Ensure all your staff can make a difference

Eli Lilly's focus on long-term staff development underpins success.

One of the key reasons that pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly has been judged to be one of the best places to work in IT is the focus it puts on career development - starting with student work experience placements.

"Eli Lilly partners with a number of universities," said Steve Ashing, the company's IT infrastructure team leader. "From IT-related courses - business and information systems and computer sciences - we fill three different jobs: technical, systems and business analysts.

"Students come to work for us in July and August just before their final year at university." But not everyone is taken on, said Ashing.

"We will not take someone on unless we believe they have the potential to be a leader, rather than just being technically good enough. We want to see demonstrable experience in leadership and the ability to contribute to a team, whether this is in university projects, outside experience or situational demos. We want people who can make a difference."

About 13% of IT student applicants for work experience are accepted, and they then go through a structured training programme.

"We expect a lot from our students - they have to make a real contribution. It is not an apprenticeship," said Ashing.

After the work experience is finished, students go back to university. "When they have graduated, we invite back the best performers - the ones who showed the most potential. We take about 20%-30% of graduates - we apply very stringent criteria," Ashing said.

"Once employed, they are plugged into our standard development programme, trained up in the skills necessary to do their jobs."

As well as technical training, talent assessment, succession planning, performance monitoring, employee-developed job descriptions and mentoring are part of the development process for staff. Progress is the expected norm.

"We expect staff to stay about three years in any role, and after l8 months they should start to consider their next role," said Ashing. At any one time a manager will be considering a staff member's next role, and the possible one after that.

Although fast-trackers can follow the MBA route, everyone can aim to be a leader, said Ashing. Even those who stick with a pure technology role are expected to take their share of responsibility for delivering the right IT.

Knowing what role is the best one to pursue next depends on several factors, said Ashing.

"We have a matrix management structure here, so you need a good network of contacts. We also have an electronic resum' system - everyone registers and everyone can look at it," he said. "It is a pool of candidates, and you can do a search for the skills you are looking for.

"Everyone is generally considered for three future roles, and each role gets three or more candidates, so there are always options for staff."

As a pharmaceutical company, the average IT user at Eli Lilly in R&D has a PhD, and many know a lot about IT. "There is a lot of cross-over from business to IT, and from IT to business-related roles. My own boss transferred from our medical team," said Ashing.

However, for staff who have found their metier and have no wish to change, there is a strong culture of respect, said Ashing. "One of our staff has been here 27 years and does not want to move on," he said.

Because staff usually move in less than four years, those who stay longer provide stability and continuity. "We gain a lot from our long-service personnel," said Ashing.

With drug development averaging 10 years, the culture at Eli Lilly is one of long-term development of staff, and heavy investment in both people and technology.

Eli Lilly won the manufacturing and engineering category in Computer Weekly's Best Places to Work in IT 2003 Awards

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment