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Working Life: Monika Pocinkova, Vice President, HR Speciality Care, Ipsen UK & Ireland

Published on 03/06/19 at 12:46pm

Ipsen's Vice President of HR Speciality Care discusses the path she has taken throughout her career, the cultural differences she has experienced, and why HR is such an important function in any functional and sucessful firm.

You studied at the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague. Was your plan always to work in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry?

I was always fascinated with the medical profession, especially by the hospital environment, when I was a child. Like many young people I was not really sure what my future career would be, but I was initially interested in studying at the Medical University to become a medical doctor. I love chemistry and physics but I was not very strong on biology, so I was actually not successful in my application to the university. I went into studying economics, so it was actually kind of a second choice.

What motivated you to move into HR?

My final thesis was focused on career management in organisations like Nestle, compared to careers in the state sector as I was looking at public services at the time. I think what led me to that was the chance to look at HR as a new discipline. Coming from a post-communist country, HR had been a very underdeveloped discipline at that point in time. It helped me to have a different view of HR.

I began my career in the Czech Republic in Prague. When I joined, Nestle was still a joint venture together with Danone and they were acquiring a Czech producer called Cokoladovny. That was my first introduction into the world of human resources and learning all the different disciplines in HR. It was a great experience across different industries and building the HR functions in Czech Republic at that point in time, which had not been known before. Previously, HR was really just focused on wages and salaries rather than the sort of things we are doing today around talent management, culture, leadership development, [etcetera].

How has HR function differed across the firms you have worked at?

Human resources is about working with people, with leaders, with individuals. It is the science of enabling people to succeed in organisations. The difference between industries is the pace of business and in the final product. In the industry I work in today, patients are the ones that matter, and patients really can’t wait. For me, the purpose of working and supporting people in the organisation makes a difference, so it might be a little bit easier in the pharmaceutical industry to engage employees, compared to some other industries.

You began your career just after the fall of the Soviet Union. What cultural changes have you seen throughout your working life?

In terms of culture, things have changed dramatically because I started my career in the Czech Republic in 1998. The big development was the increased focus on the people – people started to matter, but people did not have trust in the HR organisations. Over time I moved to various different European countries. I worked in Sweden, in France, in Germany and in the UK and I got to see the differences in different societies. What I am seeing more recently is all about the kind of differentiation in different people and different products.  Ipsen places a lot of focus, a lot of effort towards the people, knowing that that truly differentiates the company. Focusing on building transparency and trust is something Ipsen started to do during their transformation over the last two years.

What do you enjoy most about your current role?

My current role is not similar to any other role I’ve been in before. I think that’s driven by the fact that my current organisation is a mid-size pharmaceutical company compared to organisations I’ve worked in before which were far bigger, and size actually matters. It’s a much more flat organisation: less organisational layers, and easier access to people in the field and in the production line, but also to the executive leaders. The way we work, communicate and partner is very different, so we have much more flexibility and freedom to operate and do what makes sense for the business. The ability to align is much faster and therefore the ability to impact is much faster as well, so that’s what makes the job interesting. I can’t say that I’m not challenged and every day is different to the one before. It’s a very interesting dynamic and very diverse way of working compared to working in a multinational organisation like the sort of companies I have worked in previously.

What have been your greatest achievements in your professional career?

I think this is a difficult question. I am proud when I see my team members growing or when I see leaders that I have supported achieve success. I am very happy to have had many of those examples and I am even starting to see some of those examples in Ipsen. If I think in terms of a bigger scale, I am proud when I see transformations in the organisation, especially from the culture point of view – when we transform organisations into a better, or even a great place to be. I’ve led organisations which have received the Great Place to Work certifications and organisations which have been rewarded as top employers, so I think that would be something of which I am the proudest. I did that by gaining trust and ability to listen; later on, it’s about honest, transparent feedback and the ability to coach and mentor.

What changes have you seen in terms of gender equality throughout your career?

I have seen a lot more focus on the topic of gender equality over the past five years, and certainly there has been a lot more effort into gender equality. I would even say I have seen a lot of improvement over the last couple of years, especially in the UK when we started to report on the gender pay gap. I would have to say that in an organisation like ours we are not only focused on gender equality but on equality overall. This means talking about diversity from a much broader perspective: talking about different experiences of people coming into the organisation; talking about different age structures, different backgrounds; looking at diversity from all possible angles, not only tackling gender diversity in the organisation.

How do you find living and working in the UK?

I don’t want to sound political but I consider the UK to be my home, despite not being British and not having British citizenship. I enjoy living and working in the UK quite a lot. The first time I came to the UK more than five years ago, I felt extremely welcome and I felt minorities and people of a different background are appreciated. It didn’t change for me and I think that appreciation of people from different backgrounds is very important to have in a working environment as well as privately. I think the UK is one of the countries that looks at and deals with those topics very seriously in my opinion, and certainly a country like the UK is looking at these issues in a more holistic way compared to some of the smaller countries, perhaps like the one I originally came from.  So I feel very comfortable here.

How has your interest and focus on diversity been developed through and in turn influenced your career?   

I think, starting straight after university in a big organisation, I was somehow unaware about any diversity issues. Coming from a small country where the population living there are very similar to one another, I didn’t see that as an issue. I think moving away from the Czech Republic brought me to that topic even more. As I said, diversity more recently has become very important to me, and it’s not only gender diversity but all forms of diversity that are important, but I have to say that what is more important than diversity in a workplace is inclusion. Inclusion for me actually comes before diversity as you could have a very diverse workforce but if the minority do not feel included there is still an issue. I think it’s not only about having the right numbers but about how people feel in the roles they play and how you will support the organisation to make them aware that people might feel differently. This is something that we have been working on a lot in Ipsen: to look at unconscious bias and raising the awareness that everyone has unconscious biases, even if they wish not too.  

What do you think makes HR such an important function in a successful business?

I think, in any organisation, HR should play a critical role; it should be at the table where critical decisions and discussions are happening. Having said that, I would like to mention that I don’t like positioning HR as a control function, which I have seen happening in certain organisations. I think it’s extremely important that leaders understand what role they play in HR matters and the ways in which HR makes leaders accountable for what they do. I think it’s important to bring HR to the table with the right people and listen to what’s going on, to make decisions together. I think this is extremely important to any organisation and is key to success. It’s important to make every leader in the organisation accountable for the decisions they make.

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