Can You Future Proof Pharma?

Recent years have seen scores of iconic businesses and brands fall by the wayside. The demise of Kodak, Borders and Nortel leaves us with little doubt – shift is happening and no organization or brand is immune to extinction.

In the fast-moving pharmaceutical sector, the words of Charles Darwin are especially true: “It is not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent. Rather’, he said, ‘it is those who are most responsive to change.”

Change and disruption are the theme of the day. In the pharmaceutical sector, a perfect storm of change is currently buffeting business models and revenue channels:

  • Market disruption – the flood of generics and frantic race against competitors to get new drugs to market
  • Demographic disruption – the wave of new-generation consumers who are buying different things in different ways and for different reasons to previous generations
  • Technological disruption – the age of the informed consumer meaning that brands have far less control over their reputation in the market than ever before
  • Regulatory disruption – the shifting sands of patent protection and PBS approval

While change is indeed the new constant in the pharmaceutical sector, such disruption need not be seen as threatening. After all, periods of turmoil can actually be a blessing in disguise – necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

Consider brands and businesses such as Lego, Volvo and IBM – what do these enduring companies do that has allowed them to emerge from periods of change and upheaval stronger and more relevant than ever?

I would suggest that in order to future proof a business and win the battle to stay relevance, organizations and leaders must consistently be willing to:

1. Re-Calibrate – While an appetite for change is critical to staying ahead of the curve, it is first important to discern which fundamentals in an organization should never change. Just as it is necessary to determine which walls are load-bearing when renovating a house, leaders must identify the non-negotiable values, principles and purpose which must never change. Tamper with these ‘load bearing’ fundamentals and everything may come crashing down.

As a case in point, consider pharmaceutical giant, Merck. In 1935, founder George Merck II articulated the company’s DNA in a way that has guided the business ever since: We are workers in industry who are genuinely inspired by the ideals of advancement of medical science and of service to humanity” he said. What is interesting is this purpose statement makes no mention of profitability or even pharmaceuticals.

Before embarking on any change agenda, it is vital to first re-calibrate an organization with its core DNA and allow this to be a guidepost for strategy and a touchstone for decision-making.

2. Re-Fresh – Any gardener knows that regular pruning is necessary to maintain the health and vitality of a garden. In the same way, organizations require regular pruning of initiatives, traditions and even people who are inhibiting future growth. While pruning can be painful and even disruptive in the short term, it is nonetheless critically important.

Consider how global scientific leader DuPont have consistently stayed ahead of the curve by being willing to prune away even their most successful past cash cows such as Nylon, Lycra and Teflon in order to move into highly profitable areas of food and fuel sustainability.

In a similar way, Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai has embarked on a series of necessary pruning initiatives in recent months. In the face of $6.4 billion loss for 2012 and a dramatic downgrade of Sony’s credit rating, Hirai recognized that he would need to act quickly to turn around his ailing tech-giant’s fortunes.

His first step was to end Sony’s decade-long marriage with Swedish mobile phone company, Ericsson. Next, Hirai spun off any Sony-owned non-core companies, dramatically streamlined manufacturing processes and cut Sony’s global workforce by roughly 10,000 employees.

3. Re-Frame – We were all raised to believe the lie that great minds think alike. Nothing could be further from the truth! The greatest and most creative minds have always thought very differently from their peers and the prevailing wisdom of their era. Being able to view the world from a different frame of reference is in fact the key to innovation and invention.

Leaders must pay particularly close attention to the views and perspectives of those who have fresh eyes in an organization – often owing to their lack of experience. Such fresh eyes have no trouble thinking outside the box and seeing creative alternatives to the status quo because they have no idea what the ‘box’ even looks like yet.

4. Re-Engineer – Keeping pace with change will require leaders and organizations to continually re-engineer their internal systems and processes. Too often, being ‘in a groove’ can easily turn into a rut and simply repeating the habits that have worked in the past can set you on a collision course with inefficiency and irrelevance. 

5. Re-Position – As times and needs evolve, so must the positioning of pharmaceutical businesses and brands. This could mean developing new products and services, tapping in to new markets, or completely overhauling a brand's messaging.

Consider the way Sanofi has done this superbly in recent years. Building on their strength in the vaccination and diabetes markets, Sanofi have branched out into new areas such as animal health. In addition, Sanofi have:

  • Overhauled their vitamin merchandising displays in pharmacies with interactive ‘Destination Centres’
  • Taken steps to embrace the entire treatment supply chain of by engaging with allied health and nurse practitioners rather than simply GPs
  • Developed a highly innovative online ‘Vaccine Hub’ app designed to make travel vaccination choices easier for consumers
  • Trialed placing nurse practitioners in pharmacies

Setting a pharmaceutical brand up for enduring relevance involves a principle that every experienced surfer understands well. In order to catch the perfect wave, a good surfer knows the importance of keeping their eyes firmly on the horizon. While a wave is still forming a long way off in the distance, surfers know that this is the time to move – to paddle out and get in position. Move too late or not at all and you’ll simply get washed up as the wave crashes over you.

In much the same way, winning the battle for relevance is about anticipating, preparing for and embracing change - no matter how uncomfortable or confronting it may be. 

For further information on Michael McQueen or to enquire about making a booking for your next conference or event please contact the friendly ODE team


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Can You Future Proof Pharma?

Michael McQueen is a multi-award winning speaker, change strategist and bestselling author of ten books.

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