Insight Blog

Navigating Rough Waters

by David Alhadeff

October 25, 2017 | Change Management

Change Management and Pharma

The pharma sector is changing, and well positioned to thrive, in what appears to be a paradox-ridden business landscape. Both mature and emerging markets provide greater access to healthcare, but all providers are subject to higher levels of government regulation and compliance. Commercial teams continue to grow and expand their product portfolios, though greater scrutiny now exists around historically dubious promotional practices. Communication technologies (e.g. Facebook) have created more intimate relationships with consumers, but those consumers are now equipped with more data and higher expectations about the medical results they believe are achievable. Accordingly, there is a great deal of dialogue around measuring drug “outcomes” that ultimately represent greater prescription value for the same cost. Finally, scientific innovation and pipeline development have slowed at a time when the market expects more specialized medicines marketed to healthcare payers with different buying criteria.

Navigating these waters of change and pursuing a competitive advantage requires a commitment to a clear strategy, scientific excellence, enabling technologies, and sound business processes. But success also requires a keen attention and commitment to the people side of change within functional teams all across the organization. Effectively managing talent and change in this environment will yield tremendous dividends, while a failure to breed the necessary behaviors could knock those companies off a promising growth curve.

Lake Shore Associates has worked with organizations to anticipate and execute change/talent initiatives in the midst of a turbulent pharma landscape.

Changing the culture of an R&D Function: The values and beliefs and, in essence, the culture of an organization determine how people will behave and make decisions. When the external demands are sufficiently profound, that culture must adapt accordingly. The promise of “big data”, the escalating global demand for medicines, and rapidly rising development costs all represent outside forces that should inform the behaviors of the R&D function. Future-oriented competencies of R&D leaders, therefore, should reflect the way that function must align more strategically with the business, rationalize new drug or disease prevention initiatives, invest earlier to understanding the molecular basis of a disease, and manage the drug pipeline with increased rigor and candor.

Engaging stakeholders to support new drug distribution models: The race for efficiencies in the distribution of new products has introduced new channel options and a more complex supply chain network. Companies that successfully adapt to these new pathways will carefully manage these rollouts, communicate with stakeholders in a timely and effective manner, and address resistance early in order to realize the business value of these new distribution systems.

Realigning and launching new field sales teams: Perhaps no group must adapt to more change in the current pharma environment than the commercial function. The commercial team is asked to support larger portfolios, reorganize around changing HCP segments, honor increasingly tight marketing and promotional guidelines, and adhere to the societal good in all professional practices. Indeed, this function often receives a disproportionate level of empathy and support. They are the face of the organization to the marketplace and must be hired, oriented, trained, coached, recognized and led accordingly. Newly structured sales teams must become teams and have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Product launches must build increasing accountability for all aspects of learning (science, appropriate usage, etc.) and encourage knowledge sharing among the team. Reward and recognition programs must focus on the right metrics and behaviors. And commercial leaders must recognize and engage with the multiple stakeholders they serve.

Building the leadership skills of science leaders: Leaders with authority carry a heavy burden in any industry, but the level of inspection and scrutiny on senior officers in the medical field is perhaps greater than it has ever been. Unanticipated health epidemics and crises, marketing and promotion practices, and unintended uses of approved products represent only a portion of the many forces that put pressure on the skills of selected leaders. Those organizations that have a robust leadership framework, a carefully developed succession plan, and a leadership competency model will be better able to capitalize on their R&D investments and adjust quickly to market opportunities. They will have leaders who comfortably manage the ambiguity that often characterizes change, while liberating themselves to concentrate on their strategic vision and the key priorities necessary for growth.

The complexity inherent in the pharma sector (or any sector) should not immobilize leaders; rather, the response should reduce stress by preparing leaders and the workforce at large to understand the challenges, plan the response, and execute the solution. Lake Shore Associates is a boutique, management-consulting firm that helps organizations execute their business strategies with thoughtful approaches to project/program management, change/talent management and strategic lifecycle management.

For more information on how Lake Shore Associates can help you with your change management needs, visit We will be most grateful to work with you.