Competition for top talent doesn’t improve during a downturn; in fact, in many ways, it gets worse. Business is faced with the conflicting challenges of implementing efficiency measures while simultaneously trying to attract, retain and develop their own leaders. All of this evident in Russia, but the talent market there has its own idiosyncrasies as well. Salaries have always been a main motivator, but the traditional non-emphasis on strategic thinking and business development training by local universities offers additional challenges to cultivating talent.
Natalya Vovchuk, head of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Ukraine, Baltic and Caucasus States, said in a recent article: “Now is a good time for businesses to invest in their current talent pool and to add depth to that pool through continued investment in training and professional development. It could be as late as 2010 or 2011 before the world begins to emerge from the current economic situation, but when the upturn in the economy does arrive, you don’t want your business to be at risk as a result of short-term thinking in the past.”
Novartis, a global health care company, is investing heavily to address the talent needs of its 2,000 employees throughout Russia. Despite hiccups in the general economy, the Russian pharmaceutical market is in its infancy and still growing rapidly, with imports accounting for more than 70 percent of sales — a unique opportunity for Novartis.
Previously active in general leadership development programs, Novartis’ first class of 40 associates recently graduated from the Novartis Business Academy, a mini-MBA style program taught in Russia. With the launch of the Novartis Russia Corporate University, this new institution will be the cross-divisional umbrella provider of leadership programs.
“Development programs in Russia are important to the process of identifying, motivating and retaining talent in a market that is still experiencing a high turnover rate,” said Anna Yakusheva, corporate learning manager for Novartis Group Russia. “It also makes Novartis a more attractive employer to external talent in this country.”
Many of the learning tools and instruments available in Russia are the same as those available to associates in other Novartis locations. However, Russian education has historically focused more on the scientific or medical fields, which has produced a highly educated workforce that still often needs additional business and management training.
Proactive, Customized Training
With this in mind, in 2008, Novartis launched the Novartis Business Academy specifically for top managers in the Russian organization. The Stockholm School of Economics was selected for the intensive, 10-month program that covers business modules, including hands-on simulations in marketing, business strategy, finance, project and process management, leadership and organizational behavior.
According to Betty Lau, a program director who works with the Novartis Russia Corporate University, “The academy is designed to raise leadership capabilities and hone management skills so those in Russia are best prepared to lead Novartis through a time of hyper-growth and unusual challenges.”
The Novartis Russia Corporate University also benefits from the active participation of senior management, who provide leadership, inspiration and evidence of their personal commitment to the local workforce. All program design and implementation decisions are driven by Novartis’ business strategy and focus on the strongest talent, regardless of seniority.
Part of a Larger Mission
The Novartis development structure in Russia allows employees to hone leadership skills while they are fulfilling current roles. Its leadership standards and behaviors, functional competency models and talent management processes are embedded in both on-boarding training and during ongoing performance development processes for each employee. Accelerated development programs, mentoring options and other special programs also help create a culture of continuous learning. Ultimately, the company wants its Russian leaders to become more effective in Russia, but it also wants them to become more effective in the global Novartis organization.