After a few recent client meetings I’ve begun to reflect not just about the challenges facing pharma, but the nature of those challenges. More specifically, I wonder if they reflect normal cyclical ups and downs or the impact of social and political evolution? Or do they represent a secular change?
I happen to believe we’re at the cusp of a secular change in pharma, one of those major paradigm shifts in an industry that only happens once every 10 or 20 years, or once every generation. A shift in which the industry will experience a major transformation. Retail is going through a change like this, energy is in the middle of transformational change, and I think this is also happening to pharma right now. No political or regulatory or scientific shifts will bring back the good old days of pharma.
Impact of Secular Change
Jim Collins has written extensively about what happens when massive change hits an industry. When it all shakes out, there are a handful of companies that are the undisputed leaders, while the majority simply meander in the middle of the bell curve.
We don’t need to recite here the product, access and margin pressures our industry faces – everybody knows that the power center is shifting. The real question now is, how do we control, channel and predict that change? Or do we just let it happen to ourselves?
Many people that I talk to within pharma are pretty discouraged, because they feel like their companies are slow and morbid and there’s too much inertia to really make change happen. Yet, when I talk to people at the most senior levels, they do want to make change happen, but feel constrained by the mid- and lower levels. Oftentimes, when the senior level tries to make change happen, the people at the mid- and lower levels dig in their heels. It’s reminiscent of when politicians try to make significant changes and the civil servants respond, “Well, he’ll only be around for a few years, and then we’ll go back to business as usual.” In some ways, that attitude prevails in pharma.
How to Achieve Escape Velocity
What is needed is an effort to achieve escape velocity from corporate inertia. To achieve escape velocity from inertia requires a combination of simultaneous top-down and bottoms-up efforts. You need the top-down air cover support because, frankly, the senior leadership will ultimately provide the resources. They’re going to sponsor the necessary change management, they’re going to require accountability and they’re going to allow for the time that’s needed to exact that change. But senior management can’t do it alone, so you also need a bottoms-up sponsor. You need people on the ground willing to execute that change. It has to also happen from the bottoms-up, because the leadership can’t do that.
Lately, I’ve been asking senior-level people, “Who at the brand level, who at the ground level is made up of the same DNA as you? Who is willing to take risks, willing to exact change, willing to buck the system? Let’s work together to do a pilot at the brand level with your sponsorship that can actually demonstrate to the rest of the organization what the future looks like.”
Top-Down and Bottom-Up
And that sentiment seems to be resonating. Senior management wants our help to find those brand-level individuals who are willing to make change happen but needs senior-level sponsorship. I’m on the hunt for companies that have both senior and ground-level people ready to create change at the same time, to ultimately achieve escape velocity.
And we’ve had some success. We’re experiencing it with one of our clients right now. We have connected a very senior-level executive with a brand-level employee with the same mindset. They are about four levels apart from each other, but we’ve introduced them, so they’re aware of each other. The senior employee knows that the brand-level employee is on the ground level trying to make the change happen, and the front-line employee quietly knows that he’s got someone in his corner providing air cover and resources.
Relationship Marketing as Change Management
Interestingly, it’s through our core business of relationship marketing that we are able to serve as a catalyst. Relationship marketing done well is actually an engine for change management as it forces departments to work together and requires a real customer-centric approach to messaging, marketing and sales.
Think of relationship marketing as the solid rocket fuel to enable escape velocity from corporate inertia. We still need a launch pad and destination coordinates from pharma executives, but we now have the means to help the next generation of pharma leadership manage the secular change we are experiencing.