Bringing a long cherished relief to many, on September 15, 2022, the World Health Organization said, ‘we can see the Finish Line’ for the COVID-19 pandemic but it’s not over yet’. As I see today, several things are changing pretty fast in this scenario. Such as, not so long ago – on September 27, 2021, the same global health organization predicted differently: ‘World Will Live with COVID for Foreseeable Future.’ It further highlighted “It is dangerous to assume that omicron will be the last variant, or that we are in the endgame. On the contrary, globally the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.” The Wall Street Journal also reported on September 18, 2022 that the US President Joe Biden too feels, ‘Covid-19 pandemic was over’ in the United States.
Be that as it may, I reckon, the world is not going to replicate to the pre-Covid mode of working, any longer. The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly made some impactful changes in the most work scenario, across the world. This has been revealed by several recent studies. With this perspective, in this article, I shall dwell on the challenges that the pharma leadership teams will face or are already facing, as the world shifts towards the post Covid paradigm.
Four critical areas for change:
To illustrate this point, I will focus on just three critical areas for pharma players, as follows:
- No going back to the pre-Covid mode of working
- Create a more employee focused organization for future success
- Determine the right size of digitally savvy field force in the new paradigm
- Increase online share of voice in represented therapy areas and identify pharma’s digital world opinion leaders.
Why no going back to the pre-Covid mode of working:
With the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic on people’s lives and livelihoods fast receding, the need for some critical changes in several areas of pharma business, is now being felt by some forward looking astute pharma leadership teams. Recent studies, such as, the Gartner paper of June 16, 2022, among others, vindicate ushering-in some of the following changes in workplaces:
- Ongoing changes in the way people work have transformed employees’ relationship, and their expectations of work.
- Hybrid work could be a great opportunity, particularly for diverse talent..
Another article in this regard, published in the Harvard Business Review on January 13, 2022, capture 11 trends that will shape the work, in general, from 2022 and beyond. When I put some of these in the pharma space, it may include the following:
- Employee turnover will continue to increase, as hybrid and remote work becomes the norm for knowledge workers in pharma companies.
- Many repeated managerial tasks at various levels, will be automated, creating greater space for them to build more human relationships with their peer group and direct reports.
- The tools used for working remotely are also being used to measure and improve employee performance on an ongoing basis.
- The complexity of managing a hybrid workforce may drive some employers to evaluate a ‘return to the office’ with its pitfalls and benefits.
Thus, creating an employee focused organization becomes critical.
Creating an employee focused organization will be critical:
In the current scenario, the importance of being able to afford employees maximum flexibility, adapting and flexing to their individual circumstances and needs, is increasing manifold. This, has also come out very clearly in a number of studies, including one paper of the Healthcare Consulting Group (HCG), as reported on July 25, 2022.
Thus, nurturing employees’ desire for personal and professional growth, besides motivating them with a strong sense of purpose to their work, has become foundational to being an attractive workplace, more than ever before.
Is the pharma industry right-sizing the digitally savvy field force?
One can pick up several signals in this direction from what is happening, as the industry is opening-up with a rapidly declining onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic. Various studies vindicate the intent of field staff reduction by the pharma industry. Today’s environment requires a digitally savvy field force of optimal size, which may vary from company to company.
For example, the article published in the Reuters Events Pharma on May 5, 2022, in this regard, elucidated “While Reuters Events Pharma’s own recent polling of the industry suggests a moderate reduction in numbers over the next couple of years, others see signs of more dramatic change.”
Many pharma players are now pondering – during Covid pandemic when companies were making so many less face-to-face calls, sales were OK. Now, when the intensity of the pandemic is receding, do they need the previous sales force numbers to make more such calls?
The general feeling appears to be that the old practices aren’t as productive as they were before, in the changing scenario. Thus, the paper underscored: ‘So with the largest players are already thinking about how to do more with fewer boots on the ground, how do they go about it?’ It concluded by saying: ‘No one is saying it is easy then, but the imperative for change is clear.”
Pharma customers’ online engagement is increasing with a low share of voice of companies:
This is yet another critical area of change where drug industry needs to strengthen its online voice. Several studies indicate that even a tiny part of most pharma companies’ online conversation about their represented disease and therapy areas doesn’t get captured in Google search. For example, yet another recent paper on this subject, published in the Reuters Events Pharma on July 05, 2022, confirms this point.
The article highlights: ‘Around 80% of patients Google for a recommended or newly prescribed medication. And doctors routinely use search engines too – to stay up to date, to verify assumptions and so on. Indeed, it may be no exaggeration to say that the answers found online are possibly the biggest influence on patients and HCPs today. Understanding their real-world digital information experience is, therefore, critical to identifying the content influencing their behavior.’
In today’s world, what these customers see and hear via search engines may shock many, the author emphasized. The study also reveals, despite many pharma companies’ investment in evidence-based, balanced, and accessible content designed for HCPs and patients, this is often buried far out of reach from the billion-plus health-related questions being asked of Google each day. ‘Pharma’s online voice often simply isn’t cutting through,’ it concluded.
What needs to be addressed soon in this area:
Each pharma marketer may wish to ascertain through data-based studies, which voices are dominating these conversations. And also, the nature and quality of the company’s own digital conversation and its share of voice. This is, besides getting to know who the digital opinion leaders are. Then, the task will be to find out ways to work with these people and share the company releases with them, requesting for their inputs, if any.
The experience of the Covid pandemic and lockdowns has changed work patterns in many industries from what those were in the pre-Covid days. The drug industry is no exception. According to recent studies, two out of every five workers have either switched jobs or are actively looking for another that will fit into their working needs better, and with some remote work. This trend, being a common expectation, is gaining ground.
Thus, making an employee centric organization is now more important than ever before. Bringing together the best of remote working and office locations, as centers of excellence for team building, learning and innovation, is emerging as a central part of the pharma leadership challenge, as an HCG study, reportedly, also points out. It is generally believed that employees ‘who feel connected to purpose at work are more productive and more likely to stay.’ In tandem, pharma leadership teams also would require leaving a lasting impact on everyone’s work, which will be more tangible to them.
Alongside, as several contemporary studies indicate, and I also wrote in this blog on April 29, 2019 – ‘Adopt A Hybrid Business Model For Better Sales – Not A large Field Force,’ each company’s field force number also require a fresh look now with a focus on digitally savvy individuals. Another reason being pharma customers’ online engagement is increasing fast where most companies have a very low share of voice, as the search engine reveals. Consequently, identifying, partnering and in-depthunderstanding of key digital opinion leaders has become critical in creating a digital content that will influence the customer behavior. As reported on September 26, 2022, pharma major Sanofi, apparently has taken a major step in this direction.
From this perspective, it appears that the pharma leadership teams have a task cut out for them to effectively respond to the challenges of change in the post Covid paradigm – in search of pharma business excellence.
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.