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How to Improve Internal Communications for Biotech Startups

By Sophie Foggin 12 May, 2020

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Biotech companies use live organisms, such as enzymes or bacteria, on their products in order to develop and manufacture drugs. As such, the mixture of clinical research and commercial manufacturing makes the industry particularly unique.

Unfortunately, because companies are experimenting with drugs that have never been developed before – and take years to perfect – the likelihood they might not reach approval from industry authorities means that biotech startups have a failure rate between 85 and 95%.

This overshadowing possibility of failure has meant that it has been historically difficult for biotech companies to gain consumer trust, a problem that has become especially apparent during the current global coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, skepticism of biotech companies – many of whom are currently involved in developing tests or vaccines to control the spread of COVID-19 – came to a head recently, when the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about biotech companies issuing fraudulent at-home test kits for the novel virus, without authorization.

With this in mind, it’s particularly important for biotech startups to ensure that they’re communicating within their teams to the best of their ability, in order to ensure their levels of internal productivity, and in turn transparency with consumers are as high as they can be. 

Biotech industry leaders, such as the multi-billion dollar biotech company Johnson & Johnson, which has successfully run a multinational team of now over 134,000 employees in 60 countries across the world since 1886, is exemplary when it comes to successful internal communication. 

Biotech startups can therefore look to these sorts of companies as models to learn how to apply an internal communication method to their startups that will work. In the meantime, here are some tips.

Internal segmentation 

Just as biotech startups would segment their external communication with customers – that’s to say, strategically target specific customer demographics with content marketing according to their preferences – they should do the same with their own internal staff. 

When it comes to external customers, segmenting them for marketing purposes will help biotech companies save time and, therefore, money. 

If biotech startups were to apply this same approach to their employees, they could reap similar benefits, especially in times of crisis. 

Variables such as demographics (age, gender and job type), psychographics (personalities, cultural interests, work styles and career focuses), behavior (media consumption, involvement in company activities) and hierarchical organizational structures can be used to divide up employees. 

In large biotech startups, such as Ginkgo Bioworks, where staff roles can often differ immensely – from clinical researchers to sales executives – employees are often a very different mix of demographics.

Based on these subcategories, management can develop a targeted internal biotech communication strategy that will prompt team members to be more responsive. Therefore, biotech startups with internally segmented communication processes will be more likely to deliver better results. 

Match external communications with internal communications

In order to maintain the trust and confidence of their employees at this unprecedented time, biotech startups must keep the same standard of professionalism across the messages they send out to their employees, as well as the ones they broadcast to their customers. 

Sending messages out to employees can be done via email, hangout, video messaging, team meetings, team training, company newsletters or even podcasts. 

On the other hand, biotech communication with customers takes place mostly via the company’s website, social media and press releases. It can also be audiovisual. 

This means that if a biotech partnership like the one U.S based telemed service Lemonaid has just made with diagnostics startup Scanwell, is sharing weekly videos on its website to communicate developments in their current project (an at-home test for COVID-19) with customers, the same strategy should be used among its employees. 

Identify weaknesses 

All companies can slip up. And poor internal communication in biotech startups can damage relationships between staff members, affect employees’ productivity and even cause problems with staff retention. 

A good way for biotech companies to identify any weaknesses in their internal communications strategy can be to request feedback from staff via a survey. This is especially important for startups, whose teams are often very small and respond well to these types of requests. 

Once managers receive this feedback, they can identify challenges to work on, glitches to iron out and areas to improve on. This means being flexible about the strategies they adopt in order to address them. 

Rank efficacy of communication channels 

By assessing their employees’ use of internal communication channels – platforms such as Slack, Stride or Microsoft Teams — managers can evaluate whether their team is getting the most out of the money they invest in these platforms.

With many biotech startup teams working remotely, which makes internal communication that bit more complicated, now is a good time for startups to reevaluate whether they are paying for a service that works best for their employees. 

If this money could be spent more wisely on a platform that employees would respond better to, startups should make the most of the opportunity to make the change.

Risk management multinational Willis Towers Watson have designed an employee experience feedback form specifically for early-stage biotech companies, an awesome resource for biotech startups looking to optimize internal communications.

The Takeaways

We all know not to judge a book by its cover, and if a biotech startup communicates in a professional manner with its external clients, this does not necessarily mean it does so in a similar way with its own employees. 

By taking a step back and reflecting on their own internal communication processes, and scrubbing these up to match the communication biotech startups have with their clients, biotech companies can ensure their response to the current global pandemic is as efficient as possible.


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