Goodbye Traditional Pharma, Hello Innovative Thinking

I’ve heard it time and time again; “We can’t do that, you know how regulated we are”, “Yeah, but Pharma is different”, or “That’s just not how we do business”. For many, the pharmaceutical industry is a seemingly insurmountable wall of legal, regulatory, medical, and bureaucracy and has thus remained in the dinosaur era when it comes to change. The digital age has certainly forced some adoption, but overall Pharma lags far behind other industries such as Telecom, Retail, Banking, and Travel and Hospitality.

Disrupt or be disrupted.

I suspect that part of the reason some Pharmaceutical companies haven’t led the charge in rethinking the way they operate is the relatively healthy revenue stream generated from mass marketing of medications. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? But what happens if you’re being forced into early retirement? Times are changing, and much like the shift to personalized advertising, healthcare is evolving rapidly. Just this year, the FDA approved the first 3D-printed prescription pill for consumer use and personalized medicine is gearing up to disrupt healthcare as we know it today. According to one US based market research company, the global personalized medicine market valued at 1,007.88 Billion USD in 2014, is expected to reach 2,452.50 billion in 2022, growing at a compounding annual growth rate of 11.8% . No small chunk of change. And if that wasn’t enough to send a chill up the pharmaceutical spine, millennials are moving into physician offices and doors are closing fast. The up-and-coming physician doesn’t want to meet with a Pharmaceutical Representative for various reasons, including lack of trust and the inability to see the value behind such interactions. Marry that with the general distrust of the pharmaceutical industry, and you now have enough ingredients for a serious crisis.

So where does that leave us?

That question should be easy enough to answer, but if you still aren’t sure you need to act, ask yourself how the taxi industry is feeling these days. Uber has disrupted the transportation industry in a way few could have predicted. There are other examples, of course. Take Airbnb or the effect of e-commerce on brick-and-mortar outlets. There are clear warning signs that traditional pharma will soon face insurmountable challenges if they don’t adapt their current approach to doing business. Key areas such as research and communication need to be flipped upside down, and a serious look at redefining the core value proposition is required. Doing this entails a

massive culture shift to one where innovation is openly embraced. This era of disruption is like global warming; work quickly to shift your company culture to one that encourages innovative thought and ideas, or face the reality that “to do nothing” may mean you’ll require a life boat sooner than you think.

How can organizations successfully create an innovative culture?

It’s been said before, and resonates well here; culture kills strategy. If you don’t have the right company culture to support innovation, then you can’t expect to have a creative, free-thinking environment. Here are some crucial steps to foster employee engagement, encourage creative ideation and move your organization to become a leader in innovative thinking.

  1. Leadership Buy-In. Change can be difficult on many, especially when those leading the company are comfortable with maintaining the status quo. Proposing new ways of doing business can cause many people stress, fear and anxiety. When top management isn’t on board, you’ll find that discussing new ideas will lead to excuses (business planning process has already passed, maybe next year though!) or straight out attempts at killing them off (Oh no, we can’t do that, legal will never allow it so there’s no point in discussing). It takes a strong leader to move the organization past this, gaining support and buy-in from top management. Be prepared to let non-believers go, because having them on the team will undermine efforts and cause more damage than good.
  2. Sharing is safe! Employees need to feel confident that if they speak up, they won’t be penalized for it. Fostering that kind of an environment takes time and effort, or it will undoubtedly fail. Provide constructive feedback; all ideas will not necessarily be implemented, but by listening to them you’ll ensure that they continue to provide thoughts and insight. In a culture where employees feel safe speaking up equates to increased engagement, a sense of loyalty, and a feeling that they are part of the bigger picture. Ideas will flow more freely and quickly, and more employees will be willing to put their hand up without fear of repercussion.
  3. Facilitate idea sharing with new ways of communicating. Create an idea board, use an enterprise social network (Chatter, Yammer…), host a workshop, or create a challenge. All are potential ways of crowdsourcing thoughts and ideas from your employees. The goal here is to introduce new channels were employees will be motivated and encouraged to participate.
  1. Reward ideas from employees giving them motivation to speak-up. This type of recognition can come in all forms such as a simple thank you, an email, a gift certificate, to more elaborate ones like a cash bonus or weekend get-away. Looking for more ideas? See 101-super effective ways to reward your employees, by Peter Economy.
  2. Dedicate time to innovate. We all have busy schedules, meetings, deadlines, employees to manage, objectives to meet. If time isn’t set aside for creative thinking and brainstorming, it will likely go to the wayside when other more immediate needs take precedence. One idea may be to create an innovation committee, comprised of your most innovative thinkers (hint: not always senior management). With a committee in place, and meeting times scheduled, the likelihood of success will increase substantially.
  3. Put aside any mental barriers that stifle creativity. You can worry about the regulations and legal aspect later on, what’s important is getting the ideas flowing. Constantly worrying about whether you can or can’t do something will only prevent good concepts from seeing the light of day.
  4. Accept failure as a possibility, and try again. With every good idea comes risk, and without risk there is no innovation. Having a positive view of failure will allow you to pick back up and get back to the drawing board. What went wrong? Why? What learnings can you take from the experience? This attitude is important and a must for any credible innovative person. To be cynical will silence and prevent you from reaching that next level. Check out this article from the WSJ “Better Ideas Through Failure”.

Hopefully these steps inspire you to take serious strides in changing your company culture to a more free thinking and innovative one. Or perhaps not… Perhaps you still feel that there is something to be said about maintaining the status quo? Just know that there are only so many seats in a lifeboat and that they will fill up fast the minute our industry comes face-to-face with its own healthy dose of disruption.

So what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Anything you would add to this list? I’m always curious to hear people’s opinions, so please don’t hesitate to leave a comment at the bottom!

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