Too Much…

I think a lot about what we do. Occasionally I worry that I think too much about what we do…but I just put this on the list of stuff that I don’t worry about. It always seems a good idea to have a long list of things I don’t worry about.

But I do think a lot about what we do. What we could do. How we could do better. Who we could work with more. What we could do together…and how to make these things happen. Or at least how to increase the probability that good and exciting things will happen.

I always have a simple goal in mind when I think. I have to identify actions I can take, or ideas I can suggest for actions we could take. I often suggest – rather than take – actions because although I know what I know…and I also know also how much I don’t know. My view of opportunities or situations is only based on my experiences, beliefs, values, training. My views are not right. They are just what I see.

Overall this helps me understand why I enjoy – and benefit – so much from discussions with others about what we do, have done and could do. Other people have different views from me. Other people have different experiences, beliefs and roles. In our organisation or not. And so I create and seek out opportunities to interact with others. I ask questions on topics I am thinking about. I listen closely to what people say and what they ask. I look for differences rather than similarities. I seek to understand.

Most of my emails finish with the same expression – what do you think? Yes it’s a habit, but yes it’s because I want to know and I want to understand what you think and why? I love to compare and contrast. My views to others. Sometimes this is open – I share my views. Other times I just listen and take on board and consider more…I give myself more time.

I was in the UK all last week and I listened to lots of people. One to one; in groups; in rooms; in restaurants; over coffee; over the phone; whilst walking, sitting, driving and even whilst exercising. I learned a great deal. I thought about us and about our partners. About our teams and our individuals. About people leaving and people starting. About value and about risk. I was delighted and amazed by how much I learned.

And I changed my mind…more precisely I changed my mind about what I wanted to try to influence and how. I changed my view and I have changed my actions. I am even more confident that we will achieve what I believe is possible…and more.

My most striking conversation was over dinner one evening. I sat down to eat absolutely certain that I knew how we were encouraging and rewarding a specific behavior. Over dinner I heard that my assumptions and my beliefs were wrong. I was amazed. I am still trying to understand what and why. I need to understand in order to work out what to do next.

It’s just one example. Once I understand I can work to try to influence.

Success is always a combination of strategy – what we want to do – and culture – how things are done around here. No matter how inspiring our strategy may be…we have to take account of – and work with – our culture…how things are done around here. It’s an old lesson, but one I keep learning.

Last week it was an enjoyable lesson…a lesson learned from people who inspire me.



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Father’s Thoughts…

Today is Father’s Day in the UK. And in the USA. And in many other countries. Not every country…but many. There is more consistency about Father’s Day than Mother’s Day. I don’t understand the inconsistency on Mother’s Day. But at least most countries celebrate both days.

I am a very proud father and a very happy father. When I look at my children I find myself remembering and wondering. I remember what they were like and what we did together. I wonder what else they will do and what else they will achieve. And I only ever smile. At both sets of thoughts. The past and the future. Perhaps that’s what pride is? How you feel in those moments. How those thoughts make you feel. The depth and strength of those feelings. Or is it love?

Sometimes I find myself wondering what my father thinks and what he feels when he looks at me, or my brother or my sisters, or our children. Sometimes I wonder if I should ask him. But I don’t need to. I know. Not everything needs to be said.

But I do tell him; and not just on Father’s Day and not just by a card. I don’t buy him gifts any more – he doesn’t need any more ties or cufflinks – but I do tell him. I tell him that I love him and that I am proud of him…and that I know.

And I see myself in my children. More specifically I see myself in things my children do that amaze me and inspire me. And yes, this is one of the prerogatives of being the father.

I have always tried to encourage my children to make positive decisions…to follow their hearts and their heads. Our education system involves lots of choices – courses, subjects, locations – decide what you enjoy most…what inspires you most…and use those decisions to make your choices. Ask opinion and seek advice wherever possible – from people who know you and love you – but make your own choices.

And even now I can hear these same words coming from my father. The self-same encouragement he gave me as I was making education and career and life choices. And his focus was always on encouragement and never on advice. He knew I had more than enough advice from other sources. Advice from teachers…teachers who told me – including my school chemistry teacher – that choosing chemistry to study at University would be the worst decision I could ever make.

And yet everything I have done and everyone I met – including the person I fell in love with, married, and became a father with – everything I have done, or contributed to, or had influence on…came from that decision. And other comparable key decisions and moments in my life and my career. Choices made based on what I enjoy, what inspires me and who inspire me.

Of course, not everything worked out quite as well as we would have hoped. Stuff happens…or does not happen. It always does. But that feeling of positive choice is such a good starting point.

I want to be important to my children; but more than that, I want to be there for them…to be there when they need me. To encourage them when they need encouragement; to advise them if they want advice; to hold their hand when they need a hand. For them to know I am with them and am there for them, as they make their own choices…in their own lives.

My children amaze me and they inspire me. I love being a father today. I love being a father every day.



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Meeting Talent…

The key to our success? It’s the people. It sounds so obvious…but it is true? It sounds like something every company would say…but it is true? It sounds like something we would like to believe…but is it true?

It has to be true. It can’t not be true. Any team, group or organisation is only truly defined by the people who work there…as individuals and as a collective. Our people are the one true uniqueness of our company. The question is not whether people are the key to our success. The real question is whether leaders behave as if we believe our people are the key to our success…and whether people in an organisation feel they are treated as the key to our success.

Last week was my meeting of the year. The meeting I am most engaged by and most excited about. The most enjoyable. The most tiring. The hardest work. The best outcome. Last week was our annual talent and succession planning meeting – a formal review that only happens once a year. The good news is that I am involved in many more frequent discussions about our people, their talents and our opportunities…but we only have this formal review once a year.

A great deal of high quality preparation happens in advance of our meeting. Unfortunately it is not possible for us to spend time on everyone in our organisation in this one meeting. But in advance of last week’s meeting, all groups and teams carry out their own detailed reviews…and we arrived at last week’s meeting well prepared and well supported.

My introduction was brief. I wanted to emphasise the link of our people to our business and of our business to our people. I wanted to highlight how important our talent has been, is and will be to our success…and how important providing opportunity to our people is to our success.

In preparing my slides, I pulled up a picture of my team from this meeting last year…and looked at the comparable picture today. So much change! New members. People who have left. People with new roles or changed roles. So much talent. So much opportunity.

I was once asked – on the very day I took on a new leadership role – what I saw as being my legacy. The question came from my (then) new boss…so I had to be cautious about my answer. My legacy? What did I know about my legacy? It was my first day. How on earth could he be asking about how I would be remembered when I left!

I had no opportunity to prepare. But I had to say something. He was standing in my office doorway…waiting. I couldn’t play for time. “The people” I said, “the people I work with, I recruit and partner with”. He paused. I sweated. He smiled. “That’s great” he said. I breathed again.

It has to be true. It was an instinctive reply at the time. But it is true. When I moved on from that particular role, things changed very quickly – science, focus, projects, responsibilities, teams – but the people were still the same. Amazing people I had opportunity to work with and learn from.

And even now I can’t help but smile when I hear about people…anybody I have had the pleasure and opportunity to work closely with. Not that their success and happiness is anything to do with me. It can only ever be everything to do with them – who they are, how they believe and what they do.

The key to our success? It is the people. It can only ever be our people.



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Special Days…

I had a busy week last week. I visited two partner companies – one current and one potential; one in the US and one in the UK. I was in planes, trains and automobiles at various times of the week. But I was at home all day Thursday; Thursday was my son’s eighteenth birthday…I couldn’t miss that day.

I met many people during my week; many excellent discussions and interactions. We spoke work and industry. We spoke about current work together and about opportunity for future work together. We spoke about our families and our children. We spoke about birthdays. It was a long week; lots of transfers and waiting for connections. It was an exciting week…a week full of opportunity. Thursday was a special day. One of those most special days. Thursday was an amazing day…a day in a life full of opportunity.

My company meetings were engaging and intriguing…but in very different ways. With a partner we already have opportunity to work with, my discussions tend to be more about existing work…time lines, priorities, communications, new potential projects, relationships, new capabilities, new and existing science, and people. In effect, a discussion about vision, objectives and strategy. Oh yes, an inevitably there tends to be discussion about money as well.

With a potential partner, my discussions tend to focus more on the vision – alignment of vision and strategy – as well as relationships, capabilities, science and people. And yes, money will always come into those discussions as well.

I always enjoy both sets of discussions. Seeking out how we can better work with – and help – an existing partner….seeking out how we can start to work together with a new potential partner. The science is always stimulating – the similarities and the differences. Those moments of wow…I didn’t know you could do that…from both sides. Vision and strategy can be engaging. But vision has to be inspiring. Strategy has to deliver confidence…strategy that makes the vision achievable.

Vision can change. What we see is defined by where we are and what is happening around us. Vision for an organisation or a relationship can change as well…for example new people joining a project will ‘see things differently’ from existing members. It’s why changing team members can be both a challenge (lost knowledge and experience) and an opportunity (new expertise and experience).

So discussion about a shared vision and discussion about how together we can help ensure that vision is achieved (and maybe exceeded) are always engaging. And I always learn. I always sit on the plane, or in the car, or on the train, or in my office, and think about what we said, where we agreed, where we were different. What it means and what it could mean.

And I also find myself getting excited about the business components of our partnerships. It is all part and parcel of the win-win solutions that are essential for a successful relationship. And I long since realised that both partners have to agree that a particular solution is a win for them. Both partners can and do have their own specific business objectives…but real success is a partnership where both groups working together find themselves achieving more than either thought possible when the partnership started. Vision, objects and strategy are all very important to help make this success possible. Relationships, communications and people are essential.

Which is why I was there in person for both sets of meetings. It was a great week. A memorable week.

But Thursday is the day I will always remember. Just like I remember my daughter’s eighteenth birthday. Special days. Special people.



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Legal Aid…

I met with my lawyers this week whilst at work in the UK. That’s not as worrying a statement as it would have been when I worked in big Pharma. It’s another intrinsic difference between CROs and big Pharma. I can’t actually remember ever meeting with a lawyer in big Pharma and yet I interact all the time with my lawyers today. It’s a different business. We do contract research. We have contracts with everyone and contracts inevitably involve lawyers.

Like everyone else I work with today, our lawyers are experienced, passionate and focussed…but they are also engaging, inspiring and enjoyable. Certainly that’s how I feel when I work with them…that’s how I felt after my legal meetings last week.

Whenever we meet, there are always situations and opportunities that we need to discuss. People, projects and partner companies…countries, complexities and complications. Laws are different in different countries. People are similar. Opportunities big or small can appear anywhere…as do problems. Good or bad, simple or complex, we need to be able to respond quickly and efficiently. We need good lawyers. We have great lawyers.

I was relieved that my legal meetings this week were routine. It was an opportunity for us to meet in person rather than by telephone. It allowed us to talk longer and in more detail across a wider range of topics…engaging and enjoyable!

It was also opportunity for me to learn and understand more. Both of which I always enjoy. About people and about experiences and about me…about strategies and ideas we are contemplating or considering. It’s an opportunity to get a different perception, to hear different views and to listen to different opinions…inspiring and enjoyable!

I am always interested in learning from other companies and other industries. The analogies and similarities can sometimes be tangential, but are so often helpful. Teamwork, strategy, culture, objectives, reward, incentives, leadership, marketing, commercialisation, business development. The list goes on and on. All themes that underpin so many industries…from sports to arts…through coffee and airlines…to law.

The story that engaged and helped me most from my legal discussions this week was how legal firms seek to win work – especially big legal firms and in particular large packages of work. This interested me as much as it surprised me. The relevance was immediately apparent, but I realised that I had never thought about how lawyers win work. OK – maybe not such a surprise then…

We were discussing the various ways our legal team could directly help influence our business strategy and success, in addition to their ownership of implementation of all legal matters. My lawyers asked how we best win opportunity to work with our partner companies. I guessed immediately that this was a leading question. I went ‘open and generic’ with my first response. I wasn’t sure if I was about to be told off or encouraged.

The truth was neither. In the subsequent discussion I learned about lawyers and the business of law. And I rapidly (but not immediately) recognised the analogies to our industry that were being deftly highlighted to me. All legal firms – big legal firms – have the capabilities and capacities necessary to advance and win most any legal case. So how do they differentiate? How do they win work?

They sell themselves. They market individuals. They market their lawyers…their individual and collective experience and expertise. The lawyers you meet when you are looking to award a legal contract are the individuals you will work with.

This makes sense – the one true uniqueness of an organisation are the individuals working in that organisation

It is the people. It is the relationships.



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Opinions Offered…

I was UK based this week. I visited a partner company Monday and Tuesday and worked as normal rest of the week. I managed to have dinner with friends who I work with on both Monday and Tuesday evenings. Both dinners and the visit were engaging and thought provoking…as well as enjoyable and fun.

We talked work and family. Leadership and followership. Science and strategy. Europe and America. We managed to avoid sport. We laughed and I learned.

At both dinners I found myself offering an opinion. It’s a subtlety (of value to me at least) but I differentiate offering opinions from offering advice. My opinions are what I think or believe (today…they can and do change)…if anyone takes heed of my opinion I am flattered and delighted. Offering advice always sounds more like giving direction or guidance…recommending a course of action.

All we can do…in whatever role we have…is to always do the best we can do.

I know. It sounds obvious. When would any of us ever not do the best we can do? When we are worrying too much about what other people want, or expect, us to do.

I find myself with decisions to make or actions to take, all the time. We all do. I have to do the right thing for the right reasons. If I find myself wondering what others may want me to do, or whether others will be happy, impressed or disappointed then I am less likely to do the best I can do.

The first choice I have to make is whether this is a decision I can make alone. Do I have enough information and experience…or do I need to involve others. Even if it is my decision to make – my responsibility – there is nothing wrong (and everything good) with me seeking additional insights or opinions. There are so often facts of which I am unaware, or aspects I have not seen. It is so easy and always so helpful to involve others. And of course involving others is an excellent way of finding out what they would…so much easier than worrying or guessing. And then it is time to decide and time to act.

Which lead to my second belief – that it is essential to learn from every decision we make and action we take.

I know, again…it sounds obvious. But I do it all the time. Alone or with others. What did I want, or expect, to happen? What did happen? Why (or why not)? And what will I do differently next time. It is an analysis loop that can take seconds or minutes or even hours. It is how I try to grow and how I try to improve. It can be formal or informal. I always find it thought provoking and engaging. Almost addictive.

And I know it works for me. When I look back at decisions I made or actions I took some time ago – decisions that I know at that time were the best possible – I am always surprised, often amazed and sometime embarrassed. What was I thinking? Sometimes the outcome will have been so much better than we dared to expect. Other times not as good. But this is why identifying and taking the learning is so important. This is what growth looks like.

Offering these opinions over dinner gave me opportunity to learn from my friends. I gave them examples about me – my decisions and my learnings – but in situations they both knew. Both listened and neither laughed (much). Both then told me what they thought. And I immediately learned even more.



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Back Home…

My back seized up on Friday night. It was pretty strange really…as well as being very uncomfortable. It was classic lower back pain – muscles tightening to protect my spine. I was fine on Friday morning. And Friday afternoon. In fact I had been fine all week…I couldn’t even identify the moment that caused the problem.

I had been in the US mid-west since Monday. I flew through Chicago. I always fly through Chicago. I’ve never had a simple journey through Chicago…but still I fly via O’Hare. One day I will have to try a different route. Just like one day I will actually go into Chicago rather than just passing through the airport. I am sure the city is amazing. It always looks amazing from the air.

Nothing untoward ‘back-wise’ all week. OK – lots of sitting (planes, cars, airports, offices, restaurants); lots of walking (airports, offices); and lots of exercise (24-7 fitness centre, jetlag). No obvious challenge to my lower back – or at least no more than any other week.

But there I was, Friday night, home again. Looking forward to a relaxing weekend, knowing – as I sat on the sofa – that I was already in trouble. I have had the same problem before. Although not for some four years. Four years ago, I knew exactly what happened and when. To the moment. This time…nothing.

It had been a great week. I arrived Monday and left Thursday. I met lots of people; did lots of work; had (and heard) some great discussions; left with more ideas and better options than I arrived with. I met old friends and made new friends. Worked up plans. Solved problems. Saw opportunities. Laughed. Enjoyed. Missed.

But no problem with my back. Nothing. No tweaks. No aches. No challenge. No nothing. And yet there I was. Friday night. Contorted and confused. The weekend was supposed to be fun-filled and family focused. Yet I was feeling immobile and self-centred.

Some good news? I still had a stretching exercise fact-sheet from 4 years ago. Lots of lying on the floor. Lots of amusement for the family. Little relief.

It was strange how I felt. Classic change/response theory. Denial – no…it can’t be true. I don’t believe it. I didn’t do anything unusual so it can’t be true. Anger – must have been that plane. Or that car. Or that seat. Or that person. Guilt – my fault. Too much…too much everything…coffee, sleep, exercise, travel, jetlag, food, haste, work. Melancholy – not fair; no fun; no relief. I felt older. Unhappier.

My wife was superb. The right balance of sympathy and encouragement. Great advice and not too much laughter. I needed both. Benefited from each. I came up with a Friday night plan. Several plans. I would book a massage Saturday. Stretch my back all weekend every hour. Buy some pain relief cream and muscle relaxant tablets. And I will take more care next trip.

It all helped…although it still took me ages to get to sleep Friday night. Not sure if that was my sore back, all those plans or just the jetlag.

Saturday morning and I felt better. A long walk in the spring sunshine with my wife in the afternoon…and my back felt as good as new. Well…as good as it did last weekend at least. No joy booking a massage, although I did manage my stretches a couple of times. I bought some cream (unopened), although I couldn’t remember which tablets worked best four years ago.

Today then, I have my old back…but a new and improved plan! Jettison that old uncomfortable chair from my home office. Get a better one. Today.



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