By Ivana Magovcevic-Liebisch, CEO of Vigil Neuroscience, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC
From academic research, patent law, business development, to being a CEO, all my experiences have taught me two things. First, one cannot do it all alone (especially in biotech). Second, the biotech ecosystem is unique in a sense that everyone, irrespective of background, shares the same goal: to improve patient lives.
This shared purpose lays a solid foundation for collaboration, transparency, and synergy for any biotech company regardless of scientific approach, technology platform or targeted therapeutic/disease areas. As leaders, how can we leverage this and propel the company into high performance and strong morale?
To succeed, it is critical to ensure that your team members are “riding the same bus” and are committed to the journey and destination. For biotech companies, the path to commercial therapies is unpredictable and full of challenges, which makes it more important that employees are fully onboard and prepared for the ride.
Define the North Star
Ultimately, our guiding “why,” is patients cannot wait. This unifying purpose needs to be the driver behind all aspects of company operations and the overall sense of urgency. Every scientific and business decision is made with patients in mind from Day One.
Importantly, leaders of a biotech company need to live and embody the purpose of the company. By leading by example, they drive the company towards its unifying mission and illuminate the vision for the rest of the team.
Have the right people in the right seats
Building a successful team starts with hiring the right members. A company is only as strong as its most important asset, its people, and it is crucial that they align with the purpose of the company. Hire employees who not only have the desired expertise and skills but are also passionate about transforming science into meaningful solutions for the patients we serve.
Fundamental characteristics to look for during talent recruitment include creativity, agility, solution-focused and an appetite for collaboration. There are many twists and turns in a biotech’s journey, requiring team members to be nimble and respond to unforeseeable challenges in real-time. They must also be able to work well together with others to develop and implement solutions.
Clarity and communication are key
Transparency is crucial in building trust across different facets of a biotech company. This entails sharing information, good and bad, with everyone in the organization clearly and consistently. An appropriate cadence of communication keeps all members updated, enabling informed decision making at all levels.
On an individual basis, promote transparency by transforming failures into learning opportunities. Establish a culture of honesty, accountability, and growth – not blame. Nurturing a safe environment for employees to collaboratively problem-solve and participate in joint decision-making will further foster respect and cohesion among team members. Allowing employees to fully utilize and grow their expertise and skill set will propel the company and its employees to success.
Make sure team members are on board the bus
While it is important to attract and bring the right people on board, retaining them is vital. As the pandemic has made increasingly clear, it is essential to support and preserve work-life balance. Continuously competitive compensation and benefits are only one part of the puzzle – we must also care about the whole employee by embracing their unique, authentic selves and making sure that they feel valued.
Trust and equip team members with a right balance of autonomy and support. Treat employees as capable and responsible individuals and embrace the new normal by providing flexibility with hybrid schedules without policing. Celebrate big and small wins frequently and recognize company milestones as well as team and individual achievements and contributions.
Scale the company culture
As your company grows and advances, a dilution of the company culture and sense of community is a common pitfall. Be agile and continue to cultivate, evolve and uphold the culture across the team. Establish internal communication channels and set up regular town hall meetings to ensure alignment on the company’s evolving vision, values and strategy. Conduct focus groups with veterans and new employees to identify where gaps may be and how to bridge them.
Employees are your best brand ambassadors. A great employer brand that attracts and retains talent stems from meaningful team member experiences. Engage them in the company’s vision and mission creation or refinement process to make it a collaborative effort. A good leader not only supports team members to excel in their work, but also helps them build their personal brand. Empowered employees are naturally inclined to spread the good word.
A team united by a single mission can excel in a patient-focused environment that encourages curiosity, creativity, and collaboration. Empowered employees and steadfast leaders can work together to discover breakthroughs for patients, caregivers, and families.