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A simple, effective formula to build capability in pharma


Richard Cowley, Founder, WorkAmmo, outlines strategies to create an effective capability building programme and emphasises on its importance for any pharma company’s growth

20160430ep30Every organisation wants to make the best of its business opportunities and grow. However, to do so, there is a great need that must become a given and not remain a ‘nice to have’. Be it business leaders, supervisors, HR teams or employees, a greater clarity on how to develop organisation, team and individual capabilities is going to be critical going forward, and will determine any pharma company’s future.

To this end, I love the simplicity and focus that the following formula can provide for any organisation:

Business opportunities + Capability = Result

The macro opportunities have been shared in many articles and have become the boardroom chat of most pharma organisations. The opportunities for Indian pharma companies are therefore a matter of identifying the most valuable and appropriate ones to achieve their ultimate vision. Generally, these can be identified using a SWOT analysis. Is there an opportunity that leverages our company’s strengths (e.g. strong consumer brand recognition)? Do we need to take to action to address our weaknesses (e.g. poor rural distribution)? What new opportunities can we identify that would leverage our fixed cost base, (e.g. manufacturing for small brands)? Last but not the least, can we strengthen our proposition by addressing a threat by a competitor, (e.g. they have introduced key account segmentation and offered improved service)?

Once all the opportunities have been identified, the next step is to document the capabilities required to deliver this list of opportunities. The focus at this point should be to ‘go slow to go quick’ with the leadership team. Rushing this part of the process will most definitely lead to wasting resources later.

The critical outcome has to be the identification of organisational capabilities. At this level we are not discussing individual capability, we will leave that to the performance management process, which most companies have.

There are various definitions of ‘capability’. For me, it is simple and can be summarised as anything that enables you to deliver your business opportunities organisationally, e.g. intellectual property, organisation structure, sales negotiation process, leadership, work processes, security and knowledge.

One of the potential challenges for pharma organisations is the vastness and complexity of their sub-business areas, e.g. pharma, healthcare, pathology, drug and medication, life sciences, medical facility, biopharma, biotech, drug discovery and development, research and development, logistics and freight, and medical devices to name a few! Each will demand differing exercises to identify their particular capability requirements.

To help illustrate how to build a capability programme, let us focus on the current need for a different type of sales organisation – one that needs to connect with customers in a different context, as markets see more and more branded products.

The starting point is to consider the existing capabilities. The two priorities for me are the organisation structure and whether it was built to deliver this opportunity, and the key leadership team experience – both of which were probably hired to deliver a different outcome. Given the principle that ‘strategy drives structure’, it may well be that we will need to reposition our teams or introduce new departments with a different focus.

In this case, a review of sales and marketing capability may well lead to the conclusion that we need a sub-organisation that is more like a fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) company. There are a number of companies that would be good to learn from, e.g. Kimberly-Clark, who have products that are similar in their nature to pharma as they relate to people’s well being and often require FDA approval.

Building capability can often be about building, borrowing or buying talent. In this example, we may need to buy (recruit) experienced leaders who can take their FMCG knowledge and apply it in a new product context, and at the same time start building organisational knowledge.

With structure and leadership in place, the next capability I would work on is related to customer and internal processes. The following areas come to mind immediately:


Marketing to hospitals and doctors is vastly different than marketing to consumers. The quality, depth, and tone of communications will need to be varied as per the audience. The use of digital and social media is a critical capability today, as referral in this industry will be significant. Analysis, pricing and marketing are key capability areas that may require more aligned customer approaches.

Selling and distribution

Developing and embedding a new sales call process with supporting product comparison materials is a key capability, and difficult to achieve as it demands a new belief and behaviour by the sales team. The greatest challenge I have observed is moving the team from being sales ‘order takers’ to sales people who generate the demand through deep sales capability. The new sales channels may also not be as ‘attractive’ to the existing sales team because of the different working environment and of course, the pressure of selling products instead of taking an order. Overcoming objections and conflict management will thus become new development areas for the company to focus on.

If you are a line manager or a HR business partner/ manager, my recommendation on the next steps to build a capability programme is to take two hours out of your day, visit the top managers and document all the opportunities. Then ask them – what are the top three capabilities they need to deliver the opportunities? My next step would be to speak to the MD and say, “have a look at what I have collected from the senior leaders, do you think there is value in a collective team meeting to prioritise?” The answer will always be ‘yes’, in my view.

In summary, capabilities are not a ‘nice to have’. They are going to become the mantra of organisations who understand the importance of aligning and being ahead of the curve so that opportunities are fully utilised. If your company does not have a communicated plan to develop capability, speak up and make the difference.

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