The missing link in healthcare transformation projects
Change and transformation are established forces in pharma and healthcare today, as in all industries and sectors. Every organisation needs to evolve and move with the times, to keep up with customer, patient and HCP needs. In recent years, the pace, scope and sheer amount of transformation projects have escalated.
Transformation and change communications specialists from The Difference Collective share their insights into the broadened range of skills and experience needed to address the challenge
In our industry, the uptick is driven by the shift to digital healthcare, an ever-strengthening imperative for customer-centricity and patient-centricity, changing populations and demographics. Much of this has been amplified by post-pandemic consumer behaviour shifts and the rapid integration of AI, which continue to reshape long-established models of healthcare engagement, communication and delivery. They’re layered on top of traditional pressures for transformation such as improving efficiency, speeding up time-to-market, embracing new technologies and processes, reducing costs, entering new markets and enabling global or organisational expansion.
With the pace of change and the sheer number of transformation projects underway across functions, divisions and geographies in global organisations, it’s become more of a challenge than ever to harmonise them. To employees, it can often feel like everything, all at once.
This is particularly apparent when it comes to communications strategy and engagement. The landscape is now far more complex, populated with what can seem like many competing transformation projects, each one billed as a top priority for the organisation and potentially another new approach for workers to understand, adopt and adapt to.
The strategic rationale for change may be simple, but it’s not always obvious to employees
Often, business transformation programmes are conceived for highly logical reasons, with a relatively simple pathway of change defined. But however obvious the need for change and the clarity of the required actions may seem in operational and process terms, gaining support and adoption is much more challenging. The Difference Collective consultant Christos Pishias says, “While change is often relatively easy to document and explain on paper, it’s much harder to implement, because it involves changing people’s behaviours, the ways they work and – in many cases – the perception of their work, built over many decades.”
Successful global pharma companies typically rely on strategic or specialist management consultants to introduce major new systems and processes, particularly those designed to save time and costs. Often, the focus beyond the business case is all on the latest technology and direct user experience. The culture change that’s needed for understanding, effective engagement and adoption of the change programme might be acknowledged, but as a set of clear actions within a plan, this often appears way down the priority list.
Difference Collective consultant Rob Gallo says, “For a variety of reasons, in large scale strategic change initiatives, communication is often considered too late. External support often plays an important role when time appears to be running out. We know what can be achieved and have the experience to hit the ground running.” To compound the time pressure, internal culture change is also harder today, with different working patterns and different career priorities amongst the workforce. People aren’t as tightly tied to physical teams and locations, so mustering them to share initiatives in a collegiate way can be a challenge. And although Teams and Zoom have made audiences easier to reach, change programmes often need a total rethink when it comes to capturing hearts and minds via virtual means. Recruitment and retention are pain points for many organisations in an evolving employment marketplace – it’s imperative that transformation programmes are well received and understood to avoid valued employees becoming needlessly disaffected and moving on. Given the volume of projects and the pace of change, it’s essential to give teams and communities timely information and to position programmes in a coherent and strategic way.
To facilitate engagement in change, consultants need skills that go far beyond traditional communications
For organisations that have embraced transformation, there’s a clear need for high-level engagement and communication skills. Our experience shows us that the most sought-out professionals to lead and deliver transformation communications have a rare blend of skills and experience. They need a deep understanding of change management processes, strong abilities in analysing evidence for change and effective influencing skills to make sure the communication and engagement need is understood and championed by programme and business leaders.
The Difference Collective consultant Maria Potter says, “I’ve found that in change and transformation, clients aren’t interested in your communications experience. At this level, it’s a given. They want people who are business savvy and can help them work through the ambiguity on many of the projects. Behaviour change is also really important. The critical skill I use most often is strategic thinking – clients need me to quickly and effectively build relationships and influence business understanding beyond the realms of pure communications.” Roberto agrees that a broad palette of experience and impact is needed. “We never lose sight of the need for human-centred thinking, creativity, and even humour to connect with audiences.”
It’s no surprise then that large organisations are competing to find and engage the most experienced professionals and consultants to take on their transformation communications roles. And they’re not necessarily finding them through their usual agencies or recruiters. Amongst the team at The Difference Collective, we have an unusually strong cohort of change and transformation communications experts, with a track record both client-side and within agencies and a unique skillset that addresses both operational, commercial and human engagement needs.
Hands-on experience, strategic expertise, organisational understanding and influencing skills
Rob Gallo adds, “We have lived and breathed change and transformation as in-house leaders many times. We can bring a valuable perspective that helps join the dots for the clients, and can fast-track past some of the more difficult or awkward aspects of any organisational change.” Christos Pishias agrees: “We bring relevant expertise, learning and data models from similar work and by doing so, help clients plan in a safer and more effective manner. We’re a focused resource for change and project management, with skills that complement in-house resources. We also have the political skills to help create alliances and make friends quickly within organisations going through complex change.”
Christos sees signs that organisations are becoming more attuned to engagement as a priority within transformation projects. He observes a move away from the traditional strategy consulting approach, as enlightened pharma companies seek a more collaborative, implementation-focused model of change management. “It’s not about ‘come and tell us what we need to do’,” he says, “It’s more ‘we know what needs doing, can you help us plan it and – more importantly – work with us to develop a roadmap to get there?’ There’s an opportunity to embed healthcare communications experts with relevant experience in client teams, working to develop solutions to broad engagement briefs as the transformation programme evolves.”
Bringing transformation programmes to fruition effectively always depends on successful engagement with employees and good communication about evidence and decisions for change. The teams who design system-led transformation programmes don’t always have these skills. Appointing an experienced and objective consultant to champion engagement leads as part of the team can make all the difference in landing and launching the programme to a positive reception.
So what’s the key takeout for healthcare organisations?
So what’s the key takeout for healthcare organisations? Consider engagement and communications as a priority in transformation, and don’t leave it to the end of the project. Rob Gallo adds, “Often it’s only once the rubber hits the road with a process and cost-saving project that it becomes clear that change management and communications aspects to the plan are missing. Bringing in someone to help with the right-conversation-at-the-right-time can significantly improve chances of recovering ground. Sure, involving a healthcare change and engagement specialist from the start is ideal – but with the rate of upheaval all organisations are going through, sometimes strategic guidance at the point of decision making is enough to make the difference.”