Business Today

Eli Lilly: Fighting fit

Eli Lilly is alive and kicking when it comes to driving its very precious sales force. The company scores high on diversity, but is yet to find a cure for attrition.

Saumya Bhattacharya        Print Edition: January 25, 2009

On november 27, 2008, A DAY after terrorists struck Mumbai, Eli Lilly’s 40-odd field workforce in Mumbai received simultaneous alerts on their phones. These were safety alerts from their Delhi office, instructing them to stay away from the field. “Safety overrides business and that’s the standing instruction to our field staff,” says Sandeep Gupta, CMD of Eli Lilly & Company India. For a company that has 80 per cent of its workforce (almost 400 employees) in the field, the human resource challenge is in one word— assiduous. And when your sales are completely steered by the drive of your field force, you ignore these diverse and distinct challenges at your own peril.

Astute leadership: Gupta (extreme left) and his team is bang-on when it comes to initiatives
Astute leadership: Gupta (extreme left) and his team is bang-on when it comes to initiatives
Eli Lilly became conscious of this fact very early in its journey in India. Little surprise then, the company has human resource practices intrinsic to the country, designed and customised for the centre of its universe—its sales force.

One of Eli Lilly’s field staff Tarun Sharma, 22, is an MBA in pharma marketing from Jiwaji University, Gwalior. A few days into his job, Sharma—who is a trainee territory manager for East Delhi—got a call from his parents in Himachal Pradesh. He was told that the family had received a letter from Eli Lilly’s Senior Vice President of HR, listing out their son’s achievement, his sales territory and reporting structure. Six months later, Sharma talks animatedly about the letter that became the talk of the town. “It is a dose of motivation at the entry level,” says Gupta. Motivation is one of the four threads that form the HR yarn at Eli Lilly—along with communication, safety and training.

Eli Lilly, which posted sales of about Rs 200 crore for financial year ended March 2008 (a compounded annual growth rate—CAGR—of 16 per cent over last three years), is a subsidiary of the US pharmaceutical major, Eli Lilly & Company. The company was set up in 1993 as a joint venture between Eli Lilly of the US and Ranbaxy of India. In August 2001, a 100 per cent Lilly subsidiary was created.

How is the workforce managed at Eli Lilly? Through an assortment of initiatives, and one such initiative, Health of the Organisation (HOO), made Gupta and his leadership team realise that their biggest challenge in managing human capital was a work-life balance. Their field staff works odd hours and is forced to rely on cyber cafes to file their daily reports. The remedy? “In a time which is not looking very optimistic, we are giving all our sales reps a laptop. The objective is to increase productivity and make sales reporting easier,” says Gupta.

Career growth: Nasa has seen three promotions in a six-year career span
Career growth: Nasa has seen three promotions in a six-year career span
But that’s only one small bit taken care of. Something niggling is giving Gupta and his HR Senior Vice President Suresh Tiwari many a sleepless night. It’s a pest called attrition that’s at a whopping 46 per cent for Eli Lilly.

Tiwari gives the bigger picture. According to him, the industry attrition at 26 per cent includes different segments like generic divisions, different experience levels ranging from legacy teams to new generation teams. “The attrition in pharmaceutical industry in the experience segment of 1-3 years is 47 per cent; most of the Territory Managers at Lilly are in this segment,” he says.

That said, Eli Lilly sees its high diversity as one of the reasons for attrition. “Women make up for 18 per cent of our employees. It also adds to our attrition because a travelintensive job can hamper their worklife balance. But that has not deterred us from hiring women,” says Gupta.

Talk to Eli Lilly employees and you find diversity and clear-cut career path getting the organisation a big thumbs-up from its workforce. Charu Mehta Nasa, 28, is a Sales Manager who works in the field. Her six-year career trajectory has seen three promotions, despite a year-long maternity leave (three months is paid) when her daughter Prisha was born in 2005. “I had an anxiety free transition from my leave.” And what made her stay at Eli Lilly for such a long time? Intensive, step-by-step training and research back-up provided by the medical information department of the company. “That ensures doctors are most receptive to us because we keep them updated on research,” she says.

  •  Number of people laid off in 2008-09 (Till Dec. 31, ’08)...None

  • Number of people hired in 2008 (Till Dec. 31, ’08)...226

  • Headcount in Dec. 2008 vis-à-vis Dec. 2007.....487 & 491

  • Headcount post-March 2009 (Higher than current, same as current, lower than current).....Not Disclosed. No lay offs planned.

  • Pay-cuts resorted to/ planned.....None

Source: Mercer, Company

At Eli Lilly, the tenure of the employees is peppered with intensive online and offline training modules. “Training and development is not a flavour of the month at Lilly. Once you come on board, it is part of life,” says Gupta.

Eli Lilly seems to have cracked the formula for keeping employees happy. Finding “Answers that Matter” is Eli Lilly’s mission statement. It would do well to find answers to its chronic ailment— attrition.

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