As drug companies were desperately trying to navigate through the operational disruptions due to Covid crisis, the Learning and Development (LD) plans of most organizations, considered so important for employees, got badly impacted. This was ably captured in the article – ‘Adapting workplace learning in the time of Coronavirus’, appeared in the March 2020 issue of McKinsey Accelerate.
It highlighted, as businesses around the world postpone and cancel in-person meetings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, “workplace learning is emerging as one of the earliest and hardest-hit business activities.” The paper further elucidated: “Based on our observations as of early March, roughly one-half of in-person programs through June 30, 2020, have been postponed or canceled in North America. Whereas “in parts of Asia and Europe, the figure is closer to 100 percent.”
Interestingly, no one is talking much about it as much as the need for quick digitalization in the pharma industry, to respond to the challenge of disruptive changes. A quick return to employee L&D initiatives in the new normal, I reckon, would encourage, particularly the hands-on staff members on e-marketing to come out with more innovative digital solutions to reap a rich harvest from remote engagement with customers, on an ongoing basis.
In this article, I shall explore this area from the perspective of increasing employee productivity in the digital work environment of the new normal.
Why is L&D more relevant to pharma employees, now?
To effectively respond to post-Covid changes in customer behavior – aspirations – expectations – other market dynamics, alongside a different genre of competition, new learnings in the digital space, is critical for all employees. Which is why, it is so important for pharma players to quickly refocus on this process, just as digitalization. Without requisite digital skill development, corporate performance may look lackluster, eventually.
It is important for all to recognize that just digital transformation of business isn’t a panacea. For example, e-marketing is certainly a powerful contemporary marketing tool that a company must go for. But, it is no less important to know how making effective use of this versatile technology would appeal to individual customer emotions, with personalized content. Medical Representatives of pre-Covid days may not be generally well-versed in this area, at least, as much as they ought to – now.
Some pace-setting Indian examples in this area:
According to an article, published in leading Indian business daily on June 17, 2020, the Indian pharma major – Lupin, reportedly, used the lockdown as an opportunity to train its sales teams on medical acumen, soft skills, disease knowledge, effective communication etc. They conducted over 200 sessions using Microsoft Teams. In some sessions, the attendance count reached 8000 people.
As the article points out, using digital tools and platforms, the company reps were enabled to record a video of brand detailing and share it with the doctors who can view it as per his or her convenience. It also says, ‘Lupin team reached out to more than 1 lakh doctors through live webinars, ECMEs, e-mailers, webinars to update them with the latest medical and therapeutic advancements.’
The core idea of this initiative is undoubtedly worth imbibing, although, it is still not clear to many, how effective were those digital marketing strategies in the form as it has been described.
The new e-environment needs new sets of L&D models:
From the above perspective, the take home message, I reckon, is - in pharma’s new normal, digitalization isn’t just about a modern and contemporary technology. It is much more profound – signifies the criticality of credible data-based, novel decision-making process, offering high yield solutions to complex sets of disruptive problems in business. Consequently, now appears on the radar a new set of L&D needs for the new e-environment of the pharma industry.
Ramifications of e-environment changes in pharma business:
Many studies have pointed out to a number of changes in pharma industry’s e-environment, in the new normal. Just to give a sense of such mega changes, let me quote another recent paper in this regard. The paper on ‘Telehealth’, published by McKinsey & Company on May 29, 2020, writes: “Our claims-based analysis suggests that approximately 20 percent of all emergency room visits could potentially be avoided via virtual urgent care offerings, 24 percent of health care office visits and outpatient volume could be delivered virtually, and an additional 9 percent “near-virtually.”
The paper further adds, ‘up to 35 percent of regular home health attendant services could be virtualized, and 2 percent of all outpatient volume could be shifted to the home setting, with tech-enabled medication administration.’ These changes will overall add up to US$250 billion in healthcare spend in 2020 that could be shifted to virtual or near-virtual care, or 20 percent of all office, outpatient, and home health-spend across all types of health care, the paper highlights.
Although, this article was written against the US pharma industry backdrop, considering the current Indian government’s strong push on telemedicine – as a facilitator, one may envisage similar changes in India too, over a period of time.
Covid-19 could still be a long-haul battle, pharma should be prepared for it:
Echoing this sentiment, ‘The Washington Post’ flashed a headline in its February 10, 2021: ‘Variants mean the coronavirus is here to stay — but perhaps as a lesser threat.’ Elaborating the point, it said: ‘In early December, the end of the pandemic glimmered on the horizon. Blockbuster vaccine results suggested a clear path forward.’ However, thereafter, ‘the euphoria dissipated,’ as mutation-ridden variants of Covid-19 with concerning new characteristics were detected. ‘The path forward is still hopeful, but longer and more labyrinthine’, the news report added.
It is now becoming increasingly clear that Covid-19 variants can slip past some of the immunity generated by vaccines and prior infections. Vaccines may have to be updated, perhaps regularly. And the world will have to prepare for the possibility, even the likelihood, that over the long term, the novel coronavirus will become a persistent disease threat.
The World Health Organization (W.H.O) also confirmed this point on January 21, 2021. It said, ‘Yes, this is a very important point that vaccine developers keep in mind. Covid-19 vaccines could possibly be like vaccines against the influenza virus, where ‘scientists have to change the structure of the vaccine every year, based on the circulating strains and WHO coordinates this global network that actually identifies which strain should be used every year.’
The bottom line, therefore, is, no one can vouch with any degree of certainty, as on date, when exactly Covid crisis will get over completely, despite Covid-19 vaccines being available now. At the same time, even after several disruptive covid related changes in business, the need for rapid adjustment to further changes of similar in nature and scale, may continue to exist.
To properly understand these changes, their implications on business, impact on customers, re-engineering needs of marketing strategies and then thrive, are of fundamental importance. Thus, along with on-the-job learning, contemporary e-learning of employees – is a critical success ingredient for both individual and organizational development, especially in the dynamic digital environment.
It is worth noting that digital initiatives are not confined to modern tech-based apps and platforms. The basic prerequisite of any digital marketing strategy is to understand the versatility of its power and core values. This is essential to effectively influence customer behavior and their expectations, for creating a sustainable ‘doctor-patient- brand or corporate relationship. That’s why L&D remains a critical tool for capacity building, even for e-marketing. It will help ensure, employees are able to deliver expected deliverables by successfully meeting newer challenges in the digital space, in sync with the organizational expectations and goals, in the new normal.
Today, when digitalization has become a buzz word for pharma’ success – occupying virtually everybody’s entire mind space, also appears on the radar today new L&D needs for the new e-environment to make digitalization work, paying rich dividend to the 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.