New Year Resolutions for the Head of Digital – Number 2: Get the People Right

This is the second of my New Year Resolutions.  Full list is in my first post.

This is possibly the most difficult of our resolutions because it involves skills, behaviours and mind set.  I remember some years ago in a pharma company I was interviewing for a new Digital Manager.  My HR colleague had been doing screening interviews and said to me “You’ll really like Darren (NHRN), he’s very much cut from our <company> mould, he should fit in well”.  This remark immediately made me question the value of the unfortunate Darren.

Why?  Well, because generally in our industry we have not traditionally promoted the skills, behaviours and mindset to execute well in a customer-centric multichannel environment. If he ‘fitted in well’ to that culture, was he really an agent of change? I wanted the ‘grit in the oyster’ not someone who was going to slide into the organisation without making a ripple.  I needed someone to stir things up a bit.  Consider the challenge:

Traditional pharma behaviour Required behaviour
Risk averse Take managed risks
Control the message at all costs Understand the conversation
Decisions based on solid data Try, test, iterate
Static, long-term Nimble, rapidly-changing
Devolved, independent Global, collaborative
Measure interactions Measure business impact
Deliver the message Serve the customer

This is a shift in mind set that many companies have been driving for in recent years.  But still I observe evidence that ‘the grit in the oyster’ is not always welcome or valued.

Here’s what I think you need to do to ‘Get the People Right’

  • Skill-up.  A good part of the digital challenge is that many of our marketers, medical and other functions have ‘grown up’ in a pre-digital pharma industry. Even ‘digital natives’ might know what they like but that doesn’t make them an expert in how to deliver it.  This is a complex and many-faceted area and a concerted, blended training program (online and F2F) is vital to ensure everyone knows ‘what good looks like’ and how to deliver it.  Because a lot of folks have done digital stuff in the past, it doesn’t mean they’ve done it well.  Poor execution in digital channels is all-too-common in our industry and is often attributable to poor skills and knowledge.  (Don’t assume you can always lean on your agency’s skills either – this is the subject of Resolution 4 – Get the right Partner.)
  • Look outside pharma.  Ours is an incestuous industry and people move within it but less so into and out of it.  But ‘digital’ is a complex skill-set and a transferable one.  Consider hiring from other industries where digital is more embedded.  That doesn’t have to be FMCG – B2B industries like financial services, telecoms and others have some excellent people to offer. 
  • Appoint experts. Too often a digital novice – perhaps a brand manager or marketing trainee – is moved into a digital job as part of a skills-development program.  But this is not the right time to do this.  Your Digital team, eMarketers, Innovation managers, whatever you call them – should be experts in the space.  They must be able to challenge colleagues and respond to the many challenges they will get in the job. In addition they should have leadership skills to help drive change in their team and the organisation. 
  • Reward the right behaviours. If we want to encourage people to adopt the behaviours on the right of the table above we need to make it worth their while.   Reward re-use of programs, rapid-to-market campaigns, active learning/iteration and demonstration of business impact.  Permit people to take managed risks, to launch initiatives that might fail with a plan of remediation/learning built-in and recognise the value of that learning.

The last point is perhaps the most difficult because it goes to the heart of our culture.  We must be extremely disciplined, perfectionist, detailed and pedantic in how we deliver and measure programs whilst at the same time being brave, nimble, flexible and willing to quickly change direction as results or experience demands.

The company that Gets the People Right is well on the way to winning in the digital space. But we still have Resolutions 3 and 4 to consider – the Process and the Partner.

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Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Kanga, a digital transformation agency. I help global companies with their digital strategy and projects. Most of my clients are pharmaceutical companies.

Posted in CRM, Marketing, pharma
2 comments on “New Year Resolutions for the Head of Digital – Number 2: Get the People Right
  1. […] of pre-digital life.  Like the behavioural patterns I mentioned in the previous resolution: Get the People Right, the processes are based on minimising risk in the development and communication of static content […]

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by Kay Wesley of Kanga Health Ltd

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