Sunday, August 28, 2011

Social skills and Pfizer


Social skill has become an important attribute in business workplaces. Social skills refers to the way we INTERACT and COMMUNICATE (ie., send messages) with others. There are many ways we communicate - warm, affectionate, cold, neutral, factually, negatively, positively, creatively, emotionally, intuitively ... The way we communicate and interact makes a great difference to transactional and/or business results.

A MR may be very effective with detailing, however he or she may be slightly inhibited in nature, this makes him or her come across as non-assertive, reserved and cold. Such a social nature becomes an obstacle to establishment of good relationships with doctors or chemists (pharmacists).

Hence, social skills are vital for providing favourable business outcomes.

It is not enough to have functional knowledge, there is something more than technical competency required for success, it is a skill of knowing how to move with people in a balanced way, and thereby help attain business objectives. In a globalized world, and media rich society, it is not enough to have domain skills - social skills are equally vital, both within the organization and outside.

In the complex world of transactions, relationship management has acquired higher importance. The ability to manage one's network of relationships is crucial to help attain one's business objectives. Social skills help one realize value through social interactions.

For eg., let us say, we are talking to a field manager on phone. While it is common to go straight to the point which we want to resolve, it is good social skill to generally exchange views on the weather or general business conditions, and strengthen the social aspect of the conversation. It is new cultural thing to do this because the norm is to stick to business talk and resolve issues, however, a social skill component is to exchange pleasantaries and talk on other aspects too.

Social skills are not easy!

One may wonder why this is said so?

The first and most important obstacle to good social skill is lack of interest in practicing good social skills. The point is why exert more? Rather, it is better to stick to the business agenda and be done with it!!

There are occasions where many organizational members are tolerated as necessary evils, this happens mainly due to the concerned people having low social skill.

A stumbling block to practice of effective social skill is ego - a heightened sense of self-importance. This creates hostility in relationships, conflict management becomes the central issue rather than working together for mutual business interests.

Historically, technical skills are given more value than social skills. In many organizational cultures, social skills are also discounted and not adequately considered as an important skill set.

In skill inventories and skill audits conducted by HR personnel, technical skills, sales skills, etc are given high importance, there is no mention of social skills and specific social skill sub-types for HR audit.

Social skills are an important glue that hold organizations together and breathe life into transactions. Such social skills create a difference to the way of business conduct. A simple smile along course of technical presentations, an open attitude in body language during a serious business meeting - these can create a 'feel-good' mood, and this establishes a positive culture.

Social skills are really not easy, it takes training and practice, and an emphatic personal will to ensure that one practices optimal level of social skill.

An organization's culture is made of many components. The Organizational Culture (OC) is a psychological framework of the company. It is a set of characteristics or traits that sets an organization apart. For eg., when Ranbaxy was growing fast under Dr. Parvinder Singh, it was a power oriented organization, and a company that did not smile! A serious culture pervaded the entire organization. The OC is vital for the fortunes of a firm.

Pfizer: a case study from the OC perspective

The recent 'palace coup' article of Pfizer in Fortune Aug 2011, detailing how Jeff Kindler was sent home, makes absorbing reading. The article describes in a riveting style - with a very alluring narrative - the background and chain of events leading to departure of Jeff Kindler from Pfizer.

However what comes out of the story - hitting the reader hard is the ABSOLUTE DISCONNECT BETWEEN PEOPLE IN THE ORGANIZATION AND EVENTS at Pfizer.

It is hard to believe that the Directors' at Pfizer gave such a long rope to Jeff Kindler. Is it a Wild West type of a company with CEOs having a cowboy attitude?!

Probably, Jeff was brought in with a mandate to shake things up, break 'I-scratch-your-back- and you-scratch-my-back' type of relationships, infuse new dynamism - or else why would you hire an aggressive questioning type of trial lawyer as a CEO - that too of a pharmaceutical major?!

rankly it appears too far-fetched that Jeff's leadership style would go unquestioned for so long!! It appears, after reading the article, 'Jeff and his leadership style' is the fall guy for clearing the decks and providing Pfizer a clean slate for a new hopeful beginning. It is a clean-up job by the Directors. Hope it will augur well for the world's biggest pharmaceutical company!

In a way, the article is 'tragi-comic'.

It is truly hilarious to read about Mary Mcleod and her helicopter rides in the article!!

The events described in the article do not speak highly of the management style and organizational culture of Pfizer.

No one will expect events as described in the article, in a company like Pfizer. (Heh!! I am being cheeky here - no offense meant - Indian pharmaceutical companies are always much much better!!).

The carry-home messages that come after reading the article, to an outsider:

Carry home message 1: Pfizer, as an organization - its organizational personality has poor social skills. There is vast scope to develop a positive social skill character in the length and breadth of the organization. The way people interact and communicate with each other is surely very very poor out there in Pfizer! May be it is because of Jeff ... but anyway it appears to be a part of Pfizer's DNA. Where is the warmth and stimulation to achieve there?!

Carry home message 2: Pfizer seems to have overlooked implementing Dr. Edward Kaplan and David Norton's BALANCED SCORE CARD system, one of the best management tools to keep a tab on performance and cultural issues. The lack of such a system leads to disconnect and episodes such as the Kindler episode of Pfizer.

There are viewpoints that the pharmaceutical industry, by and large, is a very conservative one and does not have an open mind to management concepts or adoption of management ideas.

Sadly, even Pfizer does not seem to be an exception.

The Article in FORTUNE will finds its way to all the case study classes of various management institutes!

End quote: The steps of power are often steps on sand - Edward Counsel

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