The Friendly Persuasion — An Interview with Fred Hassan - Pharmaceutical Executive

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The Friendly Persuasion — An Interview with Fred Hassan


Pharmaceutical Executive


How do you foster that sense of esprit at the top? How do you spread its benefits throughout the entire organization?

The most important task of a CEO is to build a management team that pulses with the force multiplier of collective energy. This is an intangible, almost spiritual asset. It cannot be achieved through an organization chart, divided into boxes that say "this is what you do." At this level, functional responsibilities are really beside the point. What matters instead is the dynamic energy that comes from contributions as a group, where the CFO is not there just to provide accounting advice but has something to say about reputation management as well. The strategy is richer because it is grounded in diversity. This is a point that many experts in organization management have missed.

Has company "culture" become a cliché? Is an effective business strategy possible without CEO leadership in building out the roots of a distinctive culture, one that can be understood by every employee?

Companies do have distinctive cultures. Awareness of this is vital to CEO success in executing around strategy. In all the corporate turnarounds I have been involved in, changing the culture played a huge role. A positive culture attracts talent and serves as a motivator of superior group performance. Unfortunately, the tendency in recent years has been to treat culture as a "soft" topic, one that can be safely relegated to the human resources function. This is a mistake. Today's most effective CEOs consider their HR representative a full partner in business strategy. But your HR leader has to be someone who understands the workforce beyond the "c suite" and can promote a culture that is geared to helping every individual win. Culture must be communicated as something positive and jargon-free. Too often, it is mistakenly applied as part of a PR exercise, filled with empty messaging. People will apply themselves if they believe in what you, as CEO, are saying. Yet most companies are falling short, on that score. Surveys show that more than half of the workers in corporate America are disengaged, with little regard or understanding of where management seems to be taking them, and many workers don't feel free to speak up. This festering alienation is a drain on initiative and leaves a lot of spare capacity sitting on the table; when companies address it and fix it, productivity rates go up considerably.

Is the human resources function ready for an overhaul to place it higher in the "c suite" pecking order?

It is rare to find in any CEO today a background that has exposed him or her to the HR function. That is a pity. The emphasis in HR today is very passive: recruiting talent, calculating benefits, and providing information to employees. What is really needed is a function that leads at the right hand of the CEO in shaping a productive, positive culture, assessing talent [not just finding it], building succession plans at every stage of the decision-making chain, and finding ways to engage and make colleagues feel valued for being part of an amazing organization, poised to profit from the future. Big Pharma needs to pay even more attention to this skill set than other industries because we are a talent driven industry. Instead, we often let patent driven product exclusivity cycles make us more complacent than we should be. That attitude must change because keeping top talent in place is going to take more effort in the future. The best people have more options and the younger generation no longer believes in lifetime employment.


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Source: Pharmaceutical Executive,
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