Why I believe pharma companies are their own worst enemy

MY TWO CENTS: In my almost 20 years in the healthcare business I have seen a constant across 99% of companies: a culture ingrained in meetings and dead slow decision making. It’s hurting the industry and it’s driving talented people away.

A client recently went to Los Angeles for a key meeting with some potential marketing partners. While there he was expected to call into several conferences that started at 8:00AM Eastern time which meant he had to be up and ready to participate by 5am Pacific time. This is crazy!

If you call on on a pharma client ask them to show you their calendar. In all likelihood you’re going to see a lot of blocked time and very little free time. Pharma’s culture continues to kill the industry and CEOs seem oblivious to its impact on their organizations behavior.

When I was at Lilly a senior executive tried to enforce no meeting Fridays but that lasted only for a couple of weeks. Almost all pharma companies are matrix organizations and that’s bad for business.

According to HBR “the essence of a matrix organization is dual command. For such a form to survive there needs to be a balance of power, where its locus seems to shift constantly, each party always jockeying to gain an advantage. It is not enough simply to create the balance, but there must also be continual mechanisms for checking the imbalances that creep in”.

Today speed is a competitive advantage and right now pharma is stuck in 1st gear. When we advised a client to respond to social media misinformation quickly their processes made it impossible. Buzz, in social media, only last a shirt time so you have to quantify it and respond to threats as quickly as possible. Letting it spread can kill your marketing at a time when consumers don’t believe you.

Then there was the instance we recommended changing “stock art” on a website to images of real people. It took over three months to get that done and countless meetings.

Forward thinking CEOs need to look at their organizations and ask if they are ready to compete in the upcoming changes in healthcare. Backward thinking CEOs are only interested in stock prices and their compensation. I’m not sure that can change.