This browser is not actively supported anymore. For the best passle experience, we strongly recommend you upgrade your browser.
| 5 minutes read

Building resilience in the pharma and life sciences sector: a guide for talent leaders

(Part ¼)

Defining Resilience

At the confluence of innovation and regulation sits the Life Sciences industry. Although by and large unfazed by economic downturns, the sector – covering the research, development, and manufacture of pharmaceuticals, medical biotechnology, medical equipment, instruments, and supplies – has experienced over three years of upheaval. At the end of 2022, the McKinsey Life Sciences Resilience Survey revealed that 70 – 80% of life sciences company executives reported negative impacts on their business owing to macroeconomic challenges including the COVID-19 Pandemic, recession, inflation, rising energy costs, and hospital staffing shortages. 

Against this backdrop of uncertainty, it is not surprising that resilience is currently a focal point of discourses in the Life Sciences and across sectors, relating to economics, manufacturing, technology, law, and indeed talent. It is paramount that organisations prioritise resilience and therefore that their executives be prepared to lead the charge.

What is Organisational Resilience?

So how do we define resilience, as distinct from recovery, adaptation, or preparedness? The answer to instability and crisis is not just weathering the storm, but fundamentally transforming. In a Deloitte article written during the height of the Pandemic, Punit Renjen (now Global CEO Emeritus) states: 

‘Resilience is not a destination; it is a way of being. A “resilient organization” is not one that is simply able to return to where it left off before the crisis. Rather, the truly resilient organization is one that has transformed, having built the attitudes, beliefs, agility, and structures into its DNA that enable it to not just recover to where it was, but vault forward—quickly.’

These four components –

  1. Attitudes
  2. Beliefs
  3. Agility
  4. Structures

– provide a useful framework for understanding and approaching resilience holistically. Getting them right is crucial, no matter the crisis or setback; their embedding must be driven by executive leadership, and particularly talent leaders, if an organisation is to leap forward from upheaval and thrive.

In this series' four instalments, I present these key ‘pillars’ of business resilience, exploring both their importance and the crucial role talent leaders can play in sustaining them by best equipping themselves and their organisation’s senior management.

Test tube with DNA moleculeon abstract background,3d rendering,conceptual image.


Pillars of Resilience 1: Attitudes

An Example: Hybrid Working

A salient example of an attitude adopted by leadership to ensure resilience is that towards remote and hybrid working models post-Pandemic. In this arena, the global health crisis precipitated a great shift in working paradigms, employee expectations, and employer-employee relationships. The CIPD reports numerous benefits broadly reaped by employees working flexibly, including higher levels of motivation and better work-life balance. Remote and hybrid working are not without challenges; loss of face-to-face knowledge exchange and impoverished personal connections are counted among them. However, these models are here to stay, with most office workers reporting in a McKinsey survey having hybrid arrangements. 

Willingness on the part of leadership to embrace new attitudes to remote work is arguably crucial to competitiveness and business resilience. The CIPD guidance notes ‘savings on office space, higher levels of employee job satisfaction, and reduced absence rates’ as benefits for the employer, and studies indicate that remote workers are more productive than their on-site counterparts. 

An article from PharmaVoice offers the thoughts of a sample of C-Suite executives from the Life Sciences sector on how to approach the hybrid working model. One such insight is the frank advice that executive leadership should ‘get over it’. The results of a KPMG survey released in October 2023 have revealed that 64% of 1,300 global CEOs predict a full return to offices, despite the fact that 82% of employees around the world expect an employer to help them achieve work-life balance. This dyssynchrony must be addressed. Leaders who adopt a ‘get over it’ attitude pave the way to a resilient future through aligned people operations, as emphasis shifts away from tradition, and toward adaptability and inclusivity. 

Multiskill or soft skills and personal  responsibility HR human resources concept.personal attribute development business ,thinking , digital Personality, problem solving, confidence, adaptability,


Equipping Leadership

How can organisations and their talent leaders equip senior management with the tools to meld the right attitudes, beliefs, agility, and structures into its core? It all starts with having the right leaders in the first place. Effective talent management, external hiring, and succession planning are key methods to ensure that the right leadership is in place. The skills gap is ubiquitous, and profoundly felt in the sphere of executives and senior leadership. This difference between the skills, qualities, and vision of leaders and aspiring leaders, and those required for their roles, is often referred to as the Leadership Gap. It can be bridged by investing in the development of leaders and enriching succession strategies, as well as by collaborating with executive search partners whose industry expertise and analytical approach enables them to quickly and efficiently identify, attract, and appoint individuals with the desired skillsets and experience. How then can life sciences organisations equip leaders to uphold the ‘Attitudes’ pillar?

Executive Education

Executive education and development programmes are an invaluable means of equipping industry leaders to fortify businesses for the future. There are custom programmes for Healthcare and Pharma teams, which incorporate as focal points patient-centric strategy and health and life sciences ecosystem partnerships.

In terms of attitudes, executive programmes address leadership mindset, an holistic frame of mind and way of being that highlights purpose, vision, and empowerment of employees. As a leader develops this mindset, she can align an organisation to compelling goals and encourage a sense of autonomy and ownership, leading to the organic adoption of the right attitudes, be these toward a collective return to offices three days per week, or, particularly in the Life Sciences, toward rigorous compliance with regulatory standards. 

Training & Workshops

Usually shorter and more targeted than executive programmes, training sessions and workshops can help leaders to develop skills in a very focussed way, facilitating rapid learning and leading to more immediate action. These outcomes are of tremendous benefit to a business needing to quickly adapt. Workshops may also provide a more cost-effective solution for organisations mindful of resources. 

Most importantly, a learning culture is critical to an organisation’s sustainable success. Matthew Smith, Chief Learning Officer at McKinsey & Company affirms that, ‘Like so many things, it starts at the top, and it starts with having a CEO or a senior leader who actually values learning and talks about it very actively.’ As training sessions and workshops often address emergent topics and industry trends and have a practical focus, they can be convenient to talk about and the ideas easy to share. These behaviours help to ingrain attitudes to continuous learning and belief in the intrinsic value of progress. 


Mentorship can be a vital tool for senior leaders in building resilience into their organisations. Women Leaders in Pharma defines mentoring as ‘a relationship between a mentor and mentee which focuses on long term career development, building skills, knowledge and understanding. By sharing their experience, mentors help to guide a mentee in their career development plan and personal growth.’ Mentoring can thus be valuable from a talent management and succession planning perspective, contributing as an organisational mechanism for resilience.

The right mentor can give tailored guidance, underpinned by real-life experience, on how to embody the values and attitudes needed in specific business contexts. This might be introducing the mentee to an Ethical Decision-Making Framework – whereby attitudes inform choice – or sharing personal experiences of success through the value of customer-centricity. Storytelling has indeed been found to be the mode of knowledge sharing preferred by mentors and mentees alike, especially new CEOs and their guides.

Background concept with business people silhouette at work. Double exposure and light effects


The answer to instability and crisis is not just weathering the storm, but fundamentally transforming.


life sciences, leadership