Is pharma its own worst enemy?

Make sure your worst enemy is not living between your own two earsOne of the questions I get asked and asked again is “why haven’t most pharma companies changes in their approach to DTC and digital marketing?”.  The answer to this is complex, but at its heart most major consulting research has indicated that time and time again pharma is a laggard when it comes to change and hiring people who can really question current thinking when it comes to meeting the needs of consumers of healthcare.

Hiring in Pharma (Old is good enough)

Data compiled for The New York Times by Glassdoor found that an average interview process in 2013 lasted 23 days versus an average of 12 days in 2009. The hiring process within pharma is broken and broken badly. This problem is the result of several factors:

Fear of decision-making -in the late 90s, when cost cutting became a mania and headcount was slashed to the bone, it requiried every employee to do the work of many. With so little margin for error, every hire became a fraught decision, and the fear of making a mistake loomed larger and larger.  To protect themselves and validate their choices, managers began to seek more and more “evidence” of their thoroughness in vetting their hires. New hurdles were added until someone interested in a director-level position is now routinely required to submit the kind of analysis and proposals that were once the province of in-house executives or paid consultants.


A culture of rudeness – Treating candidates like they are a dime a dozen is another issue that pharma seems to wrestle with.  Going for interviews only not to hear from companies is common place and managers seem to think that they are smarter than most candidates. People hiring today have precious little time to read, process information, and respond to even urgent issues like staffing. But this comes at great peril to their organizations and to the rude employer. Instead of fostering goodwill among the prospective hires their interview, enemies are made by the way companies treat candidates.


The prospective employer/client needs everything now and then it’s radio silence for days, weeks, months — leaving the prospective supplier/employee in the unenviable position of feeling like they must beg for feedback. During the last decade, it became acceptable behavior to simply not answer e-mails. But that’s the worst kind of ego-sucking, demoralizing power play imaginable. We’re all busy. That’s no excuse for disrespect. And the awful truth? I don’t think the employers have a clue. Fearful of losing their own jobs by making a wrong choice, they’ve lost perspective on what matters.

The Core Incompetencies of the Corporation

Large organizations of all types suffer from an assortment of congenital disabilities that no amount of incremental therapy can cure. First, they are inertial. They are frequently caught out by the future and seldom change in the absence of a crisis. Deep change, when it happens, is belated and convulsive, and typically requires an overhaul of the leadership team. Absent the bloodshed, the dynamics of change in the world’s largest companies aren’t much different from what one sees in a poorly- governed, authoritarian regime – and for the same reason: there are few, if any, mechanisms that facilitate proactive bottom-up renewal.

Second, large organizations are incremental. Despite their resource advantages, incumbents are seldom the authors of game- changing innovation.

And finally, large organizations are emotionally insipid. Managers know how to command obedience and diligence, but most are clueless when it comes to galvanizing the sort of volunteerism that animates life on the social web. Initiative, imagination, and passion can’t be commanded—they’re gifts. Every day, employees choose whether to bring those gifts to work or not, and the evidence suggests they usually leave them at home. In Gallup’s latest 142-country survey on the State of the Global Workplace ( , only 13% of employees were truly engaged in their work. Imagine, if you will, a car engine so woefully inefficient that only 13% of the gas it consumes actually combusts. That’s the sort of waste we’re talking about. Large organizations squander more human capability than they use.

As the winds of creative destruction continue to strengthen, these infirmities will become even more debilitating.Most organizations are still feudal at their core, with a raft of institutionalized distinctions between thinkers and doers— between the executive class and everyone else. And most leaders still over-value alignment and conformance and under- value heterodoxy and heresy. Until this changes, our organizations will be substantially less capable than they might be.

game changer

Until we challenge our foundational beliefs, we won’t be able to build organizations that are substantially more capable than the ones we have today. We will fail to build organizations that are as nimble as change itself. We will fail to make innovation an instinctual and intrinsic capability. We will fail to inspire extraordinary contributions from our colleagues and employees.

We all have to be willing to be game changers, be the kind of change we want to see.  To continue to do business the same old way of pushing content to consumers of healthcare doesn’t work anymore.  Marketers should take an empathetic view of their audience and get away from the tradition of Power Points and meetings to get even the simplest things done.