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Building a pharma behaviour change survival kit

Making strategy stick

Authored by Melissa Dagless, Global Head of Growth and Innovation, Uptake for PME Innovative Impact Blog.

In this article for Pharma Market Europe, Melissa explores the challenges of implementing and sustaining behaviour change in pharmaceutical organisations and shares her expert insights and recommendations to craft actionable strategies that can stand the test of time and thrive within a landscape that is constantly evolving.   

Melissa highlights the importance of embracing the dynamics of change, and shares the ‘Uptake five-step model of change’ as an effective process for weaving change into the organisational fabric whilst aligning incentives with long-term goals, sustaining strategic vision through measurement and encouraging cross-functional unity. 

Mastering behavioural change is a necessity for many of our clients, and represents some of their biggest challenges. Click through to start your journey of adaptation and transformation, an essential for survival in our dynamic industry. 

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Mastering behaviour change is a necessity but for many of our clients it represents some of their biggest challenges.

In our world, adaptation and transformation are essential for survival. Acknowledging the need for behaviour change is just the first step; the real challenge lies in mastering it – the process of turning recommendations into actionable strategies and then deploying them with skill.

Managed properly, ‘behaviour change’ should incentivise engagement and ensure your strategic visions become a reality. I often talk about this in terms of ‘stickiness’ – the ability to implement and embed for the long term rather than deliver a process that unravels and dissipates.

Inspiration can be drawn from various sources, including the McKinsey Influence Model, but the focus should remain on practical insights that resonate with colleagues in relevant business units and cross-functional roles. Personally, I believe that success requires a fusion of behavioural economics, practical experience and an understanding of people transformation.

Embracing the dynamics of behaviour change

It’s important to remember that change – especially large-scale change or change that feels uncomfortable or difficult – is rarely without hurdles to overcome.

The first tip for success is to look inward. What dynamics will you need to embrace as you navigate this behaviour change in your organisation? You have to be prepared to take a bespoke approach that leans into these; otherwise, you’ll be trying to push water uphill.

While developing your strategy, you will need to consider where the teams are in their journey, who the most influential stakeholders are and how you can contract with them, demonstrating ways that the intended change will lead to desirable impacts on them and their goals.

Weaving change into the organisational fabric

As we embrace this challenge, we look at our own ‘Uptake five-step model of change’. In a world where innovation is key, these steps can be adapted to drive change effectively:

Step 1: Identify the change driven by opportunity
Step 2: Engage for change via human-centric actions
Step 3: Activate the change via processes and capabilities
Step 4: Enable the change with digital technologies
Step 5: Anchor the change driven by results.

By looking at the rationale for the change, the actions we need to take to engage people, the processes and capabilities we need to develop, the technology we have to implement and the results-driven embedding required, I sincerely believe that deep behavioural change is possible, even within the most challenging of circumstances.

Incentives that drive ‘sticky’ change

Taking a deeper dive into Step 2 of the model above, we believe that behaviour change often hinges on the presence of the right human-centric incentives and the insights of behavioural economics can guide us here. Formally building ‘nudging’ into your actionable plan can gently steer employees towards desired behaviours and back to them if they start to stray.

Aligning incentives with long-term goals is also crucial. The principles of reciprocity and commitment, as outlined in Robert Cialdini’s work, offer valuable lessons. Recognition and rewards for employees who embrace change can create a positive feedback loop that keeps the momentum going over time.

Sustaining strategic vision

A well-crafted strategy is only as effective as its execution. To ensure that your strategy endures, Step 5 is arguably the most essential; the measurement and communication of results will be critical to moving from ‘this feels new and alien’ to ‘this is the way we do things’.

Regular monitoring and adjustments are equally vital. We like the ‘PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act)’ cycle, rooted in the principles of continuous improvement, to support a dynamic strategy that adapts to changing market conditions.

Practical application

Let’s ground these concepts in real-world scenarios. Imagine a pharmaceutical company looking to make the mighty shift from traditional multichannel communications to seamless omnichannel delivery. The first step is to identify the opportunity and then proceed by rallying its teams behind this transformative vision, emphasising a sense of urgency.

Utilising the Uptake five-step model of behaviour change, the company establishes a coalition of key players and communicates the need. Human-centric, short-term wins are defined and the organisation embraces principles from behavioural economics, incorporating subtle nudges and recognition programmes. Employees who embrace the new approach receive acknowledgement, inspiring others to follow suit.

Processes are built and launched while capability training is deployed to ensure the change can be activated successfully. Investments in technology are prioritised for streamlined enablement.

To ensure their strategy sticks, they prioritise a results-driven mindset. Clear objectives are set, and regular PDCA cycles ensure the strategy remains adaptable.

Why a ‘survival kit’?

Mastering behaviour change is a necessity, but for many of our clients, it represents some of their biggest challenges. Particularly within the largest and most complex of organisations, change can be thwarted by restructures, reprioritisation of goals and those who are change-resistant.

By gathering the methods described above into your ‘survival kit’, you will build a dynamic strategy with an actionable plan that enables agility, helping you drive meaningful and long-lasting transformation and thrive within a landscape that is constantly evolving.

References are available on request.

Contact us

Introducing Uptake’s Strategy and Behaviour Change Experts

Get in touch via to discuss how our healthcare consultants can work with you to make your strategies stick by successfully fostering behaviour change.

Melissa Dagless 

Global Head of Growth and Innovation – Partner

Cathy Nolan 

Practice Principal

Rachel Foley 

Senior Principal

Maxine Smith 

Managing Director