Miss Alice…

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cheshire Cat. ‘I don’t much care where’ said Alice. ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go’ said the Cat. ‘…So long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation. ‘Oh you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

Good advice of course is easy to give and hard to hear. And the quality of any advice we give or get depends on how well we describe either our current situations…or our aspiration. In the case of Alice she sounds much more convinced that she needs to get away from where she is…than she is certain about where she wants to get to.

Both scenarios have merit. I dream of a situation where I would have absolute clarity and certainty about where I want to get to, or where an organisation I am working for wants to be, or needs to get to. We all define success or happiness in a different way. We all have different aspirations and desires for our careers in work and for our lives outside of work. But I am absolutely certain that standing still – sitting back and enjoying the status quo – is seldom a good choice.

Events transpire around us, to us or because of us all the time. We have to respond at the very least. To be able to pre-empt would be even better…but is evidently harder. We can’t stand still. We can’t rest on our laurels. We can’t rely on past achievements to guarantee future success. We have to move forward.

On old best friend at work once asked me why I talked about ‘opportunity space’ rather than simply opportunity when I was describing the future. Not only had I never thought about it…I wasn’t even aware that I used that expression! But I did and so I did.

Opportunity space is more vague. More general, more open. Opportunity space deliberately implies that although we may not be certain what we can achieve or even exactly where we are going…we can and should be certain that it will be engaging, exciting and rewarding. We can move forward for sure…but we have to stay open and flexible…be ready to respond and adapt.

I was at a global meeting last week, and I found myself thinking and talking about opportunity space all the time…and using a different word several times – misstep. As we move from where we are – or how we have been…as we move to a better place…as we move to work in a better and more rewarding way…it is inevitable that we will have some missteps on that path.

Indeed I would even go so far as to say that if we didn’t have any missteps then we are either not on a different path…or that we are not moving fast enough.

Missteps as we move through any change – inside or outside of work – are unavoidable. Missteps are a leading indicator that we are making progress. The challenge is to recognise a misstep quickly enough, and to be ready, able and willing to adapt.

And if we do it right, then not only do we have potential to advance from where we are today, but we also have potential to discover better things and better places in that opportunity space. To experience and enjoy reward or happiness we were not able to conceive of, let alone define, as we started our journey together.

Together. With colleagues or friends or family. With each other

Cheers

Steve

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Engaging Differences…

Ever since I moved into my role in a different sector of our pharmaceutical industry I am asked about the similarities and differences. Considering how long I have now been in the CRO sector, it is probably not surprising that these questions aren’t as common as they were when I first switched from Big Pharma…but they do still come…from everywhere and anywhere.

And as ever with open questions such as this, my answers tend to vary as my interests and exposure changes. I always start with the similarities. We all have the same desire and intent – we want to advance new therapies to patients. We all have a passion and commitment to the science and to the work that we do. Team work is paramount. Quality. Innovation…the list goes on.

Today my answer to the differences would be commercial. That is partly because I have just come home from our annual global commercial meeting – an opportunity to analyse data and outline plans. To discuss last year’s experiences and highlight new opportunities for this year. We talked partners and partnership, teams and team work, processes and deliverables, science and operations. I met people, I spoke, I listened, I learned, I laughed, and I worked hard to say hydrated and healthy. I came home engaged and inspired (and tired).

The commercial model in a CRO is core to what we do. We sell the work that we do. We do the work that we sell. We get paid to do the work. The work that we do pays our salaries and operating costs. The cycle is short. It is often only weeks or months between when we sell work, win work, start work and finish work. Pharma starts projects knowing that the cycle is long – any successful pharma project is only ever measured in years.

A mantra from last week – we are all in sales! And it is true. In a CRO every one of us is involved to some degree in helping to sell and win (earn the right to) project work. It is challenging and engaging. Exciting and frustrating. Simple and complicated. Rewarding and infuriating. But it is core to what we do and is – in my experience – a dramatic difference between what I do now and what I used to do. I appreciate that roles, responsibilities and opportunities in Pharmaceutical companies have changed significantly since I moved, but commercial is still my ‘difference answer’.

Allegedly there was a time in our industry when there was so much demand for work (relative to supply) that CRO commercial teams would spend most of their time answering increasingly anxious calls from pharma companies desperate for slots to start work. That may or may not be true. But it is not how the model works these days.

Supply and demand is more balanced. Demand has increased…but more so in terms of what is expected – an increased level of partnership, teamwork, science, quality, insight. Supply has also increased – but again more in terms of the investment in people, science and technology necessary to satisfy demand.

To win opportunity to work on a partner’s project is a privilege – irrespective of whether that partner is the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, or the smallest Biotech in Boston.

We have to earn that privilege. And we do. All of us. Every day. And it starts with our sales force. A team of individuals who personify that desire to help our partners advance new therapies to patients. Who exude passion and commitment to our partners and to the work that we do. A team who inspire me…

…a team who I admire incredibly and appreciate immensely.

Cheers

Steve

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Fruit Bowl…

My wife bought a fruit bowl last week. Not a particularly dramatic event on the scale of world events, but nevertheless one of great significance for me. It was bright red, striking, metal, almost basket like in appearance. Not the sort of item that I would ever buy myself (I can’t even describe it very well). For most of the week it sat in my apartment kitchen. Resplendent with bright red and green apples. It was there at the end of the week as well…just without the apples.

My wife has bought all the nicest things in my apartment – along with my daughter and son. Little things that make a big difference. A big difference to me as well as to the apartment. Things I would never even think of. A cushion, lamp, picture, coasters, rug. They make the apartment nicer. They remind me of her when she is not there with me. I never suggest she buys these things. She does not ask. She knows and I know.

I had a good week in the UK last week. And not just because of my new fruit bowl. I did lots of work. Lots of things I was very pleased with. Old issues; new opportunities; new ideas.

I also found time to think. A precious activity and one that is often hard to do when we are so busy. I think things through when I drive, work out, over coffee in the morning. Times when I have more time. Less distractions. It’s also annual appraisal time of year for me and everyone else. A good time to think about what we have done and achieved; want to do and learn.

What have we done? What have we achieved? Wednesday morning it hit me – it’s not what we have done (although of course output, delivery, impact is crucial)…it’s how we have done those things. How we operate, work together, partner, solve, seize, laugh, celebrate, commiserate, support…this is what defines us. This is what we experience working together and what others experience when they work with us.

Over any period of time (not overnight unfortunately) we would want to get better at what we do. We have to get better at what we do. Individually and collectively. By ourselves and in teams. This change then is what excites me most…and makes me feel most proud of what we do…and how we have improved.

Ours is a highly regulated industry. We have many policies and procedures. We are inspected and audited frequently. We carry out work on behalf of our partners. It would be easy to operate in a way where we do what we are told, when and how. Where we seek permission.

But this is where I see the biggest difference. We are more empowered. Yes we are still regulated (more so), and have SOPs (more) and welcome auditors (many)…but our people and our teams make more suggestion, take more decisions, make more things happen. Work together stronger and individually better. We are not perfect – that is not possible. But we have grown and developed. In a way we can – and should – be very pleased about and very proud of.

We have changed our culture. We have changed how things are done and how we do things. We have changed for the better. It feels better. It looks better. It is better.

We don’t ask permission. We ask to make sure we know what we are trying to achieve (and why) – we make suggestions and make recommendations. We make things happen. We use our experience, our judgement. We help our partners, our teams. We help ourselves.

Cheers

Steve

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Changing Times…

2016 is off and running. I have flown and driven. I have met colleagues and customers. I have had busy and complex days. I have enjoyed quiet and straightforward days. I have met government regulators and local dignitaries. I have stayed up too late and woken up tired. And once I went to bed early and woke up fresh. We have reviewed our individual and organisation performance in 2015. We have set out our ambition for 2016.

And change is already with us. Organisational change, industry change and personal change. No surprise there. One of the eternal truisms is that the only thing that is constant is change!

And as ever, we all worry more about change that we feel we have little control over…and are more relaxed by change that we believe we have instigated ourselves. ‘Feel’ and ‘believe’ are the operative words since – likely as not – we have more control over events around us that we feel are ‘out of control’, and less influence over events we believe we have instigated that impact us. But either way…it is still change.

We all handle change. In truth we all handle change much better than we ever give ourselves credit for. Most of us consider that we don’t like change. When change happens – or is about to happen – it is much easier for us to identify the aspects we like that we believe will disappear, or will be worse, because of that change. It is much harder – although not impossible – for us to conceive of anything that will be better based on the change. But there are always positive unintended consequences of any change…every bit as much as there is potential for negative unintended consequences.

When change happens around us or to us…around me or to me…the thing that helps me most is information. Why has this happened? What are we trying to do? How long will it take? What were the other options? The list goes on. I have developed an insatiable desire to know information about change.

The good news is that we all are the same…and therefore we all seek information. And if we are involved in leading change, we also know that it is important to provide as much information as possible…in as many ways as possible. People like to read information. Oher like to hear. Others watch. And many discuss. I like to read, listen, see and converse.

My network is always essential to me: people, colleagues and friends. At times of change I talk with them all as much as possible, I ask as much as I can…and I listen. Carefully. And it is amazing – even now – how often these conversations help me immensely.

Looking back at last week, I realised that I had managed to discuss changes in our organisation, our industry and for us personally. Almost always with people who didn’t really feel that they knew any more about what was happening than I did. My only hope is that I helped these individuals as much as they helped me. Because they did really help me.

I see more now, and (believe) I understand more now, about what is happening and why…and why now. And that gives me a feeling of reassurance and empowerment. Reassuring – because I am not thinking about those changes as much. Empowering – because I am thinking about opportunity. How can I, and we, help and support, give and gain benefit, from what is happening with our organisation, our industry and ourselves.

There’s an old UK telephone advertisement with the catch line…it’s good to talk.

How true.

Cheers

Steve

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First Week…

Last week was a tough week. It was my first week back at work after the Christmas and New Year holiday break. The first week working after a period of not working is never easy. I find I can become quite used to not working quite easily…especially when there are lots of other things to do and other people to do them with. So starting to do – and to think about – work things is never easy. That’s OK though – the only way to avoid that feeling is to never take any time off…and that’s not a good option!

I also travelled to the mid-west. Travelling in that first week back sounds like a good idea. It’s a good week to catch up with people as schedules are not ever quite so busy. But it’s a tough week to travel. The weather can be problematic in the US at this time of year – and I flew through both New York and Chicago. And it’s tough to leave home after being at home for two weeks. It’s even harder to leave my family at home after being at home with them for two weeks.

I met lots of people last week – friends at work, good friends at work and new friends at work. We met in rooms, over coffee, in meetings, over lunch, in corridors, and over dinner. I even had one meeting – briefly – during my morning work out! All of our discussions were very important and highly valuable…but some were more straightforward and more enjoyable. Some were more complicated and more hard work. Some involved sharing of very good news. Others didn’t.

I laughed a lot…which is always good. I listened a lot…which is always important. I thought a lot…which is nearly always a good sign. And at times – often early in the morning – I thought too much…which is seldom good. I talked a lot, and I learned more. I worked hard. And working hard felt like much harder work than it normally does (which I assumed was more evidence of that first week syndrome).

I flew back Thursday – and despite the time of year, all my flights…all week… were on time. I normally sleep very well on those overnight flights from the US back to the UK. I slept very badly last Thursday. It was strange really. All I can assume it was the tough week…or maybe thinking too much. Either way, I knew how tired I was in the morning when I saw my reflection as I made my way through Heathrow airport on Friday morning. I even fell asleep in the car on the way back from the airport – something I never normally manage to – or even want to – do. I worked from home on Friday…it was a long day, but I spoke with some great people…which helped greatly.

And then it was my daughter’s birthday on Saturday. A big day. A lovely family lunch together. In a very nice fish restaurant. Followed by coffee and shopping – my son and I drank coffee whilst my wife and daughter went birthday shopping. We finished before they did so we all ended up birthday shopping. A great day. Tiring after my tough week, but wonderful.

And then today both my daughter and son went back to University. By plane and car. It was fantastic to have them home for the holidays. It was hard to let them go off again. But they are doing so well. I am so lucky. We are so proud. I miss them so much.

A tough week. A long week. The first week. Tomorrow is next week.

Cheers

Steve

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New Batteries…

2015 has come to an end and 2016 is with us now. Monday morning we start again. Work. School. It all starts. My time at home with my family is over…and I only had to work a little here or there. I have had almost two weeks; two superb weeks. It feels too short of course, but we’ve done so much (and eaten too much and drunk too much)…and everything we’ve done feels just great. It was a time for family and a time for fun.

We went places and did things. We stayed put and did nothing. The things we did were good and no-things we didn’t do were just as good. We did lots together and some alone. We played games and watched movies. We relaxed and rewound. We chatted and we caught up. Some days we had lots of choice what to do…other days we didn’t.

In 2016 I have given up on resolutions…I could even make a case that this is my resolution – to give up on making New Year resolutions. Probably the only resolution I could ever keep. But I am very excited about the next twelve months. What we will do together. The opportunities we expect, opportunities we want to create and opportunities we will seize. Some we know about and some we don’t. Some we want and some we will try to avoid. I am excited and I am engaged.

I have learned so much from the past twelve months. So much has happened and so much we have done. Above all I have learned about the power and potential, about the importance and impact, of people. Individuals and teams.

People make things happen. People make me laugh. People give me energy. People seize those new opportunities and people solve those old problems. I learn from people and I am inspired by people. I am given ideas by friends and am gifted advice from colleagues. From new friends and colleagues, from old friends and colleagues and above all from my family.

When I think about my favourite memories of 2015…I was always with people – with my family or with my friends – friends and home or friends at work – or with both. Life and work is always better with others.

This was true in 2015 and will be true again in 2016. And of this I am certain – in 2016 I will invest my time in people and with people. Working with people and listening to people. Learning from people and being taught by people. Trying to help occasionally and certainly being helped continually.

I don’t know what our biggest challenge will be let alone the most significant change we will face. But I know something will come and something will happen. I anticipate it; I await it; and I know we have the collective ability to succeed and achieve together.

Which brings me back to my last two weeks. The good news is that we didn’t face many big challenges over the holiday season. Getting out for some exercise when it wasn’t raining maybe? And there wasn’t a great deal of change that came our way. I had to change the batteries in our house fire alarms…but that was easy enough…albeit it a little noisy! But whatever we did…we did together.

We had much family time together though and I listened a lot, thought even more and certainly learned so much as well. I didn’t have much helping to do, problems to help solve or advice to offer, but I certainly felt helped, and absolutely felt loved.

Monday is tomorrow. Here we come. I am ready.

Cheers

Steve

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Last Week…

Another week. But a very different week. Last full week of the year. Christmas Day on Friday – a big day in the UK. I had planned for a quiet week. I was due to be at home all week…trying to wind down from work for a bit of a break. But at short notice I had to get to London to meet and talk with a potential new ally on Wednesday.

Getting to London from where we live is much simpler than it used to be – there are now several direct and very fast trains…as opposed to the not many and very slow trains we used to have to endure. It means though that all the trains scheduled to arrive in London close to 9:00am are packed every morning. Good news I that my stop is early on the route so I can always get a seat.

Wednesday the trains were surprisingly quiet. It was rapidly obvious that a significant majority were trying to wind down from work for a bit of a break! There were also lots of Christmas sweaters being worn, and lots of very loud planning taking place for shopping extravaganzas. I eventually made it to London, but not before I found myself wistfully missing the angry and rude commuters who normally fill up those carriages.

My meetings Wednesday with my new ally were very positive. We realised when we saw each other than we had met once before several years ago but had not managed to identify how to work together that time. I left on Wednesday feeling more confident this time.

Thursday I also found myself again listening to arrangements for a shopping extravaganza…but this time the planning was me with my daughter! We have always gone shopping together for presents in the week before Christmas…every year for twenty one years. Fortunately, most of our extravaganza planning was in the car. As always, we had a wonderful (and successful) day out and enjoyed catching up over lunch.

And then it was Friday. A wonderful family day…albeit a bit of a blur. A very good blur…but just so much seems to happen. Gifts to open, family to love, recipes to read, food to cook, recipes to read again, meals to eat, instructions to read, board games to play, instructions to read again, wine to drink, sleep to have.

I love this time of year. The days are short and weather is never good. But it is a time for family. And it is important to take and give that time. These holidays are time to do things with families…to do things for families.

2016 will come soon enough – five days to be precise. And 2016 will be a momentous year. Every year is a momentous year. I find it interesting to sit and remember this time last year and what I was hoping for, expecting or even worrying about for 2015. And then I consider what actually did happen this year…and what didn’t happen!

2016 will be the same – every New Year is always the same. Fantastic things will occur…as will some not so good things. Some personal. Some family. Some in work. And some at home. Some we will expect and some will surprise us. Some will delight us and some will disappoint us. Some we really want…and will very try hard to make happen. Some we won’t want…and will try even harder to avoid.

The reassuring thing is that we cope. We always cope. We love and savour things we like; we handle things we dislike. We come through stronger, wiser and better.

We always do…

Cheers

Steve

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