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Embracing change: Crucial to success in a VUCA world

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Jawed Zia, Country President, Novartis India, advises pharma leaders to constantly evaluate their skills and course correct to tackle the challenges in a VUCA world

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Jawed Zia

Two years ago Harvard Business Review called VUCA a trendy managerial acronym: short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. One thing is certain: we live in a VUCA world where there is increasing ambiguity, the political uncertainties and economic scenario means everything is volatile and increasing technology has meant greater complexity rather than simplicity in some ways. Change certainly is the only constant in life.

It seems as though everything is in a constant state of motion and everything needs to happen in the now. Demographics are changing the way the world view is and with greater awareness aspirations are rising. Tomorrow almost seems like a distant word.

Given this environment there will be new paradigms that will emerge and leaders will need to constantly evaluate their skills and course correct. There is no one size fits all model for them to adopt but rather some skills which they should look to hone and qualities which they should look to adopt. Key among these qualities are:

Be a visionary. This means being able to look beyond what is there in the now and project that to what it could be in the future. It is the ability to see the big picture and convey that message to not only one’s employees but also to one’s business partners. Success means taking the team with you and equipping them to handle a volatile environment.

Set aside some “me time” to “think”. This becomes even more important when everything around you is uncertain and ambiguous. It means being able to free the mind of clutter and focus on charting the best course by looking ahead. Look at how the company can innovate and deliver on its goals.

Take bold decisions. Uncertain times call for bold decisions that sometimes shake an organization. It means challenging the status quo. While the tramlines may have been laid nothing is cast in stone. One must be open to new opportunities and new ways of doing things.

Make agility second nature. This becomes paramount in a world that is forever changing. It means the ability to course correct at very short notice. Agility needs to be embedded in the culture of an organisation. A leader who scores high on learning agility is the one who will consistently demonstrate superior performance under adverse conditions and who will be very quick to respond to diverse and varied assignments. Companies and leaders who lack agility will
perish.

Work at succeeding in a matrix environment. Increasingly global organisations function as matrix structures and the deliverables call for greater collaboration in order to succeed. A change in mindset from “Me” to “We” is now an imperative.

Above all, we need to constantly ask ourselves whether we are “playing not to lose” or whether we are “playing to win”. Only then will we succeed at doing the right thing.

Let us look a bit closer at the pharma industry. Since the announcement of the referendum date by the UK earlier this year, reams have been written about the impact that Brexit would have on the highly regulated pharma industry, particularly in terms of regulatory processes and marketing authorisation of medicines in the UK. The surprise results of elections in the US, where all the poll pundits seemed to have got it wrong, also spells a certain amount of uncertainty for the industry. The recent demonetisation in India which took everyone by surprise has got almost everyone in the country in a bit of a flap. In such a scenario, it is a given that we live in uncertain times.

In addition, technology and disruptive innovation are changing the very way we live and do business. The pharma industry cannot insulate itself from the gigantic strides being made by way of technological advancements. augmented reality is at our doorsteps. We have already had a 3D printed drug just last year for the treatment of epilepsy. The pharma industry is keenly aware of this and is open to embracing new and disruptive technologies. That in itself is promising for there are enough examples of companies in other industries that all but disappeared when they failed to embrace a changing technology. Think about Kodak and Polaroid and their aversion to change. Changing technologies bring about other kinds of changes as well. Skype and WhatsApp changed the way the world talks to each other while severely impacting revenues of traditional phone companies.

Companies therefore need to embrace disruptive innovation if they are to succeed. Google, which started out as just a search engine, is now developing self-driving cars and a smart contact lens among various other ambitious projects. Amazon is already experimenting with drones to deliver its orders.

Harvard Business Review in an article predicts that perhaps the most surprising disruptive innovations will come from bottom-of-the-pyramid entrepreneurs who are inventing new ways of delivering education and healthcare – the cornerstones of an economy – for a fraction of the cost that is currently available with market leaders. According to Jason Hwang, internist and co-founder of the Innosight Institute, a not-for-profit think tank, “Disruptive innovations, like we’ve seen in other industries, can bring complex and expensive healthcare products and services to greater levels of affordability and accessibility.”

Telemedicine is changing the way healthcare is managed especially in countries in Asia and Africa where costs are high, infrastructure is an issue and demand for services is seemingly insurmountable. Teleradiology, for example, makes it possible to provide high quality tele-diagnostics to the most remote parts of a country where there are patients and scanners but no qualified doctor to actually interpret those images. Dr Arjun Kalyanpur who co-founded Teleradiology Solutions was awarded Healthcare Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015 by Frost & Sullivan for his work in this space. Dr Sunita Maheshwari, the other co-founder and a pediatric cardiologist, has been leveraging technology to teach post-graduate students pursuing pediatric cardiology. This enables her to reach out to students in real time all over India from wherever she is and they even get credits for these classes from their different universities. What an impact!

Take a look at Aravind Eye Hospital that is today one of the largest hospitals in the world for eye care and a brilliant example of how technology has been leveraged both for training of healthcare professionals and for making eye care available to the masses. The Aravind Eye Care system is a model for other providers in eye care to follow.

IBM computer Watson is being increasingly used as an advisor for research to treat medical conditions. The computer has the ability to process vast amounts of scientific data, analyse it and pull out highlights for researchers. It has been in the news recently for being a part of the Cancer Moonshot initiative and for suggesting treatment for a hypothetical cancer patient based on all medical records of that person. Around 100 hospitals in the US have begun using the technology to aid diagnosis and treatment.

What does all of this mean for the pharma industry where billions of dollars are spent on research? It means that like other industries where technology has changed the way they operate, the pharma industry too will have to keep looking at its business model. It will need to keep its eye on the ball so that it does not lose its ability to speedily respond to an ever changing environment. It should be open to collaborative partnerships where the partner may just be from a totally different industry. It is an open field – one that could spell success depending on which path is chosen.

Companies like Novartis, globally and in India, have introduced various innovative measures to deal with a VUCA world. In India some of its innovative measures include a social business model, Emerging Market Brands, payment by EMIs and co-pay models as a means to broaden access and meet the needs of more and more patients. It is about looking beyond the pill at patient outcomes. Collaborations with Indian pharmaceutical companies have also changed the way business is done. Gone are the days when such partnerships were rare. Today it is all about harnessing synergies for the overall good of the patient! Tomorrow promises to bring greater challenges. It is only those who are geared to meet these challenges who will succeed!

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