Leadership: Spotting Opportunity in Turbulence

Despite conventional wisdom exhorting that change is constant, industry veterans panic upon confronting it. That’s because they are unprepared – either entirely or shaken by the sheer velocity with which it arrives. The pharmaceutical industry – both globally and in India- is passing through its most turbulent times in recent memory.

Global challenges such as the patent cliff, declining productivity in R&D, regulatory and pricing pressure and healthcare reforms while ruffling traditional MNC business models, have thrown open vastly productive markets to Indian branded generics players. Back home, developments such as MNC takeovers of leading Indian businesses have caused the government and other stakeholders to be jolted out of inaction and scramble to search for a method in the perceived madness.

Will companies – hitherto considered stable – suddenly get taken over? Will management decide to lay off people as profits erode? Changes like these create fear and distrust which often leads to flight of talent and significantly erodes productivity and growth in the industry. While often fueled by a lack of transparency by management, fear and distrust is also created either by ignorance or an inability to peer into the future. And lack of transparency leads to conspiracy theories, rumors and perceptions that are more often way off target. This is where strong leaders make a difference.

When the conversation is about change and uncertainty, strong leaders can inspire the field force to recognize that uncertainty creates opportunity and that change can bring the results they wanted and yearned for. Field managers interact daily with the field force and this familiarity works best in difficult and uncertain situations. In the face of uncertainty, front line managers must encourage the field force to explore the uncertainty to find opportunity and capitalize.

Managers can work with their teams to create a range of forecasts for: an expectable future, a future they most fear, and a future that would be surprisingly successful. These forecasts can include great strides in better customer service models, upgradation of personal skills and competencies and may even venture into areas such as better personal care and healthy lifestyles. Field managers can work on strengthening the psyche of field colleagues in stressful times. This preparation can help create tough teams that thrive in chaos. A clear competitive advantage in troubled times. On a radical note, imagine the corporate equity that can be amassed if you have teams that are trained to operate in a stressed system that is worse than we have now and vulnerable to events such as a earthquakes, terrorist attacks etc.

Full consideration of the future demands that we are prepared for both high as well as low points that business cycles bring with them. Keeping images of both success and failure in mind helps us to focus on the key decisions and actions that will make the difference between what we want and what we fear. Helping the field force prepare for demanding times is where the role of managers become most relevant.

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