Pharma Hones its Pandemic Survival Skills—And Everyone Wins


Six months after the Covid -19 pandemic upended health, personal, and economic life for millions around the world, the importance of good, even great leadership in business settings has taken on new dimensions. The world of pharma—and every other business imaginable—initially experienced shock, confusion, and no small amount of anxiety. After all, the novel, easily spread, and deadly virus decimated lives and businesses were shuttered. With a lack of knowledge and no known treatment, cure, or vaccine, an uncomfortable uncertainty took hold as quarantines were imposed: which people and what businesses would survive this biological blindside?

According to Howard A. Matalon, Esq., Partner, Employment Practices and Litigation, Professional in Human Resources, OlenderFeldman, LLP, “The pandemic has become an exercise in corporate Darwinism.” Matalon explains that this is not your father’s Darwin’s Theory stressing the survival of the fittest. Instead, he says, the true emphasis of Darwinism has been corrected to signify the survival of the prepared.”

Getting Closer to Clients

So what does that translate to for Pharma and Pharma marketers? For Matalon’s company and clients, the pivot that was needed in this dire situation: get closer to clients. He also notes, “Everything we thought we thought we knew about employees and how they operate in the business was challenged. The foundation was literally exploding under us and being rebuilt,” Matalon states. “I found myself learning new law and having to be able to rapidly adapt what I learned to the specific issues that the clients were facing—and to their daunting problems at the same time. It was exciting, although clearly marred by the harshness of the pandemic.”

Matalon’s team created critical practical guidance for every type of client manufacturing, retail pharmaceutical technology, IT, biopharma, and pharmaceutical companies. They created a structure to educate clients about what they needed to know now and to help partner with them to solve their problems. As lawyers make great crisis managers, the firm became their clients’ right arm. “One of the things we taught: they needed to strengthen their core values, accountability, empathy—and listening,” Matalon says. “Don’t ignore employees concerns when someone is terrified about coming back to work, no matter how absurd you think those fears are. Listening, really listening to someone’s concerns, helps to resolve the fear.”

Emphasizing Accountability  

Accountability and transparency became the next area of focus. That’s what Covid -19 did. It challenged every business to think about what had made them successful:

  • Was it the product?
  • Was it the people?
  • Was it the process?
  • What was it that made the business successful?

The best companies pivoted off these questions and did their own assessments of work levels. An audit assessment of every individual in the company became very effective. Employers assessed:

  • What employees are doing
  • How employees are doing it
  • What could be done online
  • How to get employees back to work

What can’t be done online: Brainstorming sessions with teams. “Unlike meetings, these sessions can’t be done online effectively—it’s a completely different vibe,” he says. “You can’t feel the presence of your peers—that’s important.” So everyone is restructuring their business, and some companies such as Facebook recently announced they now want 50% of their employees to work online rather than in their offices. The overhead saved is, of course, in the millions. Companies that can let employees work from home are certainly seeing a positive resulting from a bad situation.

At the same time, as companies seek answers to how they can plug into this new world, questions including “Will I survive?” and “What will I look like afterward?” can become transformational.

Helping People Helps You

With survival of the most prepared in mind, Pharma companies found themselves in a good position. They had already established an online presence, then ratcheted that up to platforms like Zoom, video, and other online meetings. “They made it work well because they put their focus on helping people,” Matalon says, “whether through the numerous Pharma companies working on a vaccine, or through efficient restructuring.” That focus also allowed employees and clients to dial down the anxiety and naturally become more attuned to providing positive outcomes for others.

At the same time, survival in this new environment, changeable as it is, is top of mind. The questions Pharma companies seek answers to now, and post-Covid -19, include:

  • What will 2021 look like? Will it be a reset of 2020?
  • What will the business environment look like?
  • What will the vision be for the future?
  • What will we reach for as a business?
  • What will we inspire?

In sum, Pharma companies learned how critically important they are in the past six months as they’ve pushed themselves to help develop a vaccine or help others do so.

In Conclusion

“We all owe it to ourselves to reevaluate our goals and priorities in light of a pandemic,” Matalon remarks. “What do we really care about? Some of our objectives may be realized, while some may be unrealistic or unnecessary. We need to get back to the reasons why we became business owners and professionals in the first place.” Companies should take a look at their mission statements and ask themselves, 1) “What drives and motivates us to be successful this year?” 2) “Are we going to be successful next year?” Matalon concludes, “These are great questions to ask now to prepare for an unknowable future.”