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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 20517

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: Magazine

Corporate religions and the new order - some advice to consultants
Scrip 1996 Mar12-13


Dr Leandro Herrero is Vice-president of R&D (Europe) at Allergan (UK).

Full text:

The pharmaceutical industry is embracing a new order – the order of mergers. The aim? A bigger share of the market or, maybe, management guru Tom Peters’ ‘mating of dinosaurs hoping to breed gazelles’.

This new order has produced a new brand of corporate mathematics. It reads: one clinical research director + one clinical research director = one redundancy package. This is the new reality behind buzzwords and phrases such as ‘from providers to purchasers’, ‘customer power’, ‘price controls’, ‘double digit growth may be gone’, and all the others that any proud pharmaceutical executive can recite.

For organisations, all the paraphernalia of forces, dynamics and new rules of engagement simply means that the old ways have gone. In the new order there will be no place for non-value-added systems and structures. The luxury of a corporate umbrella where someone could go unnoticed for weeks and still get a pay check will be history. Perhaps now people will even get to know each other – after all, there will be fewer of them.

To implement the new order, the consultants have landed. An army of young business graduates, equipped with ‘one solution we have made earlier’ have gone through organigrams and reporting lines with little respect for history. They have come to the conclusion that, as far as headcount is concerned, 1+1 should be 1 (or sometimes zero). The simplicity of this arithmetical exercise does not correlate with the size of the bill.

Changing the focus
If I were one of that army of consultants I would focus on corporate religion instead of arithmetic. It might be more fun and more cost effective. I would even suggest that religious studies (or perhaps sociology) might be a more suitable background than business studies if the corporate invader is to be effective. Of course, given the number of consulting battalions wandering around corporate corridors, I suspect you can have both. The ratio of consultants to workers is approaching 1:1.

If taken to extremes, religions, as with anything in life, can seriously damage your health – at least your mental health. At the cult end of the religious spectrum, one can easily end up in the psychiatrist’s chair. When dogmas, religions and rituals are applied to organisations, the chance of perpetuating individual and group behaviour are very high.

I suggest that the consultants should try to put the pharmaceutical house in order by first tackling two religions that have acquired a strong hold on the corporate psyche – ‘team religion’ and ‘process religion’. But, first, a warning about the difficulty of the task. Historically, challenging dogmas has never been popular – people have tended to get their fingers and sometimes other parts of their body burnt. It is even more difficult for the consultants than it was for the sufferers of the Inquisition because the heretics of that time did not intend to send in a bill on top of questioning the system.

Team religion
Team religion dictates that the team is king. Everything has to be worked out in or by the teams – and of course there are lots of them about.

Teams are great when their total brain-power is more than the sum of the individual ones. They are less than great when they are used as an institutional licence for the survival of average mediocrity. Some people are so obsessed with team dogma that they are prepared to allow a less then adequate performance as long as ‘it comes from the team’ or ‘it is a team decision’. Individual creativity has a hard time with teams. Would consultants please debrief the adepts and introduce some common sense?

Do we want teams in the new order? We could, of course, just give ‘the team’ the power, the money, the decision-making ability and a couple of concrete objectives and leave it alone. But the major problem with team religion is that it is part of a rather hierarchical church. There is a team (say, the project team’) and the team that controls that team (a ‘development committee perhaps’), plus the team that oversees the work of teams. It is worse than the old military hierarchical structure that the creation of ‘teams-and-matrix’ was supposed to cure. Instead of dealing with ‘units of one’ (employee, supervisor, chief supervisor), we are now dealing with ‘units of tens’ (ie committees).

There is even a team version of the old Ford Company’s promise, ‘you can have any colour you want as long as it’s black’ – the project team is usually empowered to make any decision as long as it’s the right one and, of course, depending on what kind of decision.

Team religion deserves a whole book (the current unit of dissemination of isolated and unfinished ideas) but let me focus on just one of its multiple characteristics – the obsession with representation.

Teams are not taken seriously today unless all possible constituencies are represented. In the pharmaceutical arena, the spectrum goes from the chemist modelling drugs on computer and the rat behaviour expert to medical advisers and salesmen. Such a diverse congregation is unlikely to sing the same hymn but we still insist on having everybody around for the service. What kind of special and differentiated skill does a toxicologist have that compels him to notice and broadcast that there is a misspelling on page 3 of a clinical protocol? It is a mystery to me.

But enough of this or I will be doing the consultants’ job for them.

Process religion
I have a colleague who cannot express herself nowadays without using the word ‘process’ at least three times in a single sentence. So we are now in the process of studying processes that will allow us to maximise processes – a laudable aim. Process focus is good but process religion spends all its time identifying, mapping, isolating and re-engineering processes. While doing so, it runs the risk of ignoring what it is all about: delivering the goods. We have become so excited at getting rid of non-added value processes that there is little energy left for outcomes.

Within process religion there is the peculiar cult if ISO 9000. In this congregation, processes can become so well documented that the size of the manual is bigger than the entire organisation. I cannot help but refer to the well known statement by one of Motorola’s senior managers: ‘ISO 9000 would easily allow you to sell life-jackets made of concrete as long as there is the appropriate documentation for the relatives to complain or make a claim’.

Perhaps consultants could help us to instil some common sense? Quality systems have delivered a great deal that is good to organisation but the process religion version will send adherents to the psychiatrist’s chair.

There are many other religions for the squads of consultants to investigate – ‘customer religion’ is one example. ‘Market-driven’ jargon is very prominent here. But adherents do not realise that if they are market-driven, they will soon be driven out of the market. Customers want everything for nothing, which is not particularly healthy for corporate finances. Market focus is fine, market-driven is suicidal. But this is not the right place or time to explore religions further and my lawyer has advised me against too many public demonstrations of corporate atheism.

Beyond dogmas
There will be little time for dogmas in the new order of corporate pharmaceuticals. Things that worked in the past may not be useful any more. If one definition of insanity is to carry on doing the same things in the same old way, expecting them to yield different results, it would be insane not to address new ways of being organised, or new forms of group brain power. Newly merged or downsized institutions cannot become a smaller version of the same corporate inefficiency, delivering the same garbage but faster.

It is time to investigate our dogmas, no matter how addicted we are, because the chances are that they are no longer appropriate. It would be a good sign of corporate sanity to be able to stand up and dare to say that we should perhaps review the matrix structure, the representational project team, the instrumental quality improvement system, the old tribal divisions (including the artificial separation of R&D and any kind of strategic or central marketing) and all the other dogmas. The more outrageous the proposition the more likely the exercise is to deliver a few good ideas.

I know that the consultants know all this but, just in case, please accept my modest contribution to the philosophy of the new order. It is of course free.


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