Dear Colleagues!  This is Asrar Qureshi’s Blog Post #842 for Pharma Veterans. Pharma Veterans aims to share knowledge and wisdom from Veterans for the benefit of Community at large. Pharma Veterans Blog is published by Asrar Qureshi on WordPress, the top blog site. Please email to for publishing your contributions here.

Photo Credit: Thirdman

James Heskett is UPS Foundation Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School. He is a regular contributor to HBS Working Knowledge, and his articles are always deeply thought provoking. Primary thought for this post comes from his August 2023 article titled ‘As Leaders, Why Do We Continue to Reward A, While Hoping for B?’. (Link at the end). His article focuses on corporates, which I shall take up in this post with particular reference to the working in Pharma Industry.

I am going to show here that the industry and businesses are focused on short term results, which is become even shorter, but expect long term improvements and developments. This may also be seen in the perspective of large-scale failures of ‘change initiatives’.

Work Design

The working is all too familiar in Pharma Industry, for those who work here. Other businesses and industries follow the same. The planning used to be for five years at one time. Then they said the world was too dynamic and five years was too long, so let us bring it down to three years. Even after this, the focus is on the current year and the decisions are taken without regard to the three-year plan. In addition, there are monthly, quarterly and half yearly plans which are derived from the annual plan and updated as required.

The corporate work is always divided into strategic work and operational work. Operational work is the day-to-day activity and takes up most of the time. It is necessary to run the organization affairs smoothly. Parallel to this, longer term work is also going on which may be related to development, redoing, new projects and so on.

Talking specifically of pharma industry, the operational work is present business, and it takes almost all the time. Business is the lifeline, and it involves all functions of the corporate. Supply chain arranges materials, production produces the products, distribution makes it available in the market, marketing promotes it, sales sells it, finance collects money, and HR arranges people as per requirement; it is a team effort. You can imagine that this is a huge effort, and it takes almost all the time and energy.

The division of responsibilities between staff tiers also determines the work timeline. Senior management is supposed to be doing both strategic and operational work while junior management is required to do the operational work only.

This is one part of the dilemma that there is. The entire work design is focused on today, this week and maybe this month, and it involves the entire organization. Who will bring long term changes, and how?

Reward System

Most, if not all, financial rewards are for short term results. The incentives given to sales teams are for the month now. And many companies disburse the earned incentives on monthly basis. In fact, they offer it as part of the monthly compensation package. Previously, the incentives were given on a quarterly basis. It offered some advantage also because the salespeople had a three-month window to achieve quarterly target; if they could not achieve in one month, they could make it up in the next month. The corporate considered it disadvantage because salespeople’s performance fluctuated but they still managed to earn incentives. Secondly, the compensation packages of salespeople did not keep pace with the inflation, and therefore incentive income was added to make these attractive. Thirdly, the wait became too long for the salespeople who had achieved target and were eligible for incentive. First, they waited for the quarter to close, then they waited for the office to make calculations, and then for finance to make payments. It took 5-6 months to see the money coming. Fourthly, companies decided to add more money to incentive scheme rather than to fixed income like salary and working allowances. Incentive was related to business and did not hurt.

Financial rewards for long term projects are few and far between. People who work on plant upgrades and expansion, change initiatives, ERP installations etc were not considered for incentives because these ran over months and years, and cost heavily already. Adding incentives would escalate further. Secondly, long term projects were directly led by senior managers, and though senior managers in marketing and sales are now part of incentive policy as opposed to the past, others are still not eligible.

The bottom line is that almost all rewards, financial and otherwise, are for short term performance. With such a focus, motivating people to think and do long term should not be expected.


There is an increasing emphasis on individual performance, people are urged to worry about their own performance, not of the team. Ironically, the talk of ‘teamwork’ is also done regularly. Training programs are run to promote and build teamwork attitude, consultants are engaged to take teams to outdoor locations and subject them to various games and activities aimed at teamwork. Back home, only individual performance is in focus day in day out.

Actions speak louder than the words. The actions have been encouraging and promoting individualism for quite some time. Individual performance is sharply focused on short term while team performance may have a margin for long term also.


For several years now, the turnover in pharma industry is very high. Though it is the highest among salespeople, other departments are also experiencing it albeit to a lesser degree. In this environment of short-term careers, entire corporate focus has shifted to achieving ‘today’ rather than ‘tomorrow’.

Sum Up

The change in thinking is universal, and everyone is doing things, rewarding, getting rewarded for short term work. The long term physical projects may still be running, but greater and deeper shifts are not being practiced in Pakistan. We are different from the developed countries who are still maintaining a balance between both. Our entire focus on short term is ubiquitous here, from the governments to institutions, to corporates, to individuals. If we still hope that we shall be able to do and achieve long term things, we are not aligned with the reality.


Disclaimer: Most pictures in these blogs are taken from Google Images and Pexels. Credit is given where known; some do not show copyright ownership. However, if a claim is lodged at any stage, we shall either mention the ownership clearly, or remove the picture with suitable regrets.


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