David Reyero

Photo: HR Business Partner for Human Resources at Sanofi, David Reyero. Credit: Courtesy of the interviewee

By Patricia R. Guevara 

When faced with the eternal dilemma of whether technology is endangering the future of people's work, the answer is increasingly unanimous: it is about collaboration, not replacement. There are aspects of human intelligence that are non-transferable, such as spontaneity, creativity and intuition, which are needed in day-to-day aspects of industries such as pharmaceuticals, for management, decision-making and research.

This opinion is held by David Reyero, HR Business Partner for Human Resources at the international biopharmaceutical company Sanofi, who speaks of combining intelligence in order to tackle healthcare's future challenges, especially in a pandemic scenario.  The expert, who is also co-leader of the Sanofi 4.0 project to accelerate digital transformation at Sanofi Iberia and was responsible for talent management for the European Oncology Division, is convinced that we need to strengthen pillars such as open innovation, digitisation, continuous professional development and greater collaboration among all stakeholders in this sector.

How does Sanofi approach digitalisation?

Digital health is one of the biggest challenges ahead. For us, digital disruption affects every stage of the value chain, from research and factory 4.0 to multi-channel relationships with our customers.

Our question was: how can we move forward? The answer and our breakthrough has been to realise that this is not about technology or business, but primarily about people, skills and organisational culture. That is why we have co-led it with four departments: Technology, Marketing, People and Communication.

Digitalisation also entails the risk of digital exclusion for people who fail to upgrade. We are concerned about the employability of our employees, we don't want anyone to be left out of the game; this is here to stay and there are many opportunities. For this reason, we are committed to key areas such as lifelong learning, self-responsibility and curiosity.

What should a digitised pharmaceutical worker's job profile look like?

For us, there are four pillars of excellence in the workplace. Two basic ones, which are technical skills and professional background, and social skills, such as communication and teamwork. And two other pillars that make all the difference: values aligned with those of the company and purpose, which is fundamental for working passionately in the health sector.

Within technical skills, technology is a core transversal skill. That is why we offer iLearn, a global e-learning platform, where we give people the opportunity to self-train, and we have also created several universities where we cover topics related to different areas: professional development, science, industry and technology. We need to empower employees to be proactive leaders of their careers and their work and to want to go further.

How do you manage such a shift in mindset towards innovation among more senior employees?

For me, it is not chronological age that matters, but whether people are somewhat young in spirit, whether they are curious and eager to expand their comfort zone. Older people can transform themselves into millennials if they foster their vocation for innovation and continuous learning.

We are fostering synergies between generations through programmes such as reverse mentoring, where junior employees advise more senior employees on aspects of digitalisation and innovation, and at the same time benefit from the advice of veterans and their broader background and perspective on the workplace.

With the volume of change we have been managing in recent years, people are more predisposed to innovation. The key is to know how to reinvent oneself, to accept mistakes as part of learning and to handle uncertainty more naturally.

And externally, how do you try to attract the kind of talent that the sector needs?

With scientific and technological professionals it is a challenge, as they don't always see the pharmaceutical industry as an attractive job opportunity. We are working hard to improve our image and value proposition in terms of employment. The aim is for professionals to see that we have very interesting technological and intellectual challenges, and that our sector offers something different: we improve people's lives every day. This is very inspiring and people are increasingly enjoying working with companies that have such a powerful purpose.

Going back to digitalisation, how have you approached tele-working during the pandemic?

We have had a telework programme in place for more than ten years, so it has been a relatively natural process rather than a major disruption. Teleworking is about trust, self-responsibility, maturity and advanced leadership styles. So, beyond technology or detailed new regulation, the key is cultural change.

In our case, productivity hasn't been impacted, but some of the social cohesion has been lost and there has been a sense of fatigue due to the extensive use of videoconferencing. We encourage a lot of networking between teams, virtual coffees and we respect creative times and healthy habits.

What are the additional challenges of teleworking in a sector as regulated and sensitive as pharmacology?

There are some things that can' t be transferred to digital, but we have managed to improve many of our processes in terms of efficiency. As in other regulated sectors, it has helped us to progress with e-signatures, in areas such as clinical trials or legal processes. Everything is now more streamlined, which also drives our commitment to sustainability and the overall efficiency of our opportunities.

Every year, the MIT Technology Review publishes a report on the 10 technologies that could change the world and that will have the greatest impact on society and the economy. The 2020 breakthroughs included hyper-personalised medicine for the development of drugs tailored to a single patient. Which technologies stand out at Sanofi?

In clinical trials, using big data and artificial intelligence helps us to shorten timescales. There is a lot of data and you need to analyse it in great detail to understand whether a product has a future and should be taken to the next phase or whether it should be dropped. If we could only achieve this by relying on human capabilities, it would take much, much longer.

On the other hand, people bring that bit of creativity and intuition, or they can decide that an exception needs to be made to the rule; something much more limiting and difficult for a robot. AI saves time, but human brilliance is needed to advance beyond that.

It is about properly integrating multiple intelligences. Companies that understand how to optimise this hybrid way of working will have a competitive advantage in the future.

Published by OPINNO © 2022 MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW spanish edition