Purple Cow or Bull in a China Shop?

How to make change stick

A colleague once generously called me a Purple Cow.

I say “generously” because he used the phrase as Seth Godin did, to mean someone/something intrinsically different. As a Pharma marketer, I constantly pushed for new marketing approaches. However, much of the time I tried to drive change, I probably behaved more like a bull in a china shop than a remarkable purple cow.

In fact, the Pfizer Health Literacy principles were launched internally two times because I had not fully involved my marketing colleagues the first time. After the initial launch, less than 25% of the patient literature coming out of my own department adhered to the principles. When even the people you directly supervise refer to a pamphlet written according to health literacy principles as using “dog food language” you know you haven’t done a good job socializing the concept.

As the founding partner of extrovertic, a health care consulting firm focused on delivering innovative marketing solutions, I continue to seek out new marketing approaches. However, I now appreciate the importance of involving others and managing the change process. So extrovertic has enlisted the help of a former colleague of mine, Susan Domotor, an expert in change management, to help extrovertic clients to successfully implement the change they seek to build their businesses.

According to Susan, studies show that business initiatives rolled out with less than adequate focus on the employee aspects of the change have about a 30 – 40% success rate” (Blanchard, IBM). As I found out in rolling out the Health Literacy Principles, this translates into significant amounts of wasted time and money.

Here are Susan’s top three recommendations for getting your colleagues to embrace the change you seek:

1. Create a strong business case – A business case helps people understand the importance of the change, conveys a sense of urgency for what you are trying to achieve, and generates a sense of ownership for a successful transition. A strong business case answers three questions: Why is the change necessary? What is the change? How will we achieve the change?

2. Ensure that Leadership is visibly engaged and is driving the change – Visible leadership support is critical for success and it cannot be delegated because employees will only commit to efforts that are driven by their leaders.

3. Develop a focused Communication Plan – An effective communication plan is critical to influencing employee behavior. The plan must create understanding for the initiative; provide employees opportunities to question, digest, and internalize the change; and as the initiative progresses, celebrate successes, share best practices, and capitalize on opportunities to highlight the performance and behavior that are valued in the new way of doing business. It is important to build the communication plan before kicking off your initiative. You can modify it along the way.

Change is being continually foisted on the pharmaceutical industry. Chances are that no matter what your job function, it now involves change. Whether it is to instill a new patient-centric mindset into your organization or to get your colleagues to embrace multichannel marketing for physician outreach.

Lucky for me (and patients struggling to understand health care information), my colleagues gave me a second chance. After the re-launch, over 95% of the patient pieces produced met the Pfizer Health Literacy Guidelines. But with a strong change management plan, you don’t have to count on being lucky, just being prepared.