What does it mean to be an agile organisation

Guest Blogger|27th June 2019

Traditionally pharmaceutical organisations have been set up in a hierarchical model. Success was achieved by managers knowing more than those below them and by doing this they could control information. However, new theories about organisational change are proving this approach is outmoded. Skills that were once necessary no longer meet the needs of change. To be effective in the future, organisations and individuals need new processes and new skills. Now pharma companies and their agency partners are embracing this change, becoming more agile under a leadership that is increasingly self-aware.

Philip Atkinson is passionate about helping individuals, teams and organisations to grow. He has more than 25 years’ experience in developing high-performing teams at Sanofi, Novartis and Roche. Now, he’s supporting large multinational pharma organisations to become more agile. That’s a question of looking at both processes and people to ensure organisations can quickly respond to market changes. This does not just mean reacting to external pressures. Instead, it’s about pre-empting market change and making sure the company has the tools and behaviours in place to pivot before the pressure reaches to boiling point.

We sat down with Philip to understand his views on what organisational agility means in reality, along with how pharma companies can be more responsive to a more complex and competitive landscape.

Why do pharmaceutical companies typically struggle to be responsive to market changes?

PA: The traditional structure of pharma organisations has been a hierarchical pyramid shape. This can make it difficult to respond quickly to external stimulus and currently there’s a lot of external stimulus for change in the pharma industry. That could be regulatory, it could be from competition, data or pricing. Organisations need to respond to change rapidly – that’s what agility is about. That means having the right structure, the right process and the right people. There are many different models to support this, but you need a common language, a common set of behaviours, skills and support.

It’s also no longer possible to solve all the problems in healthcare from within an organisation. We need to look outwards and be flexible. That might mean in terms of data generation, real-world data, clinical partners, looking at different IT solution, or partnering with different academic institutions.

What scenarios call for organisational change?

PA: There might be pressure to react, for example a takeover threat, a share price drop or a drug safety issue. Often there’s a ‘kick’ that forces you to react. The challenge is to make a change before it’s necessary – that would be a creative change.

Can organisational agility drive innovation?

PA: Innovation comes from better meeting market needs,being curious and having the ability to solve a problem. The more we look outside our organisations, the more open we are to stimulus for innovation. You need to understand what the problems are, you need to have the right inquisitive people, the right resources and the right space in which to be curious. It can be more difficult for innovation to come from within a traditional hierachial structure. External focus is the magic formula. 

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