By Pat Cormier, engagement leader, Kotter International
Increasingly, Big Pharma is partnering with smaller drug developers to create new, innovative products to keep their portfolios relevant, pipelines full, and themselves from falling behind. We are even seeing the once unimaginable — rival large players, such as Merck and Pfizer, partnering on a new generation of diabetes drugs. In theory, these partnerships are beneficial to the large companies because they allow them to stay competitive by bypassing or sharing the often arduous R&D stage and are good for the small developers because they are able to bring their pioneering products to market more quickly, without the time and expense of building infrastructure. Unfortunately, these unions often end up being far from harmonious.
The problem? Culture Clash
Two organizations that vary so greatly in both size and structure rarely operate in similar ways. The small drug developers are nimble, used to moving rapidly and with a singular focus — innovation. Meanwhile, the big pharmaceutical companies are slowed down by bureaucracy and ingrained processes.
Culture clash can ruin these partnerships, leaving both parties in an undesirable situation. Although it may seem like an incredibly complex issue, there are a few simple things that leaders can do to avoid what starts as a “win-win” from becoming a “What were we thinking?“
Discuss your goals beforehand. Before the handshake is forgotten and the ink dries, agree on what opportunities you both are trying to take advantage of and capitalize on. This type of frank conversation can uncover incompatible priorities or competing objectives. Once the deal is done, this shared vision can be used as a focal point to build urgency necessary to overcome future barriers.
Remember why you partnered in the first place. It’s essential to keep in mind the reason the partnership exists at all — your partner has something you need. You have opted for speed over building it yourself, whether it be drug- or infrastructure-related, so it’s important to acknowledge this and respect what each of you brings to the table — and not just among leadership, but throughout both organizations.
Separate but equal seldom works. Often, neither side views the other as equal (think compensation plans, reporting systems, etc.), which creates an us-versus-them mentality. Look for ways to align and integrate when and wherever possible.
Don’t let egos get in the way. As much as we would like to deny it, egos can play a major role in culture clash with “they-need-us” attitudes. Remember, you are each successful in the area the other covets.
It really boils down to one thing: It’s not all about you. As long as you view your partner with respect and as working with you, not for you, you’ll sidestep many of the problems associated with culture clash and be on your way to a fruitful partnership.