Are you there, Pharma? It’s me, Liz. Part 3: making real change in 2013

Welcome to the final entry in my mini-series “Are you there, Pharma? It’s me, Liz,” about creativity squashers in the pharmaceutical industry.

Part one included a short overview of the uncertainty this industry is facing and a decree for strategic integration of social strategies.  It also suggested that pharma must begin to, “Listen and Act.” Part two focused on the creativity squashers that sales people face and discussed a super cool economic measure of creativity called the Global Creativity Index.

I am so happy to report that many readers of Part Two have reached out to me to say that the creativity squashers discussed in Part Two could apply to their work place. YES! It is absolutely true: the 12 creativity squashers covered in Part 2 are applicable to any setting- identifying them and pushing for change will boost creativity and happiness in any work place, and perhaps in your own personal life.

I’m starting a creative revolution. Who’s with me?

Creative Revolution in Big Pharma

Let’s review: internal and external environmental pressures have caused the obstacles and lack of creativity within Big Pharma. Pharma operates in an increasingly regulated environment via Government and Managed Care Organizations, which has forced it to be extremely careful about promoting products and to increase the training of sales representatives/sales managers about what is compliant and non-compliant messaging.

In addition, Government investigations have increased consumer sensitivity and awareness to possible safety concerns. Coupled with increasing power of Managed Care Organizations forcing patients to choose generics, the external environment is pushing consumers away from branded pharmaceuticals. Depressed economic conditions in the United States have left consumers with less free cash flow to afford branded medications- the industry as a whole, must re-position its self as affordable and safe.

In examining the internal reasons for the rise of creativity obstacles, many explanations can be found in the list of creativity killers fromMaking Change in the Pharmaceutical Industry 2013 Part Two. Moreover, it is clear that an internal culture of fear of retribution in itself will never allow for creative initiatives to grow. This culture of conformity and living in the “prisoner’s dilemma” has to end, today.

This culture of conformity and efficiency may be partially due to the hiring practices within the industry. A mismatch in personnel capabilities is evident: in my experience there is very little diversity among Pharma’s middle management. How can this homogenous leadership team foster diverse views? In parallel, sales reps historically were hired for their innovative, creative, driven thinking, however increasingly we see very young, inexperienced sales reps hired. Implicit in this hiring is that these inexperienced, e.g., right out of undergrad, hires will follow the rules without question, and come at a lower cost.  Just scroll through Linkedin and you will find job postings for pharma reps: “apply only if LESS than 3 years of experience.” While salaries are perhaps lower for less experienced reps, one must consider the cost that this type of hiring practice leads to: loss of customer loyalty, loss of sales rep expertise, loss of intellectual capital.

Pharma’s core activities are threatened. Pharma’s sales force framework is completely outdated. Access to physicians and their staff has decreased dramatically- Health Care Providers want fewer reps and want the reps to have better scientific knowledge and service capabilities. In addition, physician’s importance as a customer has decreased. The government and managed care organizations importance as a customer has significantly increased. Pharma companies must recognize this shift.

Pharma needs to gain new perspective in that, efficiency is only a small part of the equation for its long-term success. Pharma needs to instead, cherish the creative capital that has helped the industry to be successful for over 100 years.

Recommended process changes in organizational set up and idea generation within Pharma:

  1. Pharma is in dire need of a fresh perspective, and would benefit from adopting some of ?WhatIf! innovation’s principles. Sales representatives spend much of their time away from peers and management. This results in quarterly district meetings aimed at jamming in 3 months worth of experiences, best practices and management initiatives into 3 days. Most sales personnel leave these meetings feeling drained and frustrated. Managers leave energized after having a captive audience to proclaim their excellence and upper management’s wisdom. I recommend that Pharma overhaul the set up of these meetings and run them using the 4R’s methodology. In the bookSticky Wisodom: How to Start a Creative Revolution at Work,” suggestions are made for how to engaged the minds of employees to produce fresh ideas. (Do yourself a favor and buy this book today!)  Whether acting out a problem, re- expressing a problem, diving into a related world, Pharma can spice up its meetings to allow for different formats other than “death by powerpoint” and State of the Union speeches. Pharma could invite health care professionals to give candid experiences instead of canned responses. Pharma could show videos about pharmaceutical industry outside the US and how reps are solving problems there. Pharma could have sales reps pretend to be a doctor in the sales cycle- how does the interruption of a sales rep affect their day? What kind of info would you want to hear as a doctor? What is useful to you in 20 seconds? Pharma could have sales reps spend time outside of the meeting room taking trips to other organizations or fun activities to increase trust and freshen perspectives. (For more specifics on how to use the 4R’s stay tuned for some posts on facilitating creativity that I’m still working on here at PUGTATO Headquarters.)
  2. Demand more Greenhousing of ideas. A culture of fear and retribution leads to immediate idea squashing. Rather than immediately shooting down proposed ideas by sales reps, or punish them for voicing opinions, I suggest that upper management put in place an Idea Greenhouse for each district through the use of an online platform. Online access to data and ideas is important for sales reps who are geographically separated, in some cases, by whole states. This will be difficult. In Pharma, employee trust is at an all time low- and employees will have no reason to believe that volunteering ideas will not get them into trouble. I recommend that sales reps are given the freedom to try out new sales techniques/access paths and are rewarded for attempts. Rewarding employees for trying new ideas (regardless of outcome) would be a complete reversal for Pharma’s current policy. In addition, Michalko’s Thinkertoy Incubation, supports this idea, as he believes incubation 1) helps put the challenge in perspective, 2) puts the subconscious to work on the challenge, 3) allows for time to digest information and return fresh to approach a challenge.
  1. Use Chris Barez-Brown’s insight exercises as part of the hiring process. To meet customer needs, Pharma needs to ensure it is hiring the right people in its sales organization.In Chris Barez-Brown’s book, “How to have Kick-Ass Ideas,” he offers interesting ideas to help people and companies gain more insight into personal motivations and organizational fit. (You should own this book, too.) Specifically, the “Big Picture” exercise, will allow potential employees and Pharma to see if the potential employee’s internal motivations match up with Pharma’s vision of helping patients and providing value added interactions with customers. In addition, the “Doing It” exercise should be implemented in the interview process. Using this exercise to create a mock business plan will shine light on an individual’s thinking process- it will highlight the ability of an individual to generate ideas and create a realistic, strategic plan for implementing them. Both of these exercises would be useful for filling managerial and sales personnel positions.
  2. Due to the overly formal culture within Pharma, and outright disapproval of dissent, Pharma may benefit from implementing Michael Michalko’s Thinkertoy: Brutethink. Brutethink works with patterns, something that Pharma is currently comfortable with. Michalko states that, “in order to get original ideas, you will always need a way to create new sets of patterns in your mind. One way to do this is to force yourself to see relationships between dissimilar things.” Pharma’s teams, whether sales or district sales managers, can come up with ways to improve trust and reach customers by making connections between ideas that initially have no relationship, developing creative, innovative customer solutions.
  3. Lose the addiction to Six Sigma-ing everything. Six Sigma is not the answer to all problems. Pharma companies are built on innovative ideas and service to customers. They are not manufacturing firms (outside of drug manufacturing), so applying Six Sigma to all facets of its companies will not solve its problems. Pharma needs to gain new perspective in that, efficiency is only a small part of the equation for its long-term success. Pharma needs to instead, cherish the creative capital that has helped the industry to be successful for over 100 years. Training on the decision-making traps proposed by Hammond, Keeny and Raiffa, e.g., anchoring and status quo traps, is crucial for its managers and executives. I propose that Pharma adopt Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s Lessons of Innovation to help innovation to flourish again. Pharma can consider adopting Kanter’s lessons such as: loosening the controls on innovation- planning, budgetary, reviews; expect deviations from the plan- and do not punish for these; and strive to create one class of corporate citizens.

These five suggestions will not be enough to totally overhaul Pharma’s creative issues as a industry, but will lead them on a path towards fostering a creative culture and improving idea generation.

Pharma must be keenly aware of the teams it creates- it should allow for more virtuoso team creation through improved hiring standards and techniques. Moreover, Pharma must allow those teams the freedom, autonomy and time to come up with, and implement new ideas. Understanding that virtuoso teams are “unique in the ambitiousness of their goals, the intensity of their conversations, the degree of their spirit,” the leaders of sales teams should be assigned with the utmost selectivity. Being next in line or finishing an MBA is not enough qualification to lead these teams to success. The leaders of virtuoso teams need to “stimulate the minds” and “minimize hassles” for their teams to allow them the mental clarity and focus to come up with and implement creative solutions.

Finally, to improve its creativity deficiency, Pharma will need to make major overhauls in its organizational culture. Surveys and Six Sigma won’t do the trick. Actual implementation and shock therapy are the only way that the industry can avoid becoming the next big health care failure.

And just to prove that I’m walking the talk, check out the staples that are ALWAYS on my desk:

Pugtato's must read creativity books

See you next time, and until then: stay creative.

4 thoughts on “Are you there, Pharma? It’s me, Liz. Part 3: making real change in 2013

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