Friendly Work…

I was in the UK all last week, but I met with friends and colleagues all the way from China to California…and many place in between. We had West Coast visitors, Mid-West visitors, East Coast visitors and European visitors. I don’t believe we had any visitors from Asia on site but I spoke with my friends in China on two or three occasions.

The very first time I heard about the possibility of being considered for my current role, I remember thinking how a company like the one I now work for would provide me with opportunity to interact with, learn from and offer help to people and projects from all sorts of companies across the pharmaceutical industry. Little did I know!

I didn’t really appreciate the breadth of companies we have chance to partner with. Big and small. Old and new. Far and wide. But all with passion. All with desire. All with an idea. All with a problem they want us to help solve…or an opportunity they want us to help seize.

And every project that a partner – or possible partner – comes to us with has potential to be a break through…a ‘game-changer. The data and interpretation we will produce and help assess could make the difference between the projects succeeding or failing…advancing or stalling.

It’s not surprising then that the relationships we have with our partners are so pivotal. To everything. Words like trust and confidence are so easy to say. But that’s what it is. We have to earn and deserve the trust and confidence of our partners. Trust that we will take great care of their project. That we will treat it as if it were our own and do the work exquisitely well. Confidence that we have the skills and experience – the science and the understanding – to produce an outcome that our partners know is right. Whether the outcome is as wanted or unexpected.

And in that sense I was partly right – back when I first heard about this role. We do interact with many partners, and those interactions are very important. My own network of friends, contacts and partners has grown considerably. My learning, understanding and appreciation have grown exponentially.

But what I didn’t appreciate was how exciting and engaging these partnerships would be. How much I enjoy working and talking and interacting with my (new) friends and colleagues at our partner companies. And my best relationships are with the partners who we work with frequently. Which of course makes sense – any good relationship involves significant and continual investment of time and energy. Trust and confidence has to build – on both sides. The more we meet and talk, call and listen, the more the friendship and partnership develops.

I also didn’t appreciate how I would learn – about people, about companies about science, about our industry. I knew I would learn…but I guess I didn’t really appreciate just how much I didn’t know.

So last week was a great week. I interacted in person and remotely. I interacted in one-to-one sessions, and as part of a team of 200 listening and learning from one. I laughed and I worried. I heard feedback and I heard praise.

Nobody gives us opportunity to work with them – or on their projects – purely based on our friendships, relationships or partnerships. But the strength of our friendships, relationships or partnerships is a direct indicator of investments we have each made to build mutual trust and confidence.

And we do – most definitely – give and get opportunity to work together based on trust and confidence in what is important to us.



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Memory Week…

Multi-tasking is a skill. Like any skill the more I practice the better I should get. I have practiced multi-tasking a great deal but still unfortunately I can’t claim any particular proficiency. Conversely my time management has improved – time management to try to avoid the need to multi-task.

But no matter how much I try… occasionally there are times of multiple activity. Last week was such a week. A week like no other. A week to remember. A week of memories.

We came back home from the US at the start of the week. A superb time away together as a family. Three weeks in total. Three weeks which meant we were fully switched onto US time and so all arrived home suffering from major jetlag. Falling asleep in the afternoon. Not getting to sleep in the evening. Waking up in the middle of the night. Makes me appreciate what my US colleagues have to go through every time they visit.

We had to be in the UK this week. My son’s final school exam results (A-Levels) were due on Thursday. In the UK, these grades dictate everything in terms of where he goes to University and what course he does. Thursday was a very important day for him…and for all of us. We all wanted to be there for him.

I was also working all week. Catching up after being away. I walked around a lot. I drank lots of coffee. And as much water as I could. It seems nervous energy helps with Jetlag – who knew? We were all nervous about Thursday. Uncertainty is tough. Waiting for significant news creates uncertainty. We can all handle good news. We can call work through bad news. Uncertainty is tough.

There were also two very important strategic meetings going on last week in the US. I really wanted to be there to participate in both, but I also wanted to be with my son on Thursday. I had to decline the meetings. I felt bad but I knew it was the right decision. Thursday was once in a life time day.

Two great allies and friends went to the strategic meetings instead of me. I felt delighted and impressed. But also guilty. And happy.

And this weekend was a family wedding. My eldest nephew. The first wedding for that generation in our family. A big day. An important weekend for my family. We had to travel Friday. Six hours driving. Two of which involved an average speed of less than 5mph.

But it was a weekend of superb memories. I think weddings are about creating memories. I have vivid memories of every weeding I have been to…even without pictures. This weekend’s wedding was a truly wonderful family event. Lots of laughter and some tears. Lots of joy and occasional sadness. Perfect speeches with some poignant moments. And so much love. Love for those who were there…and love for those who were not able to be there.

And Thursday? My son worked so hard this year. Others have been there for him – my wife – my wife amazes and inspires me. But my son did the work and took the exams. I am so proud of how well he did. Of course my feelings for him are unconditional…they aren’t based on how well he does in his exams. But I am so pleased and so proud that he will now go to the University he selected and will do the course he chose – pleased for him and proud of him.

The end of the week. A week that has created vivid memories.

A week for my family.



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Falling Style…

Last summer my big holiday adventure was riding a Segway. And yes I am still convinced they are great fun and am still convinced they have found their niche with guided city tours…along with airports, shopping centres and…well I am not sure where else.

So this year then? Summer vacation? What was it to be? What new experience could we have? What new activity could I try and excel at? The answer? Paddle boarding. The truth? I certainly tried…but excelling is a long way off. Unless of course we are assessing my ability to fall off with grace and style…style that comes from having a great deal of practice at falling off.

I don’t know who first thought of paddle boarding; I have even less idea how they came up with the concept. Best I can tell it is pretty much a surfboard – that you stand upright on – and a paddle – which you use to move. But unlike a surfboard, you can use a paddle board where there is no surf. In fact I found it much easier to stay on when there was no surf at all…just flat water.

Apparently paddle boarding is a great work out exercise. I wouldn’t know – I have never managed to stay on one long enough to have any sort of a work out. Unless you describe climbing back on over and over again as a great work out exercise.

It turns out though, that I am pretty good at encouraging others to use the paddle board very well. My son (outstanding). My daughter (excellent). My wife (very good). I have decided to take credit for all of their progress. Not sure if that credit is justified mind you, but it makes me feel better so I am sticking with it.

It also turns out that my paddle boarding prowess gave great pleasure to many other people. I rapidly lost track of how many times I was stopped and informed that the individual involved had not laughed so much in ages as they did at my feeble – but multiple – attempts. I did however receive abundant praise for my ‘free style fall off’ technique…and for my perseverance.

It was our friends who introduced us to paddle boarding. Indeed, we ended up deciding to buy our own paddle board as a group. None of us was sure individually that we would use a board enough to merit the cost but by the time we spilt it four ways it seemed like a pretty good deal. The group purchase was also a great idea. We all have fun on the board…and we all have fun together. Our children impress their parents with their new found skill and ability…and they have chance to laugh and grimace at their parents struggling…(well me at least).

I never gave up. It wasn’t just a determination to get better – although that was certainly a goal. And nor was it any desire to discourage the laughing on the beach – I just laughed at myself even more than everyone else was. The answer was simple – when I got it right…even if only for a few seconds…paddle boarding was just great fun.

And moreover it was great fun with my family and great fun with my friends and great fun with my new friends who gave me great advice about how to stay on longer…and even great fun with everyone else who just enjoyed laughing at me.

Which I guess is what vacations and vacation experiences are all about. Friends and family…having lots of fun and laughing lots and lots…

I will be back…and I will be better…honest!



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Important Time…

My days at work have some level of structure. My mornings are quieter than my afternoons. I have lots of phone calls in the afternoon – more people I work with every day are located in the US. My evenings are quieter than my afternoons…I have very few phone calls (apart from to my family)…but many more emails.

I have to be quite disciplined with my time in the afternoons. My calls can start at midday and go all the way through to 6:00pm. Staying on time is important…especially for the colleagues whose calls are due to start at 4:00 or 5:00pm. But there are other challenges…coffee refills and rest rooms visits being two that come to mind. I can get some help with one of these….but the other is down to me!

My peak time of work activity seems to be between 1:00 and 3:00pm. I am always on calls or in teleconferences at this time. But this is also the period when my US based colleagues get to work and start to catch up with their emails. The time when they get to read emails I inevitably will have sent them during the morning. The time when they send messages, offer opinions, ask for clarification or just tell me what to do (in the nicest possible way). It can feel as if my email traffic goes up tenfold in that time window…a time when I am already on phone calls.

I often stand up and walk around to take my calls in that post lunch period. If I am at my desk it can be hard to avoid checking emails as they arrive…and reading emails whilst talking on a phone is a degree too much of multi-tasking for me. Walking around the room allows me to concentrate on my call…but it also means that when I sit down those emails have piled up.

Although my ‘walk about’ tactic works for my calls, in effect it simply adds to that feeling of being very busy. In those precious few minutes I have between calls in the early afternoon, I also have to scan my emails to make sure there is nothing ‘drop dead’ urgent that requires me to assign time to read, consider and respond.

And last but not least, there is the benefit (or burden) that is instant messaging. Colleagues will often reach out to chat by messaging…it is simpler than an email and is more likely to be responded to than a phone call…

I thought a great deal about this early afternoon peak time in my day this last week. I have been on vacation with my family. Just fantastic family time. Wonderful times with friends. And when I thought about my days, I wondered if I have been deliberately (or subconsciously) targeting that early afternoon time slot. Making it a time to have fun. To contrast. To savour.

I played tennis with my son (and lost). Went for a walk with my wife (and held hands). Took my daughter shopping (and admired). Sat in the shade (and solved a crossword puzzle). Rested after a lunch with friends (and snoozed).

And how I enjoyed these times of the day. I enjoyed them for what they were. Simple. Enjoyment. Fulfilling. Happiness. And I enjoyed them because they were so different from my days at work.

My days at work are important. I enjoy and value what I do and who I work with. My days and my time with my family are special. My family are special. I could not do what I do without them. I only do what I do for them.



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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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