Virtual Dating…

I always enjoy face-to-face team meetings. In many ways this could be quite sad, but in truth it is more because I spend so much of my time talking to people one-on-one, sending emails and on the telephone. Three times a year I get to arrange face to face meetings of my leadership team. I look forward to these meetings. I work hard for these meetings. I get an immense amount out of these meetings. I learn so much from the people at these meetings.

Over the years there have been reasons why I have had to run these F2F meetings virtually. Normally due to a travel restriction of some sort – budget, security and even volcanic ash – but virtual always causes my heart to sink. It’s much harder to get all the personal benefit and to deliver all the business impact if we are all remote.

But needs must. If some constraints are in place then I work within them every bit as much as everyone else. And sure enough last week came along and I had to arrange and attend my leadership meeting as a ‘Virtual F2F’.

The good news though is that technology is so much better these days than it used to be…and more importantly we are so much better at using technology that we used to be! We used videoconference. Teleconference. And shared our slides over the network. We spoke to each other. Saw each other. Sent each other instant messages. And even ran break out groups together.

There were two obvious downsides. It is very hard to stay off email when you need your laptop open in front of you to see slides, to communicate to other attendees, and to be visible on the video. I realised this when I saw the number of emails that came in over the two days to me from people on my team who were in my meeting. But then again, I was reading these – and other emails – and I was replying…

The second is that – by definition – you miss out on the more social side of these events. Coffee breaks are a solitary experience. Dinner discussions about topics covered during the day are absent. It is amazing how much of the benefit of a face-to-face meeting happen in these less formal…and more social…moments.

But our meeting last week was still a great success. At least I know I left feeling engaged and inspired. We also had chance to experiment…a meeting within our meeting.

Unbeknownst to me, my event last week clashed with an important meeting with one of our major external partners. Several members of my team felt they had to participate in the partnership meeting (and I agreed). But I also knew that if they left my meeting, our value would go down quickly.

Resolution of this dilemma was to combine the two meetings into a single meeting for an hour. Not only did we avoid either one of the two meetings being less successful, but we also created a new opportunity for the two groups to partner with each other in a very different (yet still virtual) way.

This was pretty nerve-wracking to arrange, and at times the session itself felt more like Speed Dating (OK that was deliberate) but again it was high energy, very engaging, enjoyable and a number of genuine new opportunities were created and captured.

I was pleased and relieved (in equal measure). So much so that we may well get – or look to create – opportunities to try out this new speed dating format with other partners…either virtually or in person.

Now there’s a scary thought…



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Success Planning…

I was once asked to facilitate an After Action Review of very successful project team. This team was the ‘stuff of legends’. They had successfully advanced their project from the early stages of Pre-Clinical Discovery through to First in Human evaluation and eventually to achieve a positive Proof of Concept in Patients. What’s more, they had achieved this success in a record (short) time.

The AAR was a great learning experience for me (even though I wasn’t on the project) but and the team learned a great deal for themselves – the number one goal for any AAR. Of course the wider organisation was also desperately keen to hear from the team. Everyone wanted to apply the learning to the same buttons or pull the same levers on their own projects.

Everyone outside of the team had our theories already about what made up the ‘Secret Sauce’ (although everyone’s answer was different from everyone else’s). The whole organisation was waiting. Efficacy biomarkers? Pharmacology biomarkers? Diagnostics? Team work? Drug profile? Quality of mechanism? Executive support? The list went on…and on.

And then we were there – AAR read out. A senior leadership team waiting with baited breath for the answer…desperate to launch their own teams to a higher level of performance. And even know I can vividly picture everyone’s expressions when the team leader delivered their answer. One sentence.

“We planned for failure…and hoped for success.”

Pause. Wait. Look around at everyone’s faces. Surprise? (What?) Confusion? (What on earth?) Anticipation? (There has to be more?)

There was more of course. The team had carried out a superb AAR (and I take no credit for that at all), and they had copious amounts of additional learning that they were more than happy to share with everyone – and they did. But their goal was to emphasise their philosoph – planning for failure…hoping for success.

It was simple and impactful. Most teams I have been part of will always plan for success…hope to avoid failure. Most leadership team I sit on – or have presented to – expect to hear plans for success…and would be similarly bemused by a plans for failure.

Early in their AAR, the team shared the detailed plan they had developed to achieve their goal. I recognised immediately I was viewing an exquisite plan. Created by an experienced, capable and high performing team. I was in awe….and more than a little jealous!

But their team philosophy prevented them from simply executing against this plan. Doing so would have been planning for success – assuming that their first (or even their best) plan will work as designed, and therefore investing everything in this plan. The team philosophy – planning for failure – had driven them to prepare multiple contingency and back up plans…each of comparable detail and quality.

The team had used their experience and ability to assess all potential failure points in their plan…moments where science or research could go against them. And for each ‘event’, they detailed what they would do and who would be involved. I had never seen this level or quality of advance planning before…and never have since!

Most teams have a plan…but we seldom have desire or time – or both – to plan for any contingencies, let alone all likely contingencies. We all know that our plans will never play out in the way we predict, and yet we still rely on our ability to solve problems when they arrive. Even though experience shows this approach is inefficient…and can often fail.

I wasn’t able to keep the AAR slide deck of course…but I still have the memory…

I just need to apply that learning…



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European Time…

I was in mainland Europe last week visiting a site in Germany. On the face of it, travelling to mainland Europe should be a much easier proposition for me than traveling to the US. But by the end of the week I was shattered! I am not sure if that is due to a lack of jet lag or inverse jet lag!

When I am in the US, I am up each day by 4:00am and so have almost half a day before any meeting to connect home, catch up with email, prepare slides, and get to the fitness center. Mainland Europe is only one hour ahead of the UK and somehow I end up going to bed an hour later than normal and yet also have to get up an hour earlier the next morning. I then work all day and go straight out for an evening meal. Feels like no time to connect home, no time for email, no time to think about the day just gone let alone the day ahead and definitely no time for the fitness center.

So as I sat on the motorway on Friday afternoon, struggling through the holiday traffic to get home from the airport, I found myself thinking about my week. A couple of major and yet unsurprising themes came through. Relationships and science. Who would have guessed?

Germany was engaging, stimulating and very enjoyable. The weather was hot, the sun shone and it rained heavily. Despite my apparently shortened days, I was able to invest time with people, in opportunities, on projects and with sponsors. I met a site that has undergone much change over the past few months…I met a team with commitment and conviction….I met individuals who were present and passionate…individuals with purpose.

I spent time with leaders, with teams and with team members. Over lunch and dinner and breakfast…and yes over coffee! I felt my mood change during the week. Anything I had anxiety about as I arrived…I felt confident about as I left.

The team have invested heavily in relationships – with each other, with colleagues at our other locations, with our customers and with our external regulators. They have invested heavily to build mutual trust and confidence. Its sounds so obvious but a relationship built on trust and confidence is a strong relationship…but trust and confidence have to be built. They are not a given.

I was impressed how individuals within the team have invested to build trust and confidence with whomever they are working; I was even more impressed and pleased how much they all seemed to be enjoying and savouring those relationships. Giving and getting. Benefitting and helping.

Science is a much used word. Science is all about acquiring knowledge on a particular subject – knowledge that is derived by use of observation and experimentation to describe and to explain. As I listened this week it recognised this as the essence of what we do – and maybe of what we should do more of – in our partnerships and relationships and projects. We use experiments and observations to build knowledge…knowledge that allows us to describe and to explain.

Our partners absolutely value our ability and capability to carry out experiments – but they value most when we use our knowledge to advise and to explain what experiments to carry out…or to not carry out. They certainly value our ability to observe and to report what we see in our experiments – but they value most when we use our knowledge to advise and to explain what the experimental data mean…or don’t mean.

Relationships…trust and confidence. Science…description and explanation.

And people.



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July Forth…

We don’t celebrate 4th July in the UK.   It’s a pivotal day into the U.S. calendar of course, but it’s not mentioned in the UK. I do celebrate 4th July however. I always take that day off as a vacation. I do the same for Thanksgiving as well. A large percentage of my email traffic, phone calls and instant messages come from, or involves, colleagues and friends in the U.S. If I take a day’s vacation when the U.S. is working, I wake up the next day to a mass of emails. If I take a day’s vacation when the U.S. is on vacation, I wake up the next day to a near empty inbox.

But this year I did celebrate on 4th July. This weekend was our annual family reunion. All my side of the family were there. Some for the weekend and some just for Saturday night…but we were all there this year. A good time was had by all…no an excellent time was had by all. Not enough sleep, too much food; not enough time to talk (to everyone), too much opportunity to drink (with everyone).

It’s an event that only happens once a year…it’s a weekend that reminds us who we are; that allows us to reconnect with each other in person; that allows us to hear about everyone’s highs and lows, successes and failures, from the last 12 months. A weekend that allows us to dream about what we want the next year to bring us…individually and collectively. A weekend designed to do exactly what it achieves – to keep the family together. A weekend dreamt up by my parents some 15 years ago.

Over the years, this event – along with all of our lives – has become more complicated…inevitable as children and grandchildren grow up, go to University, leave home, and settle. But yet all our lives are intertwined. There are similar names and similar faces…and a similar sense of humour. We celebrated this 4th July for sure.

We drove home today. Some six hours in all – a long way. I always enjoy the drive home almost as much as the weekend itself. I have such a positive feeling of belonging…a feeling that is increased as my wife and children were with me. The weekend was wonderful and there was so much to talk about…what happened, who said what and did what; how much we laughed and how much we cried. How much everyone had changed; how little we had changed.

My parents were delighted everyone came. They were at times amazed and surprised, very happy but also quite sad. Tired and energised. I worry about them…but then again I love them. They inspire me.

It was a weekend all about family at the end of a week that was all about work. The middle of the year is a busy time. Mid-year reviews are due – for me and my team and for everyone else. I enjoy and engage fully in mid-year reviews – it’s an opportunity to celebrate and to adjust…on personal performance and team dynamics…on partner satisfaction and personal development. It’s an opportunity to review ourselves against our personal and our business performance goals and to prepare ourselves for the second half.

We arrived home late Sunday. And now I am looking forward. Forward to my next five days at work; forward to our next six months together at work – me, my team, our organisation and our partners; forward to our next twelve months as a family. I am excited. I am ready. It will be amazing.

We will go forward together. I am there for you.



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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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