Telling our people to be patient focused: Our biggest mistake in pharma?

Lady watering flowers patient centricity in pharma

How can pharmaceutical companies bring patient centricity to life for their people?

What’s one of the biggest mistakes we’re making in pharma? We’re telling our people to be patient focused (which is akin to telling them to be purpose-driven) but not helping them to figure out what that means to them. The common wisdom in the world is that you ‘find’ your purpose. This is the big myth of professional life. Purpose is built, not found. Likewise, for patient centricity.

The Aurora Project’s global ‘Patient-Centric Benchmarks Survey’ shows that there is an execution gap between saying we are patient centric (it’s all over our websites) and bringing it to life. Participants ranked their perception of the ‘Importance’ of their patient-focused mission as high (91% ranked it > 8/10) but their confidence in achieving it was low (30% felt confident they could achieve it). When it comes to teaching our people how to be patient focused, 78% said that their company doesn’t know how or is looking to figure this out.

“What is missing is helping people to take patient centricity off the wall and put it into their hearts and hands”

The missing link

What is missing is helping people to take patient centricity off the wall and put it into their hearts and hands. Making it part of the culture is the elusive holy grail. There has been an explosion in the literature illuminating the incredible impact of purpose-driven people, teams and organisations.

I’ve been talking and writing about patient centricity (our purpose in pharma) since before it was a term. After my father died from a prescribing error, I made it my life’s work to figure out how we, in pharma, can better collaborate inside and outside our organisations to create greater outcomes for all. I’ve interviewed hundreds of best-selling authors and pharma executives around the world. I’ve also written two books and created award-winning programmes on the topic. My research and experience show that igniting a purpose-driven culture is the missing ingredient to our success.

The why of work

So, what is culture? It’s the way an organisation thinks, acts and interacts. Leaders know that culture eats strategy for breakfast (the phrase made famous by Peter Drucker). And never before have they wanted a patient-focused culture more than they do now.

But how to get it? That’s the million-dollar question. In ‘Alive at Work’, Daniel Cable shares two key elements to help people to connect with their purpose.

  1. Help people witness how their work impacts others. This is easy for us in pharma where our work changes lives! Companies are starting to see the value in their efforts to:
  • Bring patients to the front of the room
  • Hang patient pictures and stories on the walls
  • Start meetings by talking about patient stories
  • Volunteer with patient groups
  • Create simulation exercises to try to experience how a patient feels.
  1. Help people develop their own story about the why of their work. They need to move beyond thinking of their work as a job or even a career, to thinking of their work as purposeful. This is powerful! After building their purpose, pharma professionals (in all departments) have told me that they feel more confident, enthusiastic and proud.

How do you achieve that type of impact? Attitude is one of the hardest things to change so while it’s not easy, it can be done. We’ve had great success with this recipe:

a) Start by sharing the evidence that the most successful pharma companies and pharma people are the ones who have figured out how to light the fire of a purpose-driven/patient-focused culture – and keep it lit.

b) Roll up your sleeves to connect with, articulate and communicate each person’s own purpose story in a way that fuels internal motivation and inspires external collaboration.

c) Finally, work together to identify the ‘so what?’ What do you need to start, stop and continue to do to live your patient-focused intentions?

Imagine if you could light the fire of purpose in each member of your team. Imagine a world where healthcare professionals and patients trust, admire and believe that pharma professionals care for them…

A world where pharma people are even more engaged and engaging, connected to the power of their purpose… A world where pharma people know how to help healthcare providers serve patients more effectively and exceed their business goals at the same time.


Jill Donahue is the creator of The Power of Purpose Masterclass, founded Excellerate and co-founded The Aurora Project. Go to

Read more about the 2018 Aurora Project Patient-Centric Benchmarks Survey’s results at