Developing and Nurturing Talent at Merck Greece

My journey with Merck started 10 years ago when I joined Merck South Africa in Johannesburg as the Product Manager for the Diabetes portfolio, I subsequently then held the following roles within the affiliate: Business Unit Head – Fertility and finally Director of Commercial Operations and Excellence. In January 2016 I accepted a 3 month short term assignment with Merck Russia as the ad interim General Manager for the CIS countries (Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus), and upon my return to South Africa, I was then appointed Managing Director for Merck Slovenia in August 2016 and subsequently took on the same responsibility for Merck Croatia in June 2018 as a dual role. As of 1 January 2020, I was appointed Managing Director for Merck Greece & Cyprus.

When I look back over the past 10 years, I am humbled by the opportunities Merck has afforded me and the vast experience gained from the different countries, cultures, business operating models, projects and great interactions forged with colleagues who have become friends. I have also had the privilege to be part of major milestones at Merck to highlight a few: The opening of the legal entity in Kenya, celebrating Merck 350 years in 2018 as the oldest family owned pharmaceutical company in the world, launching the oral treatment for Multiple Sclerosis and in 2021 we will celebrate 50 years of Merck in Greece.

The most in demand occupations or specialities did not exist 5-10 years ago, hence the importance to be prepared for the futures of work. At Merck one of our key priorities is ‘Investing in People’ and in doing so provides a work environment which allows for us to grow, develop, learn, live a culture aligned to our values and competencies and in doing so develop inspiring leaders now and in the future.

In a company as diverse as Merck with ever-changing employee needs, we recognize that advancing a career does not only mean moving upwards. It can also mean gaining new experiences and knowledge, and progressing through less traditional routes.

Merck provides many development opportunities which are driven by our ongoing individualised development plans following the principle of 70/20/10 approach. Where 70% is learning by doing, 20% learning through others for example mentoring and networking programs, 10% through structured courses.

Development at Merck is personalised and flexible and is tailored to individual goals for example from purely skills development to international assignments and projects as a learning path for the next career step.

And, as our environment undergoes increasingly fast-paced changes, our ability to adapt, as individuals and as a business, is crucial hence development is paramount.

I believe that we have to uncover the full potential of all our employees current and future, by finding working methods and leadership techniques that work for our employees. We need to first create and environment which allows for collaboration, provides feedback, where input is valued and appreciated.

Therefore, there are four attributes that I look for when hiring: attitude, competency, mindset and interpersonal attributes.

• Attitude. An employee that has a passion for the organization and what it is trying to accomplish and is excited about being a part of the organization.
• Competency. An employee that has the right skills and capabilities to do his or her job, or has the ability and agility to learn the right skills.
• Mindset. An employee understands the value of collaborating across the organisation and comes to work every day looking for ways to improve the performance of the company and increasing the impact he or she can have.
• Interpersonal attributes. An employee that demonstrates empathy, emotional intelligence, adaptability are more likely to succeed themselves in an organisation and contribute to the success.

You’ll notice that I did not mention experience, and that is for good reason. When you find a great talent who is passionate about what the organization is doing, experience does not matter as it can be gained. Great people/employees can decipher what they need to learn in order to be successful. Twenty five years in the same industry or with the same company is not necessarily a good thing. It’s much harder to unlearn what you know than learn what you need to know.

Even if you don’t have a specific role in mind, when you find someone who has all four attributes, hire them. Find a role for them. You can create a new role if you need to because they will contribute tremendous value to your organization.

More about the virtual leadership structure and how it has benefited current employees and how it will benefit future employees.
Firstly, for a virtual leadership structure to be successful and be beneficial for current and future employees these four elements are key to driving and positioning virtual organizations to success. A strong importance needs to be placed for the human element combined with inspiration and motivation, trust, clear and frequent communication, and development and training for employees.

The caveat to communication is the comprehension thereof, It is vital to ensure that all employees have the same understanding and alignment on the communication, because if not this could lead to mistakes and unnecessary delays.

Virtual structures have their benefits for example: cost efficiencies on business operating expenses, better work life balance, working remotely allows your employees to work where they can focus better to get the job done quicker, more productivity and access to a global talent pool, based on skill set and not on their geographical location.

However we always need to be mindful that with benefits, the opposite is also true which are the potential risks for example mental wellness of employees, loss of the flexibility for impromptu brainstorming sessions, fear of exclusion, integration of new employees into the organisation, finding the correct work life balance, hence, the art of virtual leadership is finding the equilibrium between the too.

In conclusion developing and nurturing talent is fundamental, as development is linked to best talent, attraction, growth and retention and ultimately leads, to a high performing engaged organisation.

About the author

Susan King-Barnardo

Susan King-Barnardo

Merck Group, Manging Director – Greece

I am Susan King-Barnardo proudly South African. I studied at the University of Port Elizabeth where I obtained a Bachelor of Science degree specialising in biokinetics. I also hold a post-graduate degree in Marketing Management awarded by the University of South Africa.

I represented South Africa as a member of the Junior Rowing squad at national and international level.

I have been in the pharmaceutical industry for 18 years, and my career started with Jansen Cilag then Abbott Laboratories in South Africa before joining Merck.

I joined Merck South East Africa in 2011 and have held various roles within the region. In August 2016, I was appointed Managing Director for Merck Slovenia and subsequently took on the same responsibility for Merck Croatia in June 2018 as a dual role. As of 1 January 2020 I was appointed Managing Director for Merck Greece & Cyprus. Together with the country leadership team we have positioned Merck as a leading science and technology company in the markets.

In sales and marketing we talk about the 4 P's. My 4 P's in business are: passionate, performance, people and pragmatic.

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