop a more diverse talent pool,” she added.

Skills trainings, particularly for first-time managers, can promote a transparent and effective workplace where employees feel supported and seen. Areas to consider include how managers can give constructive, thoughtful feedback, identify the first signs of dipping performance, provide better feedback and resources for top performers, and have clear conversations about compensation with direct reports.

Adopt pay-for-performance to reward your hardest workers.

A strategy that links compensation to performance can be a powerful motivator. Our 2023 State of People Strategy report found a pay-for performance model boosts engagement by offering clarity and showing employees just how much you value their contributions. We know many leaders are dealing with wider budget cuts, and so this strategy could help you allocate limited resources effectively.

A screenshot of an HR admin view in the Lattice Compensation platform.
In Lattice Compensation, HR teams can communicate with managers and consolidate details about employees’ pay and performance all in one place.

When consistently low-performing employees are identified, managers should intervene with support and compassion. While discussions around poor performance can feel awkward, knowing the cause of a change in performance is a crucial step toward supporting your employees. Train managers to ask about mental wellness, work-life balance, and burnout.    

Create career tracks — even for individual contributors.

Without thoughtfully tailoring a career roadmap that speaks to each individual, top-performers may feel disengaged. And if they’re disengaged, they may be tempted to move to another organization with a clearer path to progression. Accessible and transparent career tracks can optimize professional development and engagement at your company.    

“Make it easy for people to stay and grow by investing in their development,” said O’Neill. “There used to be a seven-year work itch, but now it feels more like a two- or three-year itch. It’s increasingly important to provide colleagues with opportunities to stay, be that by broadening skills, pivoting into new areas or learning the managerial skills that will pave the way to leadership roles.”

Hartin said leadership development opportunities can change through different generations of workers, and any people strategy needs to take this into account.

“It is important for the new generations joining the sector to be provided with opportunities for advancement, as such employers are offering more competitive tuition reimbursement programs and paying for the costs associated with obtaining professional training, certifications and for dues and membership fees for joining professional trade associations,” said Hartin.

Need help getting the ball rolling? Download our free workbook, 12 Simple Steps for Getting Started with Career Tracks.

Promote engagement and two-way communication.

By consistently running engagement surveys, you can gather data to improve your people strategy over time. Employee sentiment can be gathered from formal feedback, but this is even more effective when combined with AI-powered tools that scan and analyze informal feedback to help provide data-driven insights into what matters.  

By looking to other industries for examples of best practices, life sciences organizations can create innovative people strategies that drive performance and engagement. Bill Catlette, Partner and Executive Coach at Contented Cow Partners recommended that “employees need to hear regularly, from the very top, in plain language, that things like diversity, employer reputation, and community relations are to be a way of life, not just a program or a plaque hanging on the wall.”  

If employees are expected to invest themselves deeply in an organization, there needs to be a clear two-way flow of communication. “We must provide them with regular and credible information about the organization's priorities, expected path, what's working, and what's not,” Catlette added. “At the same time, management must keep its ears open to feedback from the workforce, whether it feels good or not.”

The Value of an Aligned People Strategy

Medical devices and groundbreaking pharma research might be just some of the outputs for  life sciences organizations — but the quality of these depends on one thing: people. That’s why a grounded people strategy that supports employee performance, engagement, and a two-way dialogue should be a cornerstone of every life sciences organization.  

Priming your employees for high performance requires you to  align your people strategy with the four key pillars of people success:

  • Purpose: Employees want to feel like they’re making a difference — so show them by connecting the dots between their work and the overall success of the company.
  • Community: Work takes up around a third of our lives — so it’s no surprise that employees want to feel a sense of connection in the workplace.
  • Trust: Without trust, the other pillars of your people strategy will fall over — so focus on transparent and authentic two-way communication.  
  • Growth: Long-term development matters just as much as short-term productivity — so provide career paths that challenge and promote growth.    

Ready to discover more about how to reward top talent and build a culture of high performance at your life sciences organization? Download our ebook, Building a Culture of High Performance in Life Sciences.