Article: People matter in a distributed R&D world


People matter in a distributed R&D world

As our world continues on its path toward globalization in general, R&D in the Life Sciences industry is not very different.
People matter in a distributed R&D world

Globalization in R&D is here, has been here for some time. Over 94% of the largest innovative companies conduct various elements of their R&D efforts outside of their main base1. Significant changes have also occurred over the past decade with Asia being the leader in terms of in-region spending on R&D2.

No longer is R&D confined to the four walls of an organization, as was the case until a decade or so ago. Expected outcomes drive the ‘what’ behind work. Business cases, to a large extent, drive ‘how’ work is conducted and ‘where’. The ‘where’, thanks to technology and the mobility of people introduces significant dynamism into what used to be, at least relatively speaking, a much more ‘static’ situation. These days work gets conducted 24 hours in many instances across multiple locations.

So the real question is, how does one handle people-related matters in such a dynamic environment? 

Where is that ‘ready reckoner’ is what one needs to provide an answer to this question!

The BBRC, collaborative venture between Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) and Syngene Intl, a Biocon - Group Company, and is based in Bangalore, India and is home to nearly 500 scientists.  Being one of the largest of its kind in this geography, the scope of Research & Development activities at this site spans Lead Discovery and Lead Optimization all the way through to early stage Chemical Process Development and Clinical Biomarkers Development. The operating model here primarily depends on leveraging a tapestry of talents across BMS locations and the BBRC.

Drug R&D conducted here is targeted towards helping develop solutions for serious unmet medical needs for patients worldwide; a very important attraction for top talent wanting to be part of the story. The joint governance model here in play between the partners helps in matching the need to perform world-class R&D with the right set of investments in people, processes and infrastructure. Most importantly, in agile and flexible fashion. It is well acknowledged that local problems require local solutions appropriate in context and our organization is a classic example of just that within this collaborative environment that allows for a cross-pollination of ideas.

Operating within such a non-traditional model is not possible without its share of challenges. Success with people engagement here is a function of brand, governance model, the work and learning opportunities.  The strategy with people has been fairly simple to date - a) hire the right people and b) provide them with appropriate opportunities to learn and grow and c) empower them to be the best that they can be. The rest – attrition, retention, engagement – not surprisingly both intuitively and in our experience, appear to take care of themselves if they are nurtured accordingly.

  1. hire the right people provide them with appropriate opportunities to learn and grow

  2. provide them with appropriate opportunities to learn and grow

  3. empower them to be the best that they can be. The rest – attrition, retention, engagement – not surprisingly both intuitively and in our experience, appear to take care of themselves if they are nurtured accordingly.

An establishment with the above-mentioned way of functioning offers a uniquely energizing and motivating environment to its employees. With its mission to accelerate R&D for the benefit of patients with serious medical needs, our strategy to attract, engage and retain top-notch global scientific talent is well integrated with its mantra for providing an unparalleled opportunity to showcase talent in an intellectually stimulating, rewarding and congenial work environment built around the pillars of collaboration, teamwork and innovation. 

We now delve into some of the key areas that have been key to the success of this operating model.


  • Accounting for cultural differences. It is obvious that when collaborators exist in multiple geographies, it becomes imperative to assimilate good practices that are common as well as acknowledge and manage local differences. Not to forget the fact that working with Millennials is an exciting challenge in itself!
  • Managing change proactively. R&D by its very nature tends to be risk-prone and dynamic. As work comes in and exits or changes in line with business needs, the importance of keeping the organization informed and actively bring them along in line with business changes is absolutely key.
  • Importance of having partners willing and able to collaborate across borders. It is one thing to talk about what it takes to build successful partnerships.  Dissonance in such environments is hard to miss. Therefore nurturing what works in partnerships is essential. Equally, if not more important, it is necessary to learn and let the model evolve at a strategic, tactical and operational level.

Talent acquisition

R&D is a team sport. Our talent acquisition framework revolves around sourcing candidates who are team players with exemplary profiles demonstrating deep scientific and technical expertise across various disciplines involved in drug discovery, with stringent screening processes involving multiple stakeholder interviews, presentations and panel discussions at different levels. A rigorous, but welcoming on-boarding process helps new hires get acclimatized, socialized and blended into the working environment seamlessly. Managers, peers, colleagues and HR work together to get the new hire up-to speed and productivity. New senior leaders participate in a “New Leader Integration” program that is facilitated by HR. At the time of this publication, many of the HR transactional workflows are being automated for ease and efficiency. 

Employee Engagement & Retention

Employee engagement in our industry, a prime focus area, is measured through surveys and people-connect platforms. A range of social and cultural activities including topics such as health and wellness, new-hire 90 day connect (“Anubhav”), local linguistic skills, cultural talent & sports events, stress management & work-life balance sessions, community outreach programs and the availability of an external life coach round the clock have all been organized to keep the employee morale and motivational quotient as high as possible. Long-service awards for tenured employees, celebrations of achievements, along with a culture of appreciation and acknowledgment have constantly ensured high employee commitment. All our associates and colleagues have several opportunities to express their views, ideas and feelings, either individually or collectively in 1:1 discussions, group meetings or in “Town Halls”.  Employees also have the opportunity to volunteer for community service through an “outreach” program, wherein they visit government schools and interact with primary school students.

Recognition & Reward

A robust recognition and reward program ensures that all meritorious individual and team accomplishments are duly acknowledged and rewarded generously in a timely manner. 

Performance Management

BBRC has introduced an efficient performance management platform that was successfully rolled out last year is now well on its way to make an organization-wide impact in terms of goal-setting, mid-year reviews, individual. This makes processes transparent and unquestionable.

Employee Development 

Leadership development is the cornerstone of any modern organization today, and BBRC is no exception. A host of developmental initiatives targeting soft skills, team-work and functional expertise are continuously designed and executed with external partners as well as on-the-job. Leadership pools have been identified, who are continuously exposed to the latest trends in the field as well as to cutting-edge science and technology. Training and developmental opportunities for associates and junior colleagues are also prime focus areas where a plethora of options are available for them to hone their skills and enhance their profiles. A mandatory dialog takes place in the mid-year cycle between every manager and employee about individual development which is translated to a documented actionable development plan. 

Scientists and other professionals are encouraged to network externally, acquire professional memberships and certifications as part of their continuous learning and development.  


Our core behaviors - the 4 pillars of passion, innovation, speed and accountability - are the cornerstones that contribute to our continued success and are visibly demonstrated in a spirit of collaboration and teamwork. Growth with engagement, effective decision-making, continuous improvement, efficiency, productivity, transparency and cross-functional learning are the hallmarks of our interdisciplinary work environment.

Diversity & Inclusion

Last but not the least and admittedly one of the challenging areas! 

Diversity and Inclusion are important themes in our organization that are addressed in every sphere of its operations. Key messages are emphasized through conventional and relatively novel means; interventions by a theater group engaged in the concept of “playback theater” involving active audience participation were conducted, subsequent to which we have received reflective messages from our employees helping us to understand their maturity levels on these dimensions. This has helped fuel further plans for a road map with 3 to 4 phases with the objective of elimination of various biases at work-place such as age, gender, language, socio-cultural background etc. We have also ensured that employees volunteer for community-based marathons like “Pinkathon” to promote breast cancer awareness etc. 


Organizations are created by people and not just by physical buildings and infrastructure. BBRC’s strong people focus with its strategy of engagement, enrichment and empowerment has helped to build an organizational culture of resilience where passion and innovation thrive on the foundations of speed and accountability. Our people strategy and focus has helped ensure retention and engagement of our niche talent which has contributed to our resounding success.

An organization is a living entity and our ‘people-related’ practices here will continue to evolve.

In its decade of existence, people engagement has been a pivotal factor in the success of this model. While not without its fair share of challenges, in the big picture, the BBRC has been a great use case for collaborative R&D in Life Sciences across borders.


  1. 2016 Global Innovation 1000 Study
  2. Innovation’s New World Order”, Barry Jaruzelski, Kevin Schwartz, and Volker Staack
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Topics: #Culture

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