What???s at the Heart of Alnylam's Company Culture?

This article was originally published here
June 2, 2016
5 Point Value System is at the Heart of Alnylam’s Company Culture in Massachusetts
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Landing a biotech job these days is about more than technical skills. There’s also a sense developed during an interview process about whether a candidate is a good fit for a position.

That’s definitely something human resources representatives at Massachusetts-based Alnylam (ALNY) will be looking for as it interviews numerous candidates to fill its growing needs. Executives at the trailblazing RNAi therapeutics company anticipate quadrupling the company’s employment from 400 to nearly 1,800 in the next few years as it looks to commercialize multiple therapies by 2020. The company recently broke ground on a new $200 million manufacturing site that will house many of those future hires.

Filling that many positions with quality candidates could become a challenge, but Karen Anderson, Alnylam’s senior vice president of human resources, believes the company’s five-point value system she implemented will be a big help in finding employees who are the right fit for the company. Not only is the five-point value plan used in recruitment, but it also measures employee and executive performance after they are hired, as well as being a driver in Alnylam’s company culture.

Creating a viable and lasting company culture can be tricky. Culture includes most every aspect of life inside a company, including how individuals act, talk and “show up” in the organization, Anderson told BioSpace (DHX). She said company culture is not something that can be forced by executives being too “heavy handed” because that could lead to episodes of rebellion from employees.

“It’s something that really needs to be organic, but you can’t just let culture appear because it can be chaotic,” she said. “You try to do things that can cultivate it, but we do not want to be heavy handed.”

However, Anderson said the company’s five-point value plan is something that provides a fertilizer of sorts for that organic growth. The five pieces are open culture, innovation and discovery, a sense of urgency, commitment to people and a passion for excellence.

Open culture
“It’s about being transparent. About being candid,” Anderson said. Unlike many biotech companies, Alnylam tends to share a lot of information with its employees about what’s going on across the company. When the company’s scientific advisory board meets, each employee is invited to hear the opinions expressed during that meeting.

Innovation and discovery
The science that Alnylam’s researchers are working on is something that piques the interest of most candidates who send in a resume for a position. Anderson said the skills people possess and how they wish to use them at Alnylam gets a lot of candidates in the door for interviews. But, because Alnylam is developing new therapies that have not yet passed late clinical and regulatory stages, there is still a sense of risk.

“We’re not adding on to existing science, it’s a new modality, which attracts people who see value in an entrepreneurial spirit. This is game changing, it’s exciting, but it’s also risky. We can truly say we’re about innovation and discovery. That spirit comes alive, here,” Anderson said.

Sense of urgency
Alnylam is hoping to be the first to market with its RNAi therapies, but the company does have competitors, such as Marlborough, Mass.-based RXi Pharmaceuticals (RXII), which is developing therapeutics in dermatology and ophthalmology. Anderson said that race to commercialization provides a sense of urgency to their mission.

“We have competitors so we believe that you don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” she said. “Another thing is we put our patients front and center, and that helps employees understand what we’re doing. There’s a casual intensity to everything that’s going on here.”

Another aspect of that sense of urgency Anderson said is the effort to eliminate office politics that can be found in many other companies. Anderson said they encourage their employees to participate in “robust debate” about the company’s science and direction.

“It can be messy, but it creates intensity and energy. It gets ideas in the room versus having them be brought up later in the hallway. Here we think it’s OK to interrupt and say you don’t agree,” Anderson said.

That openness for debate allows employees to find out who they are in an organization and if the employee is one who is engaged, it can be a very rewarding experience.

Commitment to people
With a focus on patients, Anderson said Alnylam regularly places the needs and interests of a team working on a project over individual needs and interests. The company organizes its people and budget around projects, rather than departments.

Also, Alnylam employees regularly commit their time and energy to causes that enhance the community. One way Alnylam does this is to have employees spend one business day volunteering for an organization or charity they are passionate about.

“It’s little things like that that help an organization (like Alnylam) feel connected and that we’re not just about the work,” Anderson said.

Passion for excellence
This is something Alnylam’s CEO John Maraganore holds close to his heart, Anderson said. To determine if the company meets expectations and milestones it has set for itself, Maraganore will pull out a company scorecard at each town hall meeting to see if Alnylam has met its goals. Anderson said there are no half measures on the scorecard, either the company met the goals or it did not.

“It’s a tough marker, but we have to live with it. It gives some kind of anchoring within the organization to ensure there is follow through on these goals,” she said. “These values are strong and espoused across the company.”

The company’s values were put into place in 2014 and have become a benchmark across the board. As the company seeks to meet its hiring goals, these values will be used on a daily basis, even as the company expands overseas. Alnylam has seven employees in the United Kingdom and has recently hired a head of European operations who will be headquartered in Switzerland. In order to understand Alnylam’s culture and its five-point value system, he spent several months in Cambridge to fully understand and absorb the ideals. In turn, Anderson said he will be able to use those values when he hires country heads in Europe.

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