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A colleague working in a large MNC, who was few years senior to me when I started, once told me this. “I was about 18 years of age when I joined as medical representative. I had a rather large territory, and I traveled a lot with several night stays. My expense statement was bigger than most and I earned almost 1800 rupees a month. Earning 1800 at 18 was fantastic”. In the early 1970s, this amount of money was large by any standard. The gentleman kept rising through the ranks and retired as head of commercial in a national organization. This was not an isolated success story; it was rather expected.
Pharma industry made careers of hundreds of people in every department, though career growth was faster in sales and marketing compared to production and office-based jobs. Majority grew in knowledge, in status, in prosperity, in personal and professional development, in fulfilment, and happiness. This process continued well into 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, slowed down in 2010s, and appears to have reversed presently. Pharma industry is now a killing field where careers are destroyed in a jiffy, and the stress is so high that people are dying young. I see so many posts of young pharma middle managers dying of heart attack, or accidents. The road accidents are a result of stress distraction, rather than rash driving.
What changed over time? Why did the thriving careers wilt and die over time? Why are so many senior professionals desperately trying to save their jobs? Or worse still, trying to find jobs?
Three parties have contributed to this development, or should we say deterioration?
The pharma companies took it upon themselves to build careers of people they hired. They started from initial training which had to be qualified to get the job. Once on the job, there would always be some kind of training going on. Each employee was under observation. If someone did not perform well, he was not fired outrightly. Rather, he was subjected to discussions and plans and reviews to improve performance; most people improved.
The hiring was almost always done at the entry level, and then they were groomed and developed to take up higher and higher positions. Lateral hiring was seriously discouraged in line jobs, it could be in some other jobs where people could join laterally. The staff knew their future was secure and promising, and if they worked good enough, they would keep growing. So many of my colleagues, and myself went through this process. We were developed, exposed to newer responsibilities, trained, and mentored and we reached the top in a reasonable timeframe.
Taking people from entry level and developing them made them align with the company culture and objectives. The styles of management also matched in several respects though individual variations remained. MNCs were not angels, but they generally followed merit in these matters. Then some people creeped into the system somehow and things went haywire.
Presently, the companies have stopped or greatly curtailed the training process. Their stance is that it is the individual’s responsibility to develop herself/himself. Some literature from the West is also promoting this concept, but the majority still supports mentoring, grooming, and training.
The merit has been redefined; it is the performance of today. Capability has been redefined as the ability to keep good relations with the powers-to-be.
Managers played a key role in building people, retaining them, guiding them, developing them, and making their careers. They were the readily available mentors who took it upon themselves to develop their team members, without ulterior motive, and without prejudice. Couple of days back, I was reading an article in INSEAD Knowledge (https://knowledge.insead.edu/career/beyond-salary-and-benefits-why-career-conversations-matter) and it talked about a manager, Claude, who was fantastic at mentoring and helped people working with him grow in the right direction and make great, fulfilling careers. All managers were not exactly of the same mold, but this was the common running theme. There were wide variations in how they did it, some were hard task masters, some were very polite and soft, and there were many shades in between. But most of them worked on their teams and developed them. My own growth, like my many other contemporaries, is in large part due to the input of such great managers.
Presently, the managers have stopped doing people development, presumably due to three reasons.
One, a large majority of managers do not know how to coach and develop their teammates. They would use many tactics to run the team, but team development is not among them. They never went through this process and are unaware of its mechanics and benefits.
Two, an even larger number is insecure. They deliberately keep the team members undeveloped so that any of them may not displace them and take their position. They might have done the same thing in their time or might have seen it happening to someone they knew. They go a step further and hire compromised staff who would never stand up to them.
Three, the largest number of managers are totally focused on results. They are not interested in the quality of work or the process; they only need results no matter how these come. This is not just ubiquitous in sales and marketing but is equally present in all other departments.
In the environment shown above, careers are ruined, not made.
Gone are the days when pharmaceutical sales job was considered a good profession to choose. It was decent and well-paying and offered good growth opportunities. Then other brighter opportunities like mobile companies and new banks and digital space came up, and a lot of talent was diverted towards those. Pharma jobs also lost much of their shine and stopped attracting better talent. Education changed and students did not opt for science graduation; they went for business or commerce. The overall quality went down considerably. The top few companies are still able to attract good stuff, but smaller ones have serious problem.
Besides proper pharma companies, a large number of marketing companies, ‘franchisers’, and nutritional products companies came into field. They had a different style of work and they preferably hired lesser quality staff.
It is true that development is a two-way street. The managers should give training and the staff should receive and accept it. There is serious lacking on the recipients side also. They do not know the fine line between salesmanship and conmanship; they don’t know the joy of artful selling; and they don’t know how to build respectable relations; and they do not want to know.
The staff is also responsible for the career slide.
Pharmaceutical industry is an ever-growing industry for several reasons: it is population-based which is increasing fast, diseases are increasing, new treatments are coming in, healthcare facilities are expanding, and health awareness is on the rise. It is still a great industry to make a career, however, planning, execution, and meticulous effort is required. Self-development must be on the agenda at all times and all levels, and the objectives shall be achieved.
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