What's TRUST got to do with it?

Trustworthiness is certainly something that we think about a lot in pharma, but how crucial is it to our success?

Trust in pharma - or lack thereof - is headline news… again. Between Binley’s recent survey which found more than forty percent of U.K. doctors view the pharma industry negatively and the brouhaha over Turing Pharma’s 5000 percent price hike, we are under the spot light for all the wrong reasons.

Having just returned from eyeforpharma’s Patient Summit in Philadelphia this renewed negative attention on pharma is all the more dissonant. Why? Because at that meeting, I met intelligent, energetic and passionate pharma people who are completely focused on rebuilding pharma’s business model around our most important constituent—patients. People like this are the rule in pharma, not the exception.

All of us in pharma suffer however, from guilt by association. We wind up ‘owning’ every poor decision ever made by an untrustworthy colleague. And when the public criticizes our industry, of course, we take it personally.

Trustworthiness is certainly something that we think about a lot in pharma, but, how crucial is it to our success? Simply put, trustworthiness is everything. Tina Turner may have rightly asked the musical question: “What’s trust got to do, got to do with it?”

It is the foundation of our ability to engage and influence others. It is essential to our ability to bring our new medicines to patients. Trust is the fuel that powers our growth. Our ability to influence others begins with our trustworthiness.

Uh oh.

In fact, I was asked once to summarize everything I knew about influencing behavior change in pharma into 2 minutes and one slide. Here’s my response. 



The good news is that trust can be rebuilt. Fortunately for us, trustworthiness is not some mysterious, illusive quality that you either have or don’t have. It is something you can create. Like growing a forest, we can plant seeds and nurture them over time to grow trustworthiness. And if we are to conquer disease, we must.

As I thought about how we might rebuild trust, I remembered a pharma association committee meeting that John participated in, led by the CEO of AstraZeneca Canada. The committee had struggled with prioritizing its many tasks and had failed to deliver on a key objective. The CEO chose to handle the failure in a way that got John’s attention and respect.

Instead of playing the ‘blame game’, he said in a very disarming way: “Look folks, it doesn’t matter how we got here; I think we can do better.” Through his actions, he showed the group that he was willing to take ownership of the failure and inspired everyone on the team to reach deeper into their competencies to make it right the next time.

That’s where pharma is now with respect to earning trust; we need to own up to our past failures and own the process of growing trustworthiness.

Here is one key idea that may well be the first seed we need to plant. Think about this. Where do our interests intersect with our partners’? 

Clearly, the overlap between our interests and theirs are better patient outcomes! The key to building trustworthiness then is focusing on the patient. When they believe that you too are interested in better patient outcomes, that’s when a seat at the table will open up for you. Patient centricity is not just a moral imperative; it will also contribute to our sustainable future - our ability to create new medicines profitably.

The seed of focusing on better patient outcomes would grow into trust which will grow into engagement and finally profits. Of course, those profits will enable us to better focus on patient outcomes and the cycle continues.

So, what do we need to do? Empower our people, in all departments with the power of their purpose – and help them focus on better patient outcomes. Patient centricity should not live in just one department. It is so much more than simply patient engagement. It must spread to each of us and become a part of our DNA… our culture.

Anne Beal, Chief Patient Officer at Sanofi told me she is trying to put herself out of a job. When everyone in her company says “I am a soldier of the patient’s will,” she will know she has done her job. 

For example, imagine if…

  • We restructured our incentive programs so you could say to your partners: “I am measured and rewarded on better patient outcomes. When your patients win, so do I.”
  • The rally cry of your sales and marketing teams was “Let’s go save lives!” instead of “Let’s go sell drugs!”.
  • Your access team opened their meetings with payers by sharing their inspiration to help serve patients and society.

Would these ideas change the tone of the discussion and garner more trust, engagement and better outcomes? You bet!  

Help is on its way!

To help organizations take patient centricity to all their people, we are creating Poised for Growth: Pharma’s Patient-Focused Global Benchmarks Survey. This will help us share ideas and measure our movement toward growth through patient centricity.

If you would like to be involved on the ground level and advise us on the content of this survey, please email me here. Otherwise, watch for and complete the survey in Feb 2016. Results will be revealed at the eyeforpharma conferences in Barcelona and Philadelphia in March and May of 2016 and here in this column.

In the meantime, there are specific ways to build individual trustworthiness. If you would like to take the “Building Trustworthiness Self-Assessment” to gain more ideas to help reps build trustworthiness, just email me here.

We haven’t met, but I bet you are an intelligent, well-meaning, conscientious and dedicated person. The fact that you read this article says a lot. As a pharma professional, your work has the potential to truly make a difference to people’s lives. If we are honest with ourselves, we know there is still lots of work to be done to get us where we want to be on the trust side of the ledger. Focusing on better patient outcomes is one important seed to plant. Let’s get growing!

Jill Donahue and John Elliott are on a mission to help lift pharma - to build sales faster in a patient-focused way. They are the creators of the award-winning program EngageRx: The 3 Keys to Patient-focused Growth for pharma professionals. If you’re curious about EngageRx, you can receive a free module or their free teaching videos or connect with Jill and John on Linkedin or Jill on Twitter.

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