From The Editor | March 30, 2020

When Employees Become The Supply Chain: Leadership In A Pandemic


By Louis Garguilo, Chief Editor, Outsourced Pharma

Blocks People Connected Network

Your thoughts are often wound around the axle of your drug development and manufacture supply chain.

Now with the outbreak of the coronavirus, there seems no way to unwind.

So with your newly dispersed workforce.

Moreover, those employees have in effect become a part of your external supply chain.

As a group leader, manager, VP or CEO at a biotech or pharma company, how do you help them get through this time of uncertainty, and continue to perform at a high level?

Supply Chains Everywhere

First, think inside out: From what you are experiencing to discover what others are.

Work-related: You know it has never been easy, but with production stops and travel bans around the world, “supply chain” as a clean metaphoric meme has lost all its gloss. It’s now a sound of nightmarish implications for materials moving around the globe.

On the personal side: You have to make decisions such as, “Should my spouse and I go to the supermarket today?” You weigh the risks – geographic location, store size, trust of the establishment providing the products.

Once at the store you don’t think shopping; you envision product sources, orders fulfilled, sub-contractors and logistics. You eye the produce-stacker talking to the floor manager, then those two walking through the floor-to-ceiling swinging doors to confer with the dock foreman and truck driver delivering a new shipment of goods.

You become acutely aware of – because it’s so unnatural to a leader like you – people purposefully distancing themselves from each other.

Then thoughts turn back to your employees, your colleagues, and their families.

And right then and there you make a simple-sounding but impactful decision:

“I will start every phone conversation, every conference call, with this question: ‘How are you holding up?’”

Leaders should (a) demonstrate authentic concern to their newly dispersed workers, and (b) gain real insight into their status. This objective usurps the concern for running the most “productive” electronic meeting possible.

But in fact, it enables it.

Because we aren’t just working from separate locations: We are all working through the unknown, and many are now operating from the midst of our families.

3 Best Practices For Leaders

I’ve taken the following from a blog post by The Leadership Development Group (TLD Group), a global health-industry talent development consultancy. They canvassed experts around the world on navigating the challenges for leadership during times of crisis such as these with the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve edited and condensed this advice to present a narrowed focus for our Outsourced Pharma readers.

1. Decompression and Practicality

There are many unknowns for individuals regarding the impact the coronavirus will have on them, their families, and their communities.

Relieving the burden on others of having to predict the unknowable can help leaders to execute sound decision-making in the here-and-now. As leaders, we make decisions based on what we know, but adapt and adjust as new information comes in. Leaders remain focused on “the givens” to inform employees and colleagues what can be done to best prepare for what is at hand.

Practice “mindful leadership” and be fully present for others. Leaders can support employees that may be experiencing anxiety, and help guide them toward focus, clarity, creative problem solving, and action.

Carve out time for strategic thinking. Provide yourself and employees dedicated time to dive deeper on ‘how’ to approach a specific challenge, reach a point of comfortable preparedness, and complete associated tasks. This creates the space to decompress and reason through the matter at hand.

2. Clear Communication and Decisive Action

Crises are time-sensitive events. They require quick decisions and actions to reduce and contain the potential for harm. But in an absence of clear and consistent information about what actions will be taken, people are left to guess the probability of needing to take sole responsibility or manage tasks themselves.

Therefore, aim for quick and meaningful action. Organizational leaders should communicate how critical decisions will be made, and operationalized, in a time-sensitive matter.

Controversial and high-profile challenges such as COVID-19 typically attract review by corporate affairs, legal, risk management, and a host of other functions. If you find your organization bogged down by bureaucracy, ensure you have a small, trusted team with appropriate decision-making authority. Remind individuals refraining from or delaying action is also a form of response, with implications of its own.

To reduce rumors, be honest. It’s important to communicate what is known as well as what is unknown, uncertain, or hypothesized. Frequent, honest communication can reduce organizational rumors and needless anxiety.

3. Empathy and Community

Double down on your common purpose. A sense of shared purpose is a powerful uniting force.

Explicitly stating your company’s purpose, and committing to having the organization revolve around that purpose, has been demonstrated to increase employee engagement and organizational commitment during difficult times.

Encourage communities to support those most at risk. Encourage employees and community members to maintain a sense of rationality and “inclusive kindness,” and create plans to monitor the well being of those at risk. Take a detailed census of those most vulnerable. Ensure they have access to necessary resources, even resources such as extra groceries, to keep them secure – and able to perform.

As a leader, you have the ability to turn crisis into shared purpose.

Specific to Outsourced Pharma readers, as I’ve mentioned previously, this is also a time to take everything related to supply-chain risk under reconsideration.

But overall, take heart.