It is hard to imagine an industry more competitive than the medical
technology sector. New and improved devices are at the heart of
this booming field. Hiring, keeping, and growing talent may be one
of the largest challenges. Edwards Lifesciences, a world leader in
products and technologies to treat advanced cardiovascular disease,
is the number-one heart valve company in the world. Headquartered
in Irvine, Calif, Edwards focuses on specific cardiovascular
disease states - including heart valve disease and peripheral
vascular disease, as well as critical care technologies. Edwards
has more than 5,700 employees worldwide, selling medical
technologies in more than 100 countries with 2006 sales of $1.o37
billion. Learning Executives Briefing spoke with Rob Reindl,
corporate vice president, human resources, at Edwards, and the
person responsible for developing and maintaining the company's
workforce - a critical element for innovation and growth.
Learning Executives Briefing: What is Edwards
Lifesciences doing to find, develop, and keep the best talent?
Rob Reindl: We developed a very robust companywide
talent management process that we have been engaged with since
1997, and we have made it better every year. Each year, the entire
executive leadership team performs a talent review on their
respective teams - a bottom-up review. The CEO, Mike Mussallem, and
I then sit down with the head of that business, region, or function
and conduct 15 talent reviews. In these reviews, we look at the
strategic imperative in each of those units and the organizational
design. We also cover critical jobs and performance of individuals
in critical jobs, as well as identify potential successors for
critical jobs, high-potential employees and key talent.
The differentiation between high-potentials and key talent is that
high-potentials are those people we see getting into a critical job
in the next five to seven years. Key talent we identify as someone
with more technical or specialized skills, who we may not see as
supervising a lot of people - or even wanting to do that - but
having technical ability that is so critical to one of our business
units that we would hate to lose that person. When we talk about
critical jobs, we identify those as jobs that are essential for the
execution of our company's strategy. As the strategy evolves, the
critical job list can change. We have approximately 70 critical
jobs across the company right now, and we try to fill those
critical jobs with the very best talent that we have.
LXB: In a growing company like Edwards
Lifesciences, how much additional pressure comes about due to a
general lack of talent available in the market? If that is indeed
Reindl: I agree with the notion that there is a
lack of available talent out there. The talent pool is shrinking.
The "war for talent" that McKinsey & Company talked about back
in 1997 has become a reality. We are seeing baby boomers leave the
workplace, but the trend has an even greater impact on us at
Edwards. We are a medical technology company in a highly
specialized industry that requires employees to have certain
technical expertise that can generally only be acquired through
LXB: How are the needs for learning and training
different for a company like Edwards as opposed to other kinds of
Reindl: Like other companies, we have talent needs
in areas like marketing, manufacturing, and sales. However, our
more critical needs are different because we are in medical device
manufacturing in a very innovative environment. Our greatest
competency requirements are in the areas of engineering, clinical,
and regulatory affairs. These functions are particularly important
in the clinical trials of new and future technologies. Our focus is
meeting unmet patient needs, and we do that by successfully
delivering innovative products to the market. Clinical, engineering
and regulatory are the three areas that drive that effort.
LXB: Is it fair to say that competition in your
business is intense?
Reindl: In terms of talent, yes, it is a very
LXB: How is Edwards building and improving its
Reindl: We continue to build and recruit for our
clinical function. It's a very difficult area to recruit because
there are not a lot of seasoned clinical people out there to begin
with. These people often require technical skills that we can't
always develop from within. It's challenging to have a nontechnical
person become successful in a clinical role. We look at a lot of
lab technicians and nurses who have clinical expertise to come in
and fill those roles.
LXB: Once you have those people on board, what
kind of learning path do they follow?
Reindl: We have two different career paths at
Edwards: one is technical and the other is a management career
path. There is a possibility that a clinical person might want to
choose the management track so we have learning and development
assigned to that track. More often than not, people who are really
technically oriented move up the technical path. Not only is there
learning and development associated with that technical career
path, but also rewards, recognition, and incentives. We treat our
technical career path as important as our management career path
because of the importance it plays in our ability to bring
innovative products to market.
LXB: Can you tell us about some of the metrics you
use and how you establish those benchmarks?
Reindl: Benchmarks fall into two different buckets
for us. We have companywide aspirations and we have
performance-management objectives. Our aspirations are longer-term,
company-wide goals that we might look at every five years. Our
performance-management objectives, or PMOs, are individual metrics
that are reviewed annually.
Our aspiration of maintaining a turnover rate for employees in
critical jobs and high-potentials is to keep it below 3 percent.
Our experience is that it is a bit higher than that right now. But
looking down the road we say, "Wouldn't it be great if our turnover
in top talent was less than 3 percent."
Similarly, our objective to fill critical positions in less than 50
days is an aspiration, and that one is really difficult to meet. We
would hate to have jobs filled just to meet that aspiration. We
also assess our hiring success at six months after the hire, and
ask the hiring manager how the employee is doing on a scale of one
to five. If we see the performance index dropping because we have
an aspiration of 50 days, we know we have the wrong behaviors
happening. But we do want our people to treat these job openings
with a sense of urgency, so that is why we created the 50-day
We established that 50-day goal from benchmarking best practices,
not from within. The turnover rate was an industry average and we
chose to go even lower than the industry number.
LXB: We have read that Edwards Lifesciences
encourages what it calls "creative debate" to bring about a higher
level of employee engagement. Is that policy actually written down
Reindl: Yes. This is an evolving concern in many
organizations - to allow younger people to speak up to more
experienced people, for peers to challenge peers in meetings, and
to enable middle management to speak up to top management. We
decided to take a couple of approaches to institutionalize this in
our company. First, we established a course within our Edwards
Lifesciences leadership program. It's a module within our
four-and-a-half day program for the director and above level. It
focuses on the skills and techniques associated with the dynamics
of debate. Secondly - and this may sound a bit corny - but we have
a three-inch high icon on the desks of management and in our board
and conference rooms to remind people about the effort. It's a
heart on the bottom with a storm coming out of the heart inside the
icon. It's a reminder to all of us that we need debate. Out of
debate come creative ideas. And creative ideas are what drive
innovation - and innovation is what's critical in medical devices.
Lastly, we have made "creative debate" a competency in the
organization that people are evaluated on in their performance
It's not the thing we are best at - yet. We started this about four
years ago, but I would bet that we are better at it than most
companies because we are willing to deal with this issue openly.
Continually improving employee engagement is absolutely critical to
our success, so we will keep increasing the pervasiveness of open
and creative debate companywide.