Good Guys Can finish First

Something has been happening to big pharma over the last 10 years or so.

Something not good!

Over the years an insipid, festering malaise has crept up over pharma destroying much of the value it could bring to humanity and destroying trust along the way. It was not one single event that did this, just a slow, creeping, virus-like stumble that infected the industry.

It is certainly not the case that the industry is becoming evermore unethical but clearly something has changed over time that has, in essence, eroded what pharma itself once highly valued.

Gone are the days when companies like Merck & Co were the most admired in the US, when they were respected, held up as a shining example to others and to some extent, revered.

Sure spectacular drug failures and aggressive side effects didn’t help. Neither did the court cases and the huge fines for less than stellar marketing and sales practices, or more recently, the high prices and lack of transparency. It was a combination of all these things and more that resulted in the industry ‘loosing its way’, ‘it’s moral compass’, call it whatever you will. But the result is an industry that has lost the respect and trust it once had.

Despite all of the compliance training, CIA agreements, mission statements and company values the industry seems unable to move the needle back towards most respected and trusted.

However there is hope!

Pharma needs to join the commercial model equivalent of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).

In order to drive transformational change one needs to first of all agree that there is a huge problem – think, ‘Hi, my name is Dave and I am an alcoholic’, and secondly, that the problem needs to be addressed today. And I don’t think the industry has agreed on these two points although most would agree that a problem exists.

However, there is a growing sense that the time is fast approaching when pharma will have no choice other than embrace change. This is not a pharma specific phenomena rather one that is impacting the entire business sector, but clearly the implications for the pharma industry will be spectacular, as it will perhaps demand significant business model change. Speakers, academics, consultants, business writers and commentators and some visionaries in business are speaking about the need for business to reinvent itself. That things need to change. That consumers and customers are demanding that business change.

Some industries of course choose to ignore or pay lip service to such demands and ideas, as is their right, but we are seeing the rise of not only customer power but e- empowered people more broadly. For many industries not taking consumers seriously results in often-disastrous business repercussions.

Last week I spoke with Doug Sandler one of the growing number of voices ‘out there’ that speak of a new paradigm, a new way of doing business, regardless of the industry.

Doug Sandler, entrepreneur, speaker, healthcare consumer (I added that one in, he does not describe himself as such, as most of us don’t), and author of Nice Guys Finish First, has a timely reminder for us all. It is well worth reading, even if you struggle to see how it can be applied to Big Pharma, you will most certainly come away nodding your head in agreement to his proposition.

There is nothing really new in this short, easy read, but it is a great reminder that it is the little things that really add up to making a significant difference. And every one of us can make a difference everyday by making simple changes to how we engage with others, whether that is at an individual level or as a business.

Although Doug has not been directly involved in the healthcare industry his comments to me about the industry were incredibly insightful. Borne out of the simple fact that we all have some level of engagement with the healthcare system at some point in our lives. He sees very clearly the challenges that pharma and other stakeholders in healthcare are facing, and the need to change behaviours at a fundamental level.

Doug has a well-articulated plan that we can each execute that will change how we are perceived and improve business results. And, I suspect, improve our own personal satisfaction with what we do.

This is not just about ‘feeling good’, Doug provides practical advice that can really make a difference. His framework is mostly common sense and most of us would be aware of these fundamentals, but what Doug does is empower readers to execute that plan by making a straightforward, stepwise approach to changing behaviour.

Small changes can change the world.

How easy is your company to work with? My experience is that most of big pharma is very difficult to work with. They still want to control their environment and continue to have a very internal view of the world. It is not easy to speak with someone in pharma. They are usually busy doing ‘important work’. So when a customer or stakeholder tries to connect with a decision maker it is incredibly difficult. Try it for yourself. How easy is it?

Do folks live up to their commitments. Does ‘I will call you back’ really mean you will receive a call back, let alone in a timely manner? How long does it take your organization to respond to an email? How quickly are decisions made and executed?

Just image if even those small things changed. Calls are returned promptly, commitments are met, customers and stakeholders feel that they are taken seriously, that pharma can be relied on. Not such a big step or a huge expectation but a good start that will have an immediate impact.

I have little sympathy for the industry, with the challenges it now faces and the lack of trust that continues to plague it. The situation pharma finds itself in today is completely of its own making, and the power to change this is entirely in its own hands.

If pharma could grab hold of the nettle and commit to significant transformation then it will make an even bigger contribution to improving peoples’ health as well as its own business performance.

We all want to see a healthy pharmaceutical industry, one that continues to make a massive difference to the lives of millions, we want to see an industry that makes profits and is sustainable, we want to see an industry we can look up to, to admire and trust.

And it starts, not with a big bang transformational change program rather it begins by the people –starting with senior leaders and working on down through the organization, changing some behaviours to actively build trust with stakeholders and how together they can change the world.

It is the little things that people do that can make a huge difference. Doug’s book speaks to those small things, that when practiced day in and day out deliver a huge benefit. It is not a cynical tactic to increase sales, it is the right thing to do, and it makes people feel good about themselves and about what they do. And when that happens, great things can happen to the bottom line.

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