It should come as no surprise that people are moved to action only when tragedy strikes.
Such is the case with Merck, a company that for years lived in a cocoon of complacency. Yes, this was a much admired company that had a right to boast of its research and marketing muscle. As it often happens, inertia set in and it became easier to go with the status quo rather than seek continuous improvement. The latter, of course, requires being honest with yourself
Now, following the Vioxx debacle, Merck seems to have woken up. It is taking steps that should have been taken in any case. What I'm suggesting, of course, is that Merck had problems wholly unrelated to Vioxx that needed fixing.
Witness the latest article in Business Week, wherein CEO Richard Clark confesses to the inertia noted above. Here is just one quote from that article:
"Clark had watched the company degenerate into a collection of fiefdoms more focused on advancing their own agendas than on getting the right drugs to patients."
Once in charge, Clark had to figure out how to get the Company back on track. The key to that challenge and "to revitalize drug development [was the] need to get Merck's 60,000 employees--scientists, regulatory staff, and salespeople--to work together."
So here are the key tactics Merck is using to achieve this goal of collaboration:
- blast open deeply blocked channels of communication;
- place people in teams defined by therapeutic fields such as cancer and diabetes;
- encourage the teams to huddle with doctors, patients, and insurers;
- bring disparate voices together from Day One
In some ways, these points seem simplistic and trite. They are not. This is because as with any 12 step rehabilitation program, admitting that you have a problem is the most critical first step to recovery. Then, once you admit that you have the problem, you need an easily comprehensible strategy to fix it. The strategy needs to be simple and address the root causes of your disease. After that, as with anything else, the devil is in the details.
Here then are is the entire closing paragraph from the Business Week article:
"While Clark is encouraged by the results of his changes so far, he's still haunted by the culture of complacency that left companies like his stuck in an innovation rut. "If you ever feel comfortable that your model is the right model, you end up where the industry is today," he says. "It's always going to be continuous improvement. We will never declare victory.""
And speaking of continuous improvement, there is still the issue that is near and dear to my heart: How to get the business and IT people on the same page. That, however, will be the subject of another post.