BIONIC MODEL IN PHARMA: BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE POST-PANDEMIC ORGANIZATION
Munir Shah, the MD of a large sized Indian pharma MNC was wondering if COVID-19 pandemic can truly transform the pharma industry usually seen as laggards. With India now seen as the potential world leaders in pharmaceutical and biotechnology products, how would industry leaders respond to this change?
He raised this issue during the general body meeting of “Indian Pharma MD’s Guild”. This exclusive Guild has 21 Indian companies which have a F&D and R&D base. These 21 companies contribute close to 65% of revenues of the industry. The MDs or the promoters of these companies had founded this Guild to drive the Indian pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry in the 21st Century.
During the recent annual online conclave, Munir said: “The new work-from-home culture has blurred the division between work lives and family lives. And this has shifted what everyone values – human touch and bonding at work. Moreover, are our employee’s tech savvy to meet the pharma needs of the 21st century? I am a bit sceptical.”
Responded Habib, another MD and also the Joint-Secretary of this exclusive Guild: “I see your point, Munir, and this perhaps calls for a change in our leadership styles too. We all look to your thoughts on this, Krishna”.
Krishna, a Harvard alumnus was hired by the Guild as its Secretary-General. Krishna had just retired as the Managing Director of a very large and a successful Pharma MNC operating in India. He was invited to give direction to the 21 members and take this Guild forward. All the 21 members felt that no one could be better than Krishna to handle this enormous task.
Added Narayanan, another member of this Guild: “Today, consumers, which for us also mean patients and doctors, are accustomed to excellent customer experiences from e-commerce sites like Swiggy, Flipkart and Amazon. Pharma online e-commerce sites are increasingly raising their technological standards. Consumers have tasted blood – top class CX. And of course, for our industry, this translates into PDX or Patient-Doctor-Experience. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if patients and doctors also expect the same levels of services from us – and that day isn’t too far off. Make no mistake, when I say services from our industry, I mean world-class PDX”
Krishna was in deep thought. He knew that the 21st Century Leadership in Pharma would require you to respond to the unique challenges which these three stalwarts had posed. And post-Covid 19 was a golden opportunity to show the real power of the Indian pharma to the world. A different kind of leadership would be needed, he said to himself.
“I may not be able to respond to these questions immediately, but certainly I shall arrange a Zoom meeting where we can meet and discuss this issue at great length”.
Three weeks later Krishna met the 21 odd Guild members again on Zoom.
He said: “Much prior to the coronavirus attack, the writing on the wall was clear. The 21st century would need business approaches which are clearly different from those of the past. But pharma traditionally has been a laggard. On the other hand, patients and doctors will have a significantly higher digital intelligence than ever before. The need is to become a bionic organization and develop bionic leadership.” (1)
“What is a bionic organization and bionic leadership”, asked Habib.
Krishna responded with elan: “Let me first tell you what Richard Hutchinson, the MD and Senior Partner of Boston Consulting Group has to say on a bionic organization. ‘Bionic organizations are organizations that seamlessly link together the talents of digital and technology with humans, machines and AIs with humans, and they do that by being masters of data, of artificial intelligence, and of learning.’ (2) The successful company of the future will blend human and technological capabilities. (2) Leading companies in multiple industries are combining the strengths of humans and technology to create superhuman bionic capabilities.” (1)
“The successful company of the post-Covid age will blend human and technological capabilities, adapting the Bionics Model. Bionic Model involves technology being the focus, bucking traditional leadership styles, and giving more autonomy to its employees and empowering them.” (2)
Asked Munir: “Could you tell us some possible positive outcomes of this bionic model?”
“Of course,” continued Krishna; “A pharma bionic company has to marshal its human potential and its technical capabilities for superior treatment outcome of the patient’s. That should be the central goal. And then, patient-centric approach is inevitable. Patient-centricity is a natural outgrowth of H2H Mindset, so beautifully elaborated by Philip Kotler and his associates. Through patient-centric approach we will not only be able to take PDX to the next level but also personalize it. We can rebuild trust which is missing today. And this is happening across the world”
Habib and Narayanan nodded their heads in agreement. Added Munir: “This means bionic companies will need to strengthen the human enablers. You need to have employees who are design thinkers and adept in technical skills. They need to be flexible, adaptable, and have the willingness to learn continuously. We need experts who have these skills to take this bionic model further”.
“I agree,” said Habib, “but I don’t think we have people within our industry for this. We may have to seek help from outside our industry.”
“Exactly,” said Krishna, “companies which desire to become bionic, will need experts from outside pharma to become the technology enablers. Employees will have to be trained to use AI-powered insights to enable them to take better and faster decisions. That’s exactly how Covid-19 vaccines were developed at such terrific speed. AI-powered insights will enable the bionic company in design thinking, keeping patients’ treatment outcome in the forefront. This will enable delivering innovative products at lower costs, may be even personalized medicines”.
Munir appeared very satisfied.
“Let us now listen to what Miles Everson, John Sviokla and Kelly Barnes have to say on this”, continued Krishna. “Businesses need to develop their behavior, cognitive, and network capital, so they can create and capture value that competitors can’t erode. Bionic companies can grow without relying on physical assets, or on managing funds and investments. Instead, they can grow by building and linking digitally based platforms”. (3)
“And how would you define a bionic leader,” asked Krishna but continued without waiting for an answer. “Let us listen to once again to what BCG says,” said Krishna. “First, adapt to a Silicon Valley leadership style – setting company goals, translating those goals into work to be done, deploying teams with the right capabilities, aligning the organization, and removing roadblocks. These leaders are much less involved in daily decisions. Rather, they step back to allow speed. They steer the organization by setting goals, adding resources for teams that are succeeding, and redeploying resources when teams finish work or initiatives fail. (4)
“Second, to build and manage a bionic organization the new leadership requires that legacy companies must master leading new types of talent, operating in an agile manner, and ensuring that their organizations build technology to drive outstanding results. The leader’s job now increasingly becomes designing and enabling the organization rather than managing it.” (2)
“The third: In the transition to the bionic company, purpose matters more than ever. Bionic leaders must have a strong sense of purpose, which energizes and aligns the organization around what it is trying to achieve. Leaders must be the purpose champions. The core competitive foundations of bionic leaders – such as value, differentiation, and advantage—are similar to those of traditional companies, but the strategies they use digital first.”
“Digital transformation, especially in India has accelerated rapidly in these 20 months; probably what would have normally taken 20 years has happened in these 20 months. Our sales force is dispersed and burned out. Brand managers and others in sales management teams are engaged day in and day out in meetings with internal and external customers. Webinars have become a pain in the neck. Doctors do not want to attend them anymore unless there is a world-class speaker or an outstanding topic. The online executive presence is very poor – of course, they cannot be blamed. There was no one to guide them. Even the leaders were oblivious of the importance of an online executive presence.”
“Yes,” agreed Munir, “but some self-learning leaders, are adapting and evolving – even thriving – in the face of all these changes and disruption. They even guide and help others. There are a couple of them in my own company.”
Said Krishna, “Great to hear this Munir, and they are then your leaders of tomorrow. They will be the ones who will help other employees to become super-human beings. My submission, spot such leaders within your own firms, nurture them, encourage them, train them using experts from outside our industry. And they will be your CEOs of tomorrow. Encourage them to be Level-5 leaders.”
The meeting ended in a happy note. Munir Shah was applauded when he said: “Let us embrace the fact that the days of competition are over. The 21st century is the age of co-opetition and not competition. That’s the only way for India to become the true pharmacy of the world. Technology and humans interacting in new ways is at the heart of the new operating model for business—and of creating an effective post-pandemic organization. Thank you so much Krishna for guiding us!”
“Ready, set and go” exclaimed Krishna with a big smile.
References (Harvard Style):
- Boston Consulting Group (2020) ‘THE BIONIC COMPANY’ Available at: https://www.bcg.com/capabilities/digital-technology-data/bionic-company#what-is-bionic-company (Accessed: 29 September 2021)
- Boston Consulting Group (2020) ‘’ANATOMY OF THE BIONIC COMPANY’. Available at: https://www.bcg.com/featured-insights/winning-the-20s/anatomy-of-the-bionic-company (Accessed: 29 September 2021)
- Everson M, Sviokla J, and Kelly Barnes K (2018). ‘LEADING A BIONIC TRANSFORMATION’. Available at: https://www.strategy-business.com/article/Leading-a-Bionic-Transformation. (Accessed 30 September 2021)
- Hutchinson R, Aré L, Rose J, and Bailey A (2019). THE BIONIC COMPANY: WINNING THE ‘20s. Available at: https://www.bcg.com/publications/2019/bionic-company )Accessed 29 September 2021)
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