For Building Trust and Credibility in the Pharma Industry, Communications will always be Key

Transparent communications around the pharmaceutical industry’s commitment to putting patients first are more important than ever

Since being first founded as a traditional herbal medicine store in Japan in 1781 by Chobei Takeda, we have come a long way. Today, Takeda is the number one pharmaceutical company in Japan and among the top ten globally, spanning 80 countries, with a total workforce of over 50,000 team members. What hasn’t changed in almost 240 years is our commitment to the values of Integrity, Fairness, Honesty, and Perseverance. They have been in no minor measure key to our success. The value system we call Takeda-ism translates both internally and externally through a multi-channel communications approach. This has been at the heart of a thriving team culture and workplace environment, something we are truly grateful for in these trying times during the COVID-19 pandemic that has completely jolted the way we have worked classically.

In a business as large and diverse as Takeda’s is today, our communications function aided by a talented team and digital partnerships has been at our core and key to achieving our promise to patients. Our values can only be maintained through open dialogue with employees and partners, without which we would be unable to meet the needs of our patients.

Whether research and development, sales and marketing, product pricing, finance, or compliance, we need effective communication. However, the industry is plagued by misconceptions around pricings, costs, or even marketing at a general level, and our efforts are often taken with a grain of salt. While some of these concerns are understandable, as an industry that fundamentally saves lives, it is time to work towards a collective rectification of such a perception. There needs to be a more concerted effort industry-wide to establish trust in the work that we do and how we communicate it.

At the heart of restoring consumer trust in the pharma industry is a need for transparent communications. Starting from sharing critical information on a timely basis with stakeholders on everything from the drug development process to sales and marketing efforts, it is paramount that, as an industry, we openly communicate our actions and manage expectations internally and externally. For example, many patients may be unaware of the significant investments at the research and development level required to create specialized treatments, such as orphan drugs for rare diseases. Many a time, it is a lack of support of a more comprehensive diagnosis or pricing system or logistics infrastructure that pushes the costs of treatment to the point that might seem disproportionate; it is therefore always essential to consider a multifactorial point of view when discussing patient benefits or treatment outcomes. To ensure open and transparent communications in this regard, I must highlight that values will be a crucial differentiator once again.

At Takeda, we are committed to ensuring that values are part of our organizational culture. Our employees feel empowered in their work to support patients and broader communities. It’s simple, really – we are structuring everything we do around the mantra of “Patient, Trust, Reputation, Business.” This allows us to approve projects that truly help patients. As Head of Communications for the Area, I can tell you that overseeing the function across a geography as diverse as ICMEA comes with its own set of challenges. From culture to culture, and person to person, how customers, staff, and stakeholders approach communications are wildly different.

ICMEA covers 38 countries, spanning Africa to Asia, from the world’s oldest civilizations, such as Egypt and India, to some of the youngest, like the UAE; there is considerable contrast between languages, religions, and cultures between offices. There are also significant differences between country size, population, and GDP.

Depending on cultural norms, some may prefer more direct forms of communication, while others may not feel comfortable expressing themselves in open forums. As a global organization, we work to ensure a balance between an environment where local customs are respected and, simultaneously, where staff and stakeholders can express themselves openly. It is the role of the communications function to ensure all staff has access to the relevant information, platforms, and guidelines to make that possible. With around 1,000 employees representing over 25 nationalities, I would like to believe that our diversity and inclusive policies give us a unique edge.

We actively encourage all our employees to adopt these attitudes and behaviors in the spirit of meaningful collaboration. However, we also understand that creating an environment in which everyone feels mutually respected requires a genuinely diverse workforce. As such, this is a core imperative in our recruitment process. We continually strive to create a workplace as diverse as the patients we serve and are committed to embracing our differences and valuing different perspectives.

In an area as complex and diverse as ours, our communication is shaped by many factors, including culture. Anthropologist Kevin Avruch explains the importance of culture ‘your own culture provides the “lens” through which you view the world; the “logic”… by which we order it; the “grammar” … by which it makes sense.’

In other words, culture is central to what we see, how we make sense of what we see, and how we express ourselves. That is why I frequently remind myself and the team of Axner’s six fundamental patterns of cultural differences. They point out some of the frequent causes of cross-cultural communication difficulties. Next time you find yourself in a confusing situation and you suspect that cross-cultural differences are at play, try reviewing this list. Ask yourself how culture may be shaping your reactions, and try to see the world from others’ points of view.

1.Different communication styles
The way people communicate varies widely between and even within cultures. One aspect of communication style is language usage. Across cultures, some words and phrases are used in different ways. For example, even in countries that share the English language, the meaning of “yes” varies from “maybe, I’ll consider it” to “definitely so,” with many shades in between.

2.Different Attitudes Toward Conflict
Some cultures view conflict as a positive thing, while others view it as something to be avoided. While conflict is not usually desirable, people are often encouraged to deal directly with conflicts that do arise. Face-to-face meetings customarily are recommended as the way to work through whatever problems exist. In contrast, in many Eastern countries, open conflict is experienced as embarrassing or demeaning; as a rule, differences are best worked out quietly. A written exchange might be the favored means to address the conflict.

3.Different Approaches to Completing Tasks
From culture to culture, there are different ways that people move toward completing tasks. Some reasons include additional access to resources, different judgments of the rewards associated with task completion, different notions of time, and varied ideas about how relationship-building and task-oriented work should go together.

4.Different Decision-Making Styles
The roles individuals play in decision-making vary widely from culture to culture. Be aware that their cultural frame of reference may influence individuals’ expectations about their own roles in shaping a decision.

5.Different Attitudes Toward Disclosure
Questions that may seem natural to you — What was the conflict about? What was your role in the conflict? What was the sequence of events? — may seem intrusive to others. The variation among cultures in attitudes toward disclosure is also something to consider before concluding that you have an accurate reading of the people’s views, experiences, and goals with whom you are working.

6.Different Approaches to Knowing
Notable differences occur among cultural groups when it comes to epistemologies — that is, how people come to know things. Some members of your group may want to do library research to understand a shared problem better and identify possible solutions. Others may prefer to visit places and people who have experienced challenges like those you face and get a feeling for what has worked elsewhere.

As Takeda continues to grow, we will be looking for entrepreneurial, agile, and collaborative individuals inspired by our mission who want to work across regions, business units, and functions. Most importantly, they will need to share our values of inclusiveness and diversity, supporting our vision to create better health and a brighter future for people worldwide through leading innovation in medicine. To us, it’s incredibly motivating, and we’re looking for like-minded professionals to join us and to bring their experiences and wide-ranging experiences to our fold.

At the heart of these efforts, we remain committed to building meaningful, collaborative relationships with regulators, physicians, patients, and all partners and stakeholders involved in our daily work. By upholding high levels of transparency and providing accurate information wherever required, our mission is to ensure that Takeda is always a trusted medical partner for patients, now and into the future. By embracing the advantages that increased diversity has to offer, we put ourselves in the best possible position to represent our patients around the globe – this is a core component of the new Takeda and essential for continued growth and impact.

About the author

Ismail Al-Ghussein

Ismail Al-Ghussein

Takeda, Head of Communications, ICMEA

Ismail comes from an extensive communications and public affairs background, with almost two decades of experience in both corporate and brand PR. He consulted for Google, Apple, Pfizer, and Nissan, to name a few, during his years at Ketchum and has been awarded multiple times, both regionally and globally, from esteemed institutions such as Sabre, Lynx, and MEPRA, in the field(s) of integrated communications. Shortly after his agency years, he led the entire communications suite for Kraft Foods, now Mondelez International, handling big brands such as Oreo, Cadbury, Milka, and Tang, inducing crisis management and stakeholder outreach. In PMI, he led the illicit trade prevention regional efforts and paved the way for the company's reduced-risk alternatives. He now heads the Communications department for Takeda in India, Commonwealth of Independent States, Ukraine, Turkey, Middle, and Africa (ICMEA),  responsible for the development, integration, and implementation of a broad range of communications activities relative to the strategic direction and positioning of the organization and its leadership.

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