Platforms for Peerless Performance

Apr 01, 2011

William Looney
IN TODAY'S CLIMATE of market churn and strategic uncertainty, the capacity to execute against goal is a key asset. Done right, it can transform opacity into options—and thus opportunity. And because seamless execution depends heavily on internal cohesion, having a "can-do" company culture does count in the scoring process. That's why Pharm Exec's editorial offerings this month focus on the values, skills, and learnings required to build and institutionalize what we call a "performance culture." What this means precisely is that an organization has the inner confidence—what the Finns call sisu, or guts—to believe that when a strategic decision is taken to move forward on an initiative, it will be done well.

This is not just a hoary concept for a business school management course. One of the companies profiled this month has built a $10 billion global business around helping Big Pharma manage and measure performance. Once a small Dutch company focused on the mining sector, DSM N.V. is today a key player in helping Big Pharma revise its old "standard operating procedure" for manufacturing, where high error rates were tolerated to a point just short of actionable grounds for plant shutdowns, sustainable green technologies were ignored, and the potential for cost savings rarely considered as an integral part of strategy for the full product portfolio.

DSM has profited by helping convince industry to change that mindset, with a message that says it is good business to keep doing better. Failure to connect with the many small things that shape the perceptions of customers leads to complacency—in fact, a true performance culture has to focus on the mundane as much as on the sublime. For Big Pharma, this means in addition to cutting-edge science it must excel in the day-to-day routine of pushing product out the door, quickly and safely, into the hands of clinicians and patients.

A performance culture also sets fewer internal limits around that imperative to be better. It's not about where the idea came from, but whether it offers the opportunity to be a real game-changer in helping an organization move to the next level. This is the premise behind our second lead feature this month, which benchmarks the budding relationship between pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions as a source of basic leads in research.

Here, each party comes to the table with variant cultural conditioning and conflicting goals: For academia, the measure of success is to publish, for peer recognition; for pharma, it is to patent, for eventual commercialization. The story provides a checklist of learning that can soften these differences to create a "win-win" outcome. A culture of performance is better equipped to ensure that the results of this "translational medicine" are correctly interpreted. Instead of shunting the exchange sideways through the bureaucracy, a high-performing organization will move quickly to set clear metrics to evaluate the relationship and drive it toward a future therapeutic advantage.

Next, our Leadership column from Deidre Connelly, who runs GSK's US business, documents her effort to make trust and reputation a driver of superior performance. She cites four commitments that GSK intends to honor for its customers on fraud and compliance issues. Again, a culture of performance will make the difference in determining whether these pledges are grounded in reality, rather than rhetoric.

Finally, our cover story on the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association's 2011 Woman of the Year, Freda Lewis-Hall of Pfizer, marks an overlooked element in the lexicon of performance: the human touch. Performance is ultimately about people. Managing people to inspire that extra measure of commitment is just as important as the dry metrics of clinical differentiation in scoring against the competition. Lewis-Hall's ascent in the corporate setting—by her own admission, an unlikely one—shows that diversity makes an organization's "performance core" stronger. This is going to remain true regardless of whether one thinks that geography will be as important as gender as a dividing line in the pharma workplace of the future. Her message for being a top performer is simple: "Do you." And that in making the journey toward self-awareness you take feedback—of any sort—as a gift.

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