In Pharma’s Moment of Truth “What You Do is Who You Are”

It’s a time when pharma industry will be tested, both by its external and internal customers – more than ever before. Looking back, in search of footprints on the sand is no answer either, as there isn’t any. But, a decision on moving ahead has to be made by each drug company in any case – charting a strategic pathway, in search of business excellence, if not for survival. A possibility looms large that the crisis may even overwhelm a company, if any, ill-conceived or ill-thought through steps are taken.

In that sense, the moment of truth has arrived for the industry – a time when ‘what different you do’ in the value delivery process of the business, will decide ‘who you are.’ One’s ability to lead the company or even follow the leadership, to navigate through this crisis, would determine the present and future success of the corporation. This isn’t an easy task. The evolving processes would be challenging to implement, and the traditional mindset may often act as a retarding force, as it were. In this article, I shall explore this critical area with recent examples, as far as possible.

Ability to fathom its most critical component is the bedrock for next steps:

The most critical component in this situation is the ability to make a careful and unbiased assessment of – how different would the ‘new normal’ be from the ‘old normal.’ The focus should not be on the barriers in making the necessary strategic changes, which I hear too often – but how to steer the business through this unprecedented crisis, regardless tough barriers on the way.

Covid-19 threat isn’t going to go away anytime soon:

However, one thing is for sure – no one knows, not just in India, but globally how big the crisis is, and will assume what form, when and how long. Let me give just three illustrations in this area that will be easily understood by all:

  • Initially, experts used to say, face masks are required only for those having symptoms and people close to them. “Masks are not required for those who doesn’t have symptoms. Whereas, the same experts are saying these days, “data now emerging about asymptomatic patients spreading the infection across the country, masks play an important role in containing the spread.” Thus, one is required to wear a face mask always while going outdoors.
  • Explaining the mode of disease spread, earlier, many experts, including the W.H.O, said that COVID-19 virus is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory droplets and contact routes. Thus, a mask is needed when one goes outdoors. Whereas, now the same experts, including the W.H.O, have confirmed that Coronavirus can be airborne indoors. In that case, one may need to wear a mask even indoors.
  • On April 23, 2020 the Director-General of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), reportedly, claimed that the situation is stable, and the country has been able to ‘flatten the curve.’ But on May 09, 2020, Director, AIIMS, reportedly, said, “Currently, the cases are continuing to grow at a flat rate, sometimes even more. So, it is very difficult to predict when the peak will come; but it is likely to peak around June or July…” Whereas, an MIT study, which has also been reported in the press reveals, “India might see 2.87 lakh Covid cases per day by February 2021.”

These instances drive home the point – although a serious threat of Covid-19 infection will continue in the foreseeable future, but the way it will manifest itself, and the fresh precautionary measures that will deem necessary, may change with time. Let me give one more example of increasing threat of getting re-infected by Coronavirus by already infected individuals has heightened today than in the past.

The battle tactics need to be updated:

Strategy for war against Covid-19 onslaught may broadly remain similar. But the battle tactics in the multiple fronts need to be updated on an ongoing basis. This needs to be based on increasing or narrowing of the spectrum of threat and other critical factors, as scientific evidences will reveal from time to time.

For example, as is unfolding today, a large number of already infected people, particularly living in areas with high population density, may not necessarily develop any long-term immunity against the Coronavirus infection. Such a possibility will have a wide impact on any business strategy in the new normal that an organization may contemplate.

The rationale for constantly updating battle tactics:

Let me now focus on the rationale for constantly updating battle tactics based on scientific evidences with a few contemporary examples. The study, published in the Nature Medicine on June 18, 2020, found that individuals recovering from Covid-19 infection may have immunity only for 2-3 months. Although, it may not necessarily be construed that a recovered person can get re-infected, but any vaccine that may eventually come may need to address such issues, which seems to be a tough call.

Alongside, findings of another large research – Spain’s Coronavirus antibody study, published in The Lancet on July 06, 2020, has also cast doubt on the feasibility of herd immunity as a way of tackling the Coronavirus pandemic. As the BBC News reported on July 07, 2020 - based on these findings, Prof. Danny Altmann, British Society for Immunology spokesperson and Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London has made similar comments on effective vaccine development initiatives.

He said, the study would, “reinforce the idea that faced with a lethal infection that induces rather short-lived immunity, the challenge is to identify the best vaccine strategies able to overcome these problems and stimulate a large, sustained, optimal, immune response in the way the virus failed to do.”

“What You Do is Who You Are”: 

As the saying goes: “What You Do is Who You Are.” With this fast-evolving scenario, pharma leadership will need to effectively address a dual strategic game plan to outmaneuver the barriers of the Covid-19 pandemic:

  • Putting in place a robust operating strategy for customer value delivery process of the business.
  • Capturing the details of new Covid19 related ongoing developments to constantly hone the battle tactics in several different fronts.

Both the above processes will involve picking up all such validated research findings, mostly on the run. Mostly because, such issues may impact both internal and external customers of the organization, besides competition. Therefore, factoring-in each of those new developments, while constantly sharpening the war strategy and battle tactics in the fast-evolving scenario, will be of crucial. And, what you think or do in this situation will determine who you are – what type leadership traits you exhibit to face the challenges of the new normal, effectively.

Two types of leadership in the new normal:

Amid challenges of the present crisis, I reckon, top leadership will find two broad types of domain leaders – ‘pro-tradition’ and ‘pro-change’ – both will have successful past track records. They need to be identified for appropriate strategic tasks.

As is known to many, a good number of successful leaders are operating through decades around the concept of physical presence of patients while consulting a doctor or other health care providers. Several of them seem to be still unsure about the extent of organizational and operational changes required to face this unprecedented crisis, head-on. Even today, some of them keep trying to impress others by citing instances of what they did so well in the past.

There is nothing wrong in that. But, the business environment and requirements of those days were different – quite different from today’s demand. Curiously, many of such good leaders, with impeccable past success records, seem to be more bothered about seemingly insurmountable barriers on the way. They are afraid of migrating away or jettisoning the traditional pathway of success. Probably, the fear of failure – after achieving success for a long time, is the reason. I consider these successful professionals as ‘pro-tradition’ leaders.

There are also examples of another type of leaders. They are generally younger, looking forward with a contemporary mindset, nurture a can-do spirit with a resilience to bounce back, even in difficult times. Which is why, any transient fear of failure doesn’t usually overwhelm them. And, these leaders, I reckon, may be broadly termed as ‘pro-change’ leaders.

Keeping aside, past success records or future success potential of pharma leaders, in the current scenario – what they actually think or do in the changing environment to steer the organization out of this never-before crisis, will indeed determine ‘who they are.’

A contemporary initiative sets an example:

Top leadership of several drug companies, such as those at Novartis, is leading the way for a change management as the new situation will demand – by setting examples for others. These leaders seem to be taking note of all changes, as discussed above, while giving shape to a strategy, and reshaping the same based on data, as and when required. Interestingly, more technology professionals are getting attracted to pharma operations during Covid-19 pandemic than ever before, as a recent research report unfolds. This is a good omen for pharma and needs to be leveraged, effectively.

The findings of a new research report:

A new research report from Novartis -  A Powerful Pairing,  emphasizes: “The global COVID-19 pandemic sparked a seismic shift in the adoption and scaling of digital technologies across the healthcare sector at a pace never before seen. Almost overnight, organizations had to dial-up their efforts to develop, manufacture and ultimately bring medicines to patients in a socially distant world.” The survey brings out some interesting points, such as:

  • 86 percent of respondents believe the time has come for digital healthcare, and many of them are interested in taking part.
  • Regardless of the sector they currently work in, the two industries that technology professionals would consider switching to, are technology and healthcare and pharma (49 percent for each). This interest rises to 58 percent for workers based in India and 55 percent for those based in China. They feel, Covid-19 pandemic has made them more aware of medical causes around the world and how important they are. Through work in this sector, they can save countless human lives.
  • 52 percent of technology talent sees innovation potential in the healthcare and pharma sector, with the top reason to apply for a job being the opportunity to innovate through technology.
  • 89 percent technology professionals say that data science is important to the development and delivery of healthcare industry solutions and services.

Conclusion:

Surging ahead to reach a million mark, as on July 12, 2020 morning, the recorded Coronavirus cases in the country reached 850,358 with 22,687 deaths. With a record high of 27,755 daily cases yesterday, the pace of climb continues.

It’s now virtually a writing on the wall that India will have to sail through the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic for quite some time, where unprecedented leadership interventions will be of critical importance – even in pharma. This endeavor will also call for selective induction of competent technology professionals in all pharma business domains, as required. The challenge involves not just carving out the ‘war strategy’, as it were, against Covid-19, but also continually honing the ‘battle tactics’ in multiple fronts – mostly on the run, for desired outcomes.

The situation calls for taking an in-depth inventory of an organization’s existing human resources, based on success ingredients required to turn the tide, which, I reckon, should also be the starting point in this venture. In this moment of truth – standing at the cross-roads of the drug industry, there is no further room for top pharma leadership to procrastinate the decision-making process. All competent professionals should be taken on board. In tandem, both – seemingly ‘pro-tradition’ and ‘pro-change’ leaders, should be encouraged to realize that in the new normal “What You Do is Who You Are” in the future pharma business.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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