‘Unbossing’ Pharma Culture For Millennials – A Sine Qua Non For Future Growth

Wishing All My Readers A Very Happy, Healthy, Peaceful and Prosperous 2019

‘Unbossing’ an organizational culture is an interesting idea – more in the context of promoter driven Indian drug companies of all sizes and scale. The word – ‘unboss’ is associated with nonhierarchical and open leadership culture, aiming to achieve value-based higher goals, across the organization.Not many pharma companies are attempting to imbibe this culture, just yet, barring a very few.

‘The organizational culture is something that comes with the job’ – has been the general perception of all working for the company, including most CEOs, since long. Pharma industry being a more tradition bound, and hierarchic, such acceptance is more visible in drug companies. However, some industry majors have started challenging this status quo by asking: ‘Has our organizational culture, over a period of time, become too hierarchical and somewhat archaic? Are we still clinging on to the dated, and somewhat fossilized views and practices of the great predecessors, which were quite relevant in those days, but no longer now?’

In today’s changing scenario, the corporate culture of a pharma company should be able to unleash the full potential of its employees, who are an increasing number of vastly talented millennials, with generational differences in behavioral pattern.  They come with different values, mindset, expectations, aspirations, and feel comfortable working in a an ‘unbossy’ culture.

In this article, I shall explore how in the new millennium some pharma CEOs are going beyond mere tweaking, to usher in a substantive change in the sensitive area of organizational culture, keeping pace with time. This seemingly rare breed of head honchos clearly recognizes that developing a positive corporate or brand image, starts with the development of an enabling corporate culture.

Let me now start linking the organizational culture and business practices with brand or corporate image, through stakeholder loyalty, to corporate business excellence – all in the pharma context.

Intended corporate image starts from practices within the company: 

Instead of being always combative to prove how unreasonable are the stakeholder demands emanating from the complex business environment, drug companies need to accept some hard facts, and act accordingly. One such fact is – a positive corporate image or reputation based on an enabling corporate culture that is aligned with organization’s identity and good business practices, help earn stakeholder loyalty and enhance business performance.

This concept has passed the acid test in several research studies, over a period of time, e.g. the research paper on ‘Corporate Identity and Corporate Performance’, published in Scandinavian Journal of Business Research (Beta), (ISSN 1504-3134. Its findings may be summarized as: It is important for managers to understand that while building a strong reputation, the intended image projected by the company, needs to be consistent with the actual identity perceived inside the company, especially by the important internal stakeholder – the employees.

This is because, a positive corporate image reflects the way customers perceive a company’s product and service offerings to them and vice versa. This is not a recent phenomenon. It has been happening over decades. But only a few companies have taken it seriously to bring necessary changes within the organization, by remolding the organizational culture in sync with time. This point was also vindicated by the August 1998 article on ‘The Effect of Corporate Image in the Formation of Customer Loyalty’, published in the Journal of Service Research.

The findings of the above study from the goods and service sector are based on theory of consumer behavior, cognitive psychology, and social cognitive psychology. It clearly articulates that corporate image has a significant, but the indirect impact on customer loyalty. The authors claimed that customer loyalty is also driven by positive corporate image.

A positive corporate image originates from an enabling corporate culture:

That developing a positive corporate image or reputation starts with the development of an enabling corporate culture, is also corroborated by the above article featured in the Journal of Service Research. It highlights that a favorable corporate image is formed through a process of continuous updating without any behavioral time-lag within the organization.

Like many other industries, this holds good in the pharma sector, as well, to excel in business. Itis fundamental to ensure that the concerned pharma company always enjoys the confidence and loyalty of its internal customers – such as employees, along with the external customers that include employees, doctors, patients, Governments and the general public, among others.

This is equally important to make sure that the overall organizational culture does not get fossilized, at any period of time. It should always remain in conformance with the changing needs of time – new aspirations of the employees to unleash their full potential, for the best possible business outcomes through customer delight.

Some early indicators of an image problem:

In the pharma industry, some of the early signs of a company’s brand or corporate image problems get manifested by its indirect impact on customer/stakeholder or employee loyalty. The symptoms may encompass a whole gamut of areas, ranging from high employee turnover, through difficulty in getting brand prescription support from doctors and hospitals, into deteriorating relationship with the government, culminating to declining company share value with business growth stagnating or going south.

Positive or negative culture originates from the C-suites:

Many may be well-aware that both a positive or a negative corporate culture originates from the C-suites – mostly starting from the CEO office, including his direct reports, percolating down to even the first line managers, across various functions. A CEO should obviously carry the can and be held accountable, unless such incidences are aberrations or restricted in some functional areas. The reason being, an adverse company reputation or image, usually develops when the concerned CEO’s primary focus is on short-term results – not investing enough time on developing a positive and enabling organizational culture.

As the famous Warren Buffett once said:“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” This is important for all consider, especially in pharma, and in today’s scenario.

In the Indian context, one recent example, could be the ruckus created, especially in the United States and Europe, on the dubious quality and pricing of generic drugs. A bit older example is – how once top ranked Indian pharma corporate Ranbaxy almost vanished in the thin air, over good manufacturing practices and drug quality standards.

What culture would the millennials want with pharma companies?

The December 10, 2018 report on the Best Company Culture for 2018 of Comparably - a workplace culture and compensation monitoring site, highlight some important parameters on what type of organizational culture the millennials appreciate and look for. To illustrate this point, let draw the following examples from the report:

  • Open and collaborative company culture, where everyone is updated on the latest and greatest things happening to the company as a whole, across functions.
  • Autonomy with willingness to help, from all.
  • Everyone is trusted to do their job, no micromanaging.
  • Anyone can ask questions and provide input that will genuinely be heard.
  • Hanging out with each other.

These are just a few examples to get a flavor of the change. It is also quite likely that many senior pharma managers may say: ‘Oh! We are already doing these and much more.’ It’s a different matter, though, that millennials of the same company may not be on the same page with these managers.

Unbossing pharma culture – the ball has started rolling:

At the Forbes Healthcare Summit 2018, held in New York City from November 28 -29, 2018, the global CEO of Novartis - Vas Narasimhan, called for a cultural shift to cater to the millennial generation’s needs, expectations and aspirations at the work place. He said: “The goal we set out to do is create an ‘unboss’ culture.” Half of Novartis current 120,000 employee strength being millennials. This move is directed to enhance the company’s appeal to them. A part of ‘unbossing’ the company culture in Novartis would be relaxing the current rules, by allowing employees to wear jeans to work.

Expanding the point while talking to Business Insider, Vas Narasimhan said: “For many people, they love the idea of the culture change, everybody then wants to know why can’t it happen right away. So, then you have to explain to people, this takes time, leadership, it takes a lot of changes in how we work. But I think there’s been a lot of acceptance of the culture change, but now the hard work has begun.” 

Some key traits of ‘unboss’ culture:

The article titled, ‘5 signs that you might be an ‘unboss,’ appeared in YOURSTORY on April 08, 2017 explains: The word ‘Boss’ originates from the Dutch word ‘Baas’, meaning ‘Master’. Where there is a master, there are slaves, and that’s not a good thing. More often than not, this word leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and rightly so. Thus, in a ‘unboss’ company culture, the topmost quality that the person in-charge, irrespective of organizational functions should possess, is being ‘unbossy’.

Some common leadership traits that define a ‘unboss’ culture, as I sense from the above article, are as follows:

  • Giving a great importance to sharing of knowledge.
  • Quickly identifying the ability in others and bring out the best in each team member.
  • Never feeling insecure and passing on credit where it’s due and not coveting praise that’s rightfully others.
  • Being flexible enough and possessing maturity to also do the legwork when required.
  • Treating everyone the same, without playing favorites, ever.
  • Creating an environment of learning and encouraging the team to experiment.
  • Setting benchmarks for each individual member to assess their own career growth.

In the pharma industry, not many leaders, I reckon, possess these qualities. Some drug companies, both local and global, may pontificate about practicing these qualities, but the majority of employees may not experience most of these in the real work situation.

Conclusion:

In most pharma companies, including India, much of the workforce, in addition to field staff, constitutes of millennials, which will continue to show an ascending trend. Thus, it is critical to align the company culture to attract and retain talents from the new generation A large number of companies still don’t consider this issue as a priority task for the corporation. The example set by the Novartis CEO, as quoted above is refreshing, in that sense.

Moreover, a number of research studies have established that organizational culture helps form the context within which corporate identity and corporate image are established. There can’t be a better time for a relook at the respective organizational culture, as the image of pharma industry has still not found its bottom.

A positive image, irrespective of whether it is a brand or a company, based on a robust organization culture, establishes a stout emotional connect with stakeholders. This is central for a long-term business success, and vice versa. It isn’t an easy task for any pharma player, especially for the promoter driven Indian companies of all sizes and scale, but not impossible, either.

Be that at it may, with the pharma business environment facing increasingly strong headwind, ‘unbossing’ pharma culture for millennials, I reckon, is sine qua non for long-term success – from the corporate perspective.

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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