Recruiting and Retaining the Best Talent

No matter how the economy stacks up, how many layoffs take place or how much budgets are cut, companies that want to compete in the marketplace—and grow while improving patient outcomes—need to draw, inspire and keep the best and most productive talent available to help them achieve company goals. Several companies PM360 interviewed shared their recruitment and retention strategies with us and (not surprisingly) we found that company culture is a very important element to both. But there’s more to the story. Read on.

Steven Michaelson


At Calcium, we look not just at the talent of an individual—although that is the price of entry. We look to see if that person will fit in with our shop and its culture. More importantly, do we come away with the impression “we are the right fit for that individual.”

As an independently owned small business—a perceived weakness that is actually our strength—we attract talent that possesses an entrepreneurial spirit. Our talent is not defined by their titles or perceived roles: Our goal is to bring out their innate ability—not constrain it.

Most agencies think big salaries, benefits and perks attract talent and keep top talent in place. That is only partially true. We pay better than most agencies and our benefits are comparable, if not better; certainly the perks are. We believe most people want to do a great job and get home at a decent hour. What we believe really matters most to our top employees (and our prospective employees)—and what keeps them here—is the opportunity to do what they love. Not only that, but we create an environment in which the best can be their best—and do it their way. It’s about empowerment—to come to a place where people can fulfill their professional dreams.

At the same time, we nurture an employee’s skill set by creating mentors. Talent loves to work, collaborate and hangout with talent.

In terms of our expectations of employees, we believe a work-life balance is extremely important. It’s also extremely hard for over-achievers, like our employees, to maintain. That said, we buy lunch for everyone everyday so we can burn hard during the day and leave at a reasonable hour. Although we are in a service business, our goal is to do great work, deliver it on time, and have fun doing it. We don’t push our culture on our talent—we want our people building and augmenting it.

Denise Duca, EdM


Acorda attracts potential employees by offering a competitive compensation package including equity for everyone in the organization. But what separates us from other biotech companies is our culture. We place an emphasis on open communication, collaboration and teamwork. Developing novel therapies is hard work, and we are motivated by helping people with devastating neurological illness.

At the same time, we want our associates to have fun and enjoy both their work and the relationships forged with fellow associates. We hold events every year including a company family picnic, a holiday party and an annual softball game, to name a few. We also hold lunch and learns each month that provide an education on our therapeutic area to the staff, as well as general business updates. We offer associates challenging work, development opportunities and we’re still at a size where each associate can see how their contributions add to the success of the company. For the third year in a row, we’ve been on The Best Companies to Work for in New York State list, this year at No. 2.

As far as our employees’ skill sets are concerned, we build competencies through experiences, interactions, and formal and informal learning as a way to ensure we meet our business objectives and develop all Acordans. One initiative we are particularly proud of is our mentorship program, which pairs executives with high-performing associates to complement their professional development. In addition, we are working with our product teams to ensure that we are building a high-performance team structure within the organization. For all associates, we offer leadership coaching, stand-alone workshops and select electronic and virtual courses.

Matthew West


Agencies and corporations are shying away from using professional external recruiters to source open positions as they are significantly more expensive than relying on employee referrals or an in-house social media search through venues such as LinkedIn. There is some validity to this, but organizations can be more competitive and still acquire tremendous talent by partnering with outside recruiters who know the pharmaceutical and healthcare arena well.

The better recruiters are those who worked in the healthcare industry for a significant amount of years and know how to speak intelligently about all healthcare categories, know the drug pipelines and have a command of the competitive pharmaceutical landscape. These more qualified recruiters know what it takes to bring a brand to market. They also take the time to understand the unique culture of an organization by meeting with senior leadership, asking questions and establishing real relationships with the hiring teams—they will make successful matches that “stick.”

Successful mentoring pairings

In terms of retaining talent, mentorship programs may be most important to keeping employees engaged and thriving. Successful mentoring pairings are reciprocal relationships and research shows that mentors benefit as well. They value having people in the company who are loyal to them and can gather important information from protégées, such as what’s going on at other levels of the organization, insights into a younger generation and new perspectives on older challenges. Finally, there is the satisfaction of leaving a mark on the next generation of leaders.

The agency business is 100% about the people, and leadership needs to be a tireless advocate for the folks who work for them. Organizations must constantly evaluate the agency’s talent pool to ensure they are in positions that challenge them professionally and also that they have the training and tools necessary to grow. Senior leadership’s commitment to their most important resource hopefully makes an incredible difference to the entire organization as well as to the clients they serve.

Karen Saunders


Daiichi Sankyo, Inc. is an attractive place to work for many reasons, which draws talent to us. The company promotes entrepreneurship and collaboration among employees, and encourages and rewards leadership at all levels. We empower and develop our people through ongoing coaching and mentoring, and provide competitive benefits and a culture of work-life balance.

The bar is set high for potential employees. We source by using marketplace knowledge, strategic networking and social media networks. We also rely on our existing employees to identify solid candidates (which has been a great success). We believe our employees are our best assets and engage—and reward them—to recruit candidates. We, of course, build and maintain relationships with top universities and institutions to recruit talent.

When it comes to talent retention, we believe professional growth opportunities are essential. We recently implemented a new program that focuses on developing employees across all levels and areas of expertise—not just those within “key” positions. We also recognize that our employees value lateral and vertical mobility, and established a rotational program that provides targeted training and career development across functional areas and departments. We are always challenging ourselves to identify additional ways to promote cross-functional movement within the company, while enhancing employees’ experience through one’s own function and expertise.

Annual Metrics

Passionate about our company culture, we make it a priority to take a step back and evaluate our organizational health. Our goal is to engage employees in this process and to uncover challenges and concerns—as well as celebrate the things we are doing right. We commit to annual metrics that range from accountability and leadership, to direction and process. The results of these evaluations inform the development of new leadership programming, innovation forums and fun perks like “Friday Jeans Day” and summer hours. We are dedicated to maintaining a work environment where employees can thrive, grow and be happy.

Marjan Panah


At Publicis Healthcare Communications Group (PHCG), we are consistently finding new ways to nurture and develop our teams. We invest so much in our employees because we believe our best talent is grown from within.

Over the past few years, we’ve initiated many new programs designed to develop our employees globally. We’ve launched a comprehensive management training curriculum. We’ve seen firsthand that when people have a great leader who trains and motivates their staff, it creates a multiplying effect and great business results. All employees can participate in face-to-face training on our core competencies, including presentation skills and selecting talent, and all have access to a full suite of on-demand e-learning courses.

Internal Mobility Program

Something that is unique to our global culture is encouraging our employees to broaden their careers through our internal mobility program—movement between roles (like creative to account management), agencies or even across continents. Being transparent about our opportunities helps encourage people to take charge of growing their own careers and staying within the PHCG family.

Our annual employee engagement survey helps us check the pulse of our people and how they feel about key issues affecting their work environment. The survey received a nearly 90% response rate in its second year, and is supplemented with focus groups led by a peer who serves as the voice of their local employee population. Having this two-way dialogue helps us understand areas for improvement and allows our employees to be part of the process that creates a positive and fulfilling workplace culture.

Local agencies are also involved in corporate social responsibility efforts that connect them to the community. This builds a sense of teamwork, pride and loyalty towards PHCG.

Information about all of these programs and resources are made available to employees in one convenient place on a newly created employee portal. It’s just one more way to stay connected to our employees around the globe.

Chelsea MacDonald


If you want to attract, retain and create an environment in which top talent can do their best work, there really is only one thing you have to worry about: Culture. This happens with or without leadership, and deciding to be deliberate about it is one of the very best things you can do for your business. At Klick, it’s the center of everything we do. We have systems, programs and perks—like the ice cream trucks we send out—but the most important thing about these programs is not how they’re run or even what they do, but why we do them. Keeping the culture—the answer to that “why” question—throughout our growth has allowed us to scale with confidence, and to keep attracting the best, retaining the best and cultivating the best work from these employees.

Foregoing HR

A benefit of knowing the answer to why we do what we do and why we are deliberate about culture is that it takes the focus off rules and regulations, allowing our employees to focus on performance. One of the decisions we made is to forego a department of Human Rules and Regulations (also known as an HR department). Why? Because policies are usually made to make the lives of those creating the rules easier, to protect you from your worst, but rarely to promote your best.

At Klick, we spend over 90% of our time worrying about how to create an environment in which our talent can perform in a place they want to be. We are always willing to make a personal adjustment for an employee, and we believe in a concierge service—the best way to support an employee is the way they’d like to be supported. So what does this mean for systems, programs and perks? They’re personalized. They listen to the employee. They share in our success. They’re generous. And they are all about performance.

Deborah Lotterman


When it comes to recruiting new talent at LehmanMillet, the search is always on. But we are clear about our mission, and we nurture our culture. We’re committed to working with companies who are changing the standard of care. So in our own way, we’re deeply involved in the advancement of medicine.

We’ve cultivated a healthy mix of nerds, philosophers, dreamers and war-gamers. They thrive on viewing a problem from multiple angles and challenging each other to develop novel responses. Virtually all of our employees cite their colleagues as the chief reason for remaining at LehmanMillet.

Once we find new talent, we offer responsibility and autonomy. Authenticity, boldness and curiosity are rewarded and victories are celebrated. We ensure that each contributor is aware of his or her role in the grand enterprise of changing the standard of care.

Nurturing Employees

Some ways we nurture an employee’s skill set include a universal orientation about the agency mission, the process and our functional expectations. We charge managers with developing personalized growth plans for each employee. Often those plans seek growth far outside the agency walls—the expected conferences and the quirkier opportunities. We ask employees to bring the outside in—to share their experiences with the wider group, so the knowledge reverberates.

Work-life Balance

If balance is a set of scales where two sides vibrate in perfect harmony, then it’s unachievable at LehmanMillet. Agency life is more of a seesaw—there are days and weeks full of pitches and launches where the demands are relentless. So we encourage our teams to rest and refresh when there’s a moment. Take a walk out by the water. Skip out and see your son’s kindergarten play. The responsibility for ensuring a fair exchange lies with both the manager and the employee; each must communicate needs and expectations. And like the seesaw, there’s going to be give and take.

Tatiana Lyons


It’s never been more urgent and necessary for agencies to find new ways to recruit and retain great talent. Our clients want unique creative ideas, and ideas are only as good as the people who develop them. In order to innovate our product, agencies need to innovate their approach to talent recruitment, performance and development.

At McCann Health, we believe that a strong talent strategy aligns to business objectives. The business leaders’ support, in words and actions, is critical to its success. Our talent program engages our staff across the business and encourages collaboration, all with the most important thing in mind—our people.

We want the best and the brightest. We look within our industry and seek talent from untraditional areas. When we create innovative and diverse teams, amazing things happen. Our people complement one another and discover new approaches. Our clients love it.

One of our most successful initiatives is our Mentorship Program. Now in its third year, it includes over 70 people from across McCann Torre Lazur, McCann Echo Torre Lazur and McCann Managed Markets. The program pairs mentors and mentees in order to foster employees’ growth. Employee satisfaction with this program is sky-high, and it’s an ongoing statement to the support our teams have from business leadership. Developing our people translates to happier teams and better business.

Talent development is a partnership. Our most successful, broad-scale initiatives involve employees from across the agencies. Their input, in the form of steering committees and hybrid teams, ensures we’re crafting relevant programming. They infuse business perspective and novel thinking, and become Talent Champions, important organizational role models.

If you want to be an industry leader, you have to push the envelope. Innovative talent development is an area where agencies can differentiate themselves today, while creating a killer talent pipeline for the future.

Robert Palmer


At Juice, we spend a lot of time and resources on training our staff, finding opportunities for their professional growth, and seeking opportunities to maintain the agency’s founding culture and values. While we also pay a lot of attention to fair compensation that is based on the overall marketplace, it’s our belief that an employee’s paycheck is often not a key factor when it comes to retention.

Those elements that really count include a blend of fair compensation, the need for a healthy work/life balance and respect for each employee’s contribution—and potential contribution—to the organization’s skills, reputation, goals and culture. A successful person needs to believe that they may sometimes be allowed to fail while most often succeeding, and that talent, skills, intellectual curiosity, team-focused attitude and dedication will be recognized and rewarded.

Importance of Trust

An additional factor is trust: Each employee must know that their supervisor is interested in the employee’s need to advance and grow, and will be personally invested in ensuring that his or her contributions are recognized within the organization. An organization that doesn’t nurture these beliefs and values will slowly become an unhappy culture and, ultimately, fail.

When this mindset is established and practiced at the top—and enthusiastically fed from the bottom up as well—the organizational culture is healthy and dynamic enough to attract and retain a pool of talented people who place job satisfaction within a context that is based on our natural instincts and best nature. For an organization to do otherwise is as counter-productive as it is counter-intuitive.

Anshal Purohit


Because our business focuses not only on healthcare but specialty healthcare, it is critical that we find people that are engaged and ready to hit the ground running. As a result, our approach has been to look at recruiting and hiring opportunistically. We are always open to bringing on new talent, and make sure that we keep an open door to the potential of adding anyone that can contribute something positive to our staff. Some of our best, longest-lasting hires have been made during times when we are not filling an acute need, but rather hiring based on talent and a vision for the future.

Involving Staff in Hiring

An additional strategy that we employ is simply to involve our existing staff in the hiring process. We are fortunate to have a team of dedicated, passionate people who believe in our work and as such, they are very willing to help make sure that we bring on the best and the brightest!

In terms of work/life balance, we think that it is critical that both parties participate in finding that balance. We ask a lot of our employees from a time and commitment standpoint, and our view is that in order for that model to be sustainable, people need the freedom to manage their personal lives throughout. This means that for our core employees—those that are working late and on weekends at times—there is also the understanding and expectation that life will be prioritized during other times. Our size and openness makes it very easy for us to work this way, and it seems to be working well for our teams.


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