Second Opinion: Taking a Shared Approach to Transformation in Pharma

2022-05-26 |  Shrinivas Anikhindi

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Welcome to Second Opinion. In this month’s issue, we’re tackling one of the biggest paradoxes in our industry – the timescales of change.

In the Life Sciences industry, we must deal with extremely short and long timescales at the same time, fielding decade-long development pathways while the way that we engage patients changes constantly.

We’re going to explore some of the challenges brought about by this unique situation, and we’ll talk about some recent organisational innovations that can help you overcome those barriers to success. We’ll also address change as a whole, why it can be so scary, and what we should be thinking about when we make changes in the future.

As always, if you’d prefer to listen to our perspectives instead, you can find us on Spotify, Apple and Soundcloud.  


Change is Inevitable, Change is Constant



When should you change? And when should you pause and consider? Is constant change the gold standard or merely a convenient organisational tool?

The solution to this conundrum lies in the impetus for change – making sure that you’re clear about where you’re going before you set off. The constant movement of key trends: technology, patient expectations and global backdrops means that it’s crucial to understand what you’re looking to solve and improve by making changes to the way your business operates.


Why is directional alignment so important?

Pharma organisations are gigantic businesses, with long complicated value chains. Any transformation that seeks to be effective will need to deliver change at every step. So why is this a problem?

Let’s start with a simple change hypothesis or mission; “We want to be more digital.”

At a high level, the implications of this are relatively simple. A move towards digital marketing, retrofitting paper-based and manual processes, and perhaps exploring digital therapeutics in clinical development.

When we start getting into the details, however, we start to encounter bigger challenges. In this instance, consider the strategic planning meeting for an upcoming launch medicine. Should the team now look into digital companion apps for patients? Should they focus on webinar-based education materials for their physician customers?

Without knowing the ‘why?’ of the digital transformation, the team won’t have a decision-making map – for example, is the transformation focussed on improving value for patients and physicians, or is it centred on cost reduction?

Furthermore, if there are five teams making decisions in parallel, there may be five different outcomes which will impact the organisation’s ability to move and act as one.


Where's the Map?

The value of delivering transformation with all the horses pulling in the same direction doesn’t just make your company more efficient, it keeps your team clued-up and involved too.

Making transformation an open and involved process allows for decisions to be validated at every level, which will ensure success for the changes when they actually hit the ground.

Too often, organisations see convenient opportunities to make changes from the top down, but don’t take the time to test the changes with their teams on the ground to see how they will work. This usually results in months of impacted effectiveness as teams struggle to adapt to mandated transformations like a pair of ill-fitting shoes.

In egregious examples, employees may be perennially stuck in cycles of accommodating new changes with no reprieve. Bringing teams into the loop reduces the time required for transformations to be adopted, thus increasing the time they can spend operating at top speed.

Doing this properly will also improve motivation to engage with the adoption process and reduce the likelihood of employee resistance against transformation.


Riding the wave of change

We’ve all seen it, from TV shows about therapy to consultancy diagrams about change management – the change curves inspired by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s model plotting the journey from grief to acceptance.

In a business context, they show us how employees will process change, and how business effectiveness fluctuates accordingly throughout that journey.

Below is the model our change process is built around, showing how a shared approach to transformation can both accelerate the curve, and also mitigate the severity of the curve’s bottom line.


What Else We've Been Reading

Bringing Change Online at Scale

It’s all well and good talking about change in vague terms, but what does this look like when put into practice? To illustrate this we sought to turn to our past, as a fantastic example of change carried out quickly, cleanly and effectively in the Nordic affiliate of a top 5 global pharma organisation.

In 2016, the affiliate was seeking to leverage new digital offerings to boost customer engagement but recognised that their existing processes, KPIs and operations were set up for face-to-face (F2F) engagement only and were therefore incompatible with these new channels. They recognised that their customers wanted to engage with them in multiple channels and the burden of communication could not rest with the Field force alone. They had to change.

Over six months, the affiliate led a change reaching every step of their value chain, every level of their hierarchy, and even up to Global itself. They achieved these stellar results in such a short period of time in three important stages: Aligning on objectives, Soliciting internal buy-in, and Maintaining constant visibility.

Step 1: Aligning on Objectives: 

Leadership kicked this whole process off by aligning the whole desired customer engagement to specific business objectives so that it was clear how the online model and F2F models would support one another. Stakeholders were mapped against the delivery of these objectives so that it was clear to everyone within the value chain who was delivering what, and how.

Step 2 - Soliciting Internal Buy-in: 

‘eKPIs’ integrated with existing field force KPIs were then developed against these objectives, to help generate a shared understanding of how these activities would generate outcomes and the desired customer behaviours that would arise as a result. This ensured that everyone was clear on the why as it applied to their specific part of the value chain.

Step 3 - Maintaining Constant Visibility: 

Finally, internal email and intranet were used to maintain constant communication about these changes internally and externally. This allowed for teams to move together in lockstep, and share regular feedback against key goals to guarantee desired outcomes. This also allowed customers to engage with the upcoming content in a way that delivered feedback which could be listened to for making further improvements.

Key Success Criteria: 

Speaking to key agents of this transformation, the speedy and effective change came down to two main factors. Firstly, being able to individualise buy-in for each team and function to secure buy-in, and secondly, leveraging internal communication as a type of selling in order to help teams share what was going on between themselves and with leadership. 


The Ship of Theseus: How do we Preserve Identity Through Transformations?

The old thought experiment about the boat in the harbour tackles concepts of identity, and the degree to which identity can be preserved alongside change.

Organisations, while they are not people, face similar challenges. At the core of successful businesses are unique cultures and missions, which unite employees.

When delivering transformation to improve or refine the organisation, it’s crucial that this core isn’t lost, or what remains at the end of the transformation may feel like a different place altogether.

To escape this fate, consider what unites your organisation, from its people through to its processes. We often ask and support organisations we work with to consider their purpose. Distilling this, and the values that make your organisation unique, is an important first step in making sure that change is delivered correctly and sustainably.

Having then made changes, it’s equally important for organisations to be proactive about monitoring the impact of the changes made - both in terms of business output, but also employee sentiment.

Have a look at this blog about tracking the impact of changes made for external customers, and think about how the same lessons can be followed internally.


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