New York-based drug manufacturer Pfizer has had systematic succession planning in place for at least well over a decade, but that doesn't preclude it from having to deal with new challenges to the process. The latest hurdle it's had to meet is integrating newly acquired employees into its succession plan, says vice president, global talent development Chris Altizer.
"Because the organization is in pretty much continual flux after going through two major acquisitions, the whole concept of knowing your talent becomes a fundamentally different exercise," he points out. Namely, it means the company needed to revise how it thinks about possible successors. Instead of thinking about a neat list of replacements for particular jobs, it had to learn to be more adaptable. "Being more flexible in terms of [asking ourselves about] not just a specific job, but what is a role, and how similar are these roles in terms of scope and scale and then the criteria required below that," Altizer says.
Tracking talent for possible succession is not easy since 50 to 60 percent of the 156-year-old company is composed of employees that joined in just the last six years following the acquisition of former competitors Warner-Lambert in 2000 and Pharmacia in 2003. What used to be certain in terms of the composition of in-house talent is no longer such a sure thing. "In '98 or '99, the senior leaders of this organization could sit around a table and they generally knew the talent, so the robustness of assessment and documentation probably not so much," says Altizer of the need, or lack thereof, back then for highly structured succession planning. One way the company is adapting is by putting together common criteria for senior positions. "You get a company of our size, you have so many jobs that are similar at senior levels," he notes. "You have to get down to the roles, and the folks who are qualified to perform in that role. So, even if the job changes somewhat, our assessments and predictions of their ability to be effective don't change that much."
Early communication with employees from the newly acquired company also helps. When the Pharmacia acquisition occurred, Pfizer took a direct approach with its new additions. "The statement from the very beginning was, ‘This is an acquisition by Pfizer; it is not a merger of equals, and there is a place for people who want to be here,'" Altizer says. Sending a message to new talent that they can be successful if they are willing to work on their new parent company's terms did the trick. "When we look at several of the very successful senior leaders we have today, several of them are from Pharmacia," he notes.
The first step toward integrating new employees into your talent management program following an acquisition is obtaining information from your new subsidiary on the employees it has identified as "high potential," Altizer says. "We would look at their assessments of their high potential talent, and we would ascribe a degree of credibility to those." In a strategy Pfizer referred to as "high touch," he explains, it spoke with Pharmacia's most senior leaders about high potentials, and then made a point of reaching out to those employees. "The whole point was to let them know they were valued," he says, "and while whatever position they were in may or may not be the position they would be in [at Pfizer], if there was a place for them to be, we were going to work to make it happen."
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