This is Part 2 of a 3-part series of articles where I share the insights I’ve gained from talking to a number of HR Directors in Biopharma. A sector that is now experiencing the technological revolution previously seen within the taxis, travel and TV arenas. Part 1 explored the nature of this sector’s disruption and introduced four VUCA capabilities which will help leaders to be successful. This article looks at the first set of these capabilities in more detail.
But first, let’s start with a quick recap of Part 1: I described how Klaus Schwab, author of “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”, recently said, “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another”. Leaders in Biopharma are now starting to experience this disrupted, VUCA world for themselves, and to handle these challenges successfully, a specific set of leadership capabilities are needed. These capabilities are best described as ‘using VUCA to handle VUCA’. Using a Vision to navigate Volatility, increasing Understanding to handle Uncertainty, getting Connected to make sense of Complexity, and being Agile to respond to Ambiguity.
Use a Vision to navigate Volatility
Harvard Business Review defined the Volatility of VUCA as events which are unexpected, but not difficult to understand. In Biopharma this would include what happened in the diabetes market in 2016, which upset Novo Nordisk's world almost overnight and could threaten the company’s future success in unprecedented ways. Knowing how to lead others with a vision, based on both personal and corporate purpose and values, in an authentic and inspirational manner, is a key capability leaders need, to help their people navigate through such volatility.
In Simon Sinek's now famous TED Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, he talks about the power of knowing your ‘Why?’: Why you get out of bed in the morning? Why your company exists? Leaders need to authentically share their personal ‘Why?’ and co-create their company/ function/team ‘Why?’. Following this with collaboration that grows their vision over time will result in a shared vision that will endure. And a shared vision will empower their people to navigate themselves through the unexpected and unforeseen.
Increase Understanding to handle Uncertainty
Uncertainty is not difficult to predict, but it is difficult to be confident of the outcomes of the actions we take in uncertain times. An example from the Biopharma sector would be the medical devices market, where oil prices bring ongoing uncertainty to manufacturing costs. Plastic is one of the main raw materials for medical devices, and 5% of the world’s oil goes into the production of plastic. Better understanding will help to identify the possible scenarios coming out of uncertainty.
Colonel Eric G. Kail in his Harvard Business Review article about Uncertainty, said, “It is human nature to see every challenge as something similar to what we’ve encountered before. That’s how our brains work and for good reason; if we had to assess every situation as novel we wouldn’t be as efficient as we need to be.” The nature of disruption usually requires new thinking, and leaders need to find ways of counteracting their own biases and pre-judgments, so they can develop a broader and more informed understanding of their challenges and options. As the famous industrialist John Getty said, “In times of rapid change, experience can be your worst enemy”.
One way leaders can counteract their own and their team’s biases is to adopt an Abundance Mindset. Connecting with the world around them, bringing diverse data and perspectives into their thinking through the regular and consistent use of modern media (LinkedIn discussion groups, Twitter feeds, innovation lab websites, curation sites). Leaders can then make sense of these new perspectives collectively with their teams, by practicing the art of discussing and debating; listening, suspending judgement and respecting alternate views. In short, leading their team’s to participate in shared dialogues, rather than providing their teams with one-way monologues.
When everyone thinks alike, no one thinks very much
Walter Lippmann, one of the most influential social commentators of the 20th century, once said, “When everyone thinks alike, no one thinks very much”. A volatile and uncertain world requires collective thinking. By co-creating a shared vision of the future, and then encouraging their teams to explore for themselves the challenges and opportunities towards that future, leaders can navigate volatility and better understand uncertainty. These capabilities will help leaders to slow down before speeding up, to think and plan to take action that is more informed and in tune with the disruption around them. To be the fast fish which eats the slow fish.