Week End…

My weekend is nearly over. Today I took my son back to college. I packed, I drove, I unpacked, I assembled and I helped. Well OK – that last one may not be quite right. I tried to help. In truth he doesn’t need that much help these days. My son impresses me. I am biased I know of course…but I am still impressed.

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday. We were all there – the whole family. She received cards, gifts, cake, candles and a wonderful sung rendition of Happy Birthday. Well OK – that last one may not be quite right. I tried to help with the singing. Suffice it to say my singing was passionate and loud. Actually there isn’t really much else to say about my singing than that.

We took my wife out for a boat ride – punting to be precise – with a guide…in our local city. On the river and canals that pass through and around the town. It was wonderful. Relaxing, peaceful, interesting, fun. And all of those are right. We even discovered some things about the city that we never knew…as well as seeing parts and views we hadn’t seen or experienced before.

It was a superb and relaxing weekend with my family at the end of a week. It is what week ends are supposed to be. Family and/or friends – people you care about and who care about you – relaxation and/or enjoyment. Any weekend. All weekends.

And this weekend in particular. I wanted this weekend to be special of course – it was my wife’s birthday…but I also felt like I needed this weekend to be special. I needed that reminder of the importance of our family and friends. I wanted to recognise the pleasure of their unconditional love and affection. We all need balance not just between our lives in work and our lives out of work…but we also need to balance how much of our time and energy we devote to both.

Last week felt like big news every day…and that was just at work…and Monday was a vacation day in the US! There seemed to be news about people, about roles, about leaders, about change, about challenge and about opportunities. Many weeks include some of this information…some weeks can even feature a little on all of these. It’s not often that any of us get a lot of news about all of these areas in one week.

Whenever a person leaves an organisation I am part of, it always has an impact on me…whether their reasons for leaving are good or not so good…and even more so if the person leaving is someone I know and have worked with…respect and admire.

But I know that people leave. People leave for good reasons, for personal reasons or for business reasons. But people leave. All I can ever do is to wish anyone who leaves the absolute very best. I know from experience that there isn’t often anything I can do to help…but I also know that it isn’t often that anyone leaving ever really needs my help. Good people always find – or create – great opportunities to be both happy and successful…however they chose to define both happiness and success.

And organisations move on. New people, new roles, new leaders…change and challenge and more opportunity. Someone once said that challenge always follows change. I think that’s true. But – more importantly – opportunity always follows challenge.

My weekend is now over. My family are happy. I am happy. I am relaxed and recharged. I am ready. Ready to embrace whatever next week has to offer…

Cheers

Steve

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Wednesday Morning…

I woke up last Wednesday morning around 7:30am to the sound of my sister’s dogs barking. I was staying at my sister’s house in the North of England and had been for a week. Every morning her dogs were up and about by 7:30. They were awake…asking to be fed and wanting to go for their morning walk. Wednesday was no different for them.

Wednesday was different for me. Wednesday morning I woke up knowing my father passed away the night before. I was there with my sisters when he left us…holding his hand and their hands. Wednesday morning was different for me.

I had no idea how I was going to feel…I didn’t really know how I felt. I knew the dogs were barking so it was morning. I knew I needed a coffee. I knew my wife was with me. I knew that someone would be downstairs. I knew I wanted to hug my wife. I knew she was still asleep. I hugged her anyway and held her hand.

I looked at my phone – some habits never change – and read the overnight messages from my children. Calling them the evening before to let them know the news was so hard. I felt better as I read their words…and at the same time more upset…their words to me, about their Granddad, about themselves and about us.

I looked at my email as well. Not to see what was happening…but because I had received so many messages of support from friends and colleagues…reading them just made me feel better.

I thought about my dad. In my father I could recognize who I am and where I have come from. I am so like my father was but I am so different. I have had such different experiences at such a different time. My father was a child during and after the Second World War. I wasn’t. I was brought up by him and my mum – he wasn’t. He loved me. He gave me my work ethic. He gave me my love of family. I loved him. He was important to me.

I thought about my own children. I want to be important to my children. Today and tomorrow…next week and next year….I want to be there for them. To encourage them when they need encouragement; to offer advice if they need advice. To hold their hand when they need a hand to hold. As they grow. As they experience. As they express themselves. As they make their own choices. I want to be part of their lives as my father was part of mine…of theirs…of ours.

I thought about the future. Tomorrow is nearly here. Next week is about to start. Looking back, remembering and reminiscing, celebrating and missing, is so important. But so is looking forward and anticipating everything we are going to do together. I don’t know what the future will hold. But I know the future will be different. We will create our own future together.

I thought about the night before. Vivid memories. Raw even. How peaceful it was at the end. How caring everyone was. How we all knew what was happening but didn’t say anything. Didn’t need to say anything. How we moved closer to my dad. Took his hands and held on.  For him and for each other.

The dogs were still barking. I still needed caffeine. My wife wanted her hand back and needed some tea. I kissed her and told her I love her. I texted my children and told them I love them. I went downstairs. It was a new day. The next day.

A lonelier day.

Cheers

Steve

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Sunday Week…

Last week was a week unlike any other and a week so different from what I expected. A week when I felt confident enough about what was happening to travel a long way away in order to work..but a week when I had to turn around and come the same distance back very quickly. And it rapidly became a week of long days, short nights, and little sleep.

It was a week when I was sure I was saying goodbye to my dad for the last time several times…but it was also a week when he chose to stay with us. He is peaceful and is not in any pain. He has a strong heart and is strong willed. I am happy and thankful. I know how fortunate I am. He is my father.

It has been a week of family for family with family. A week when I was able to be with my dad and my mum. A week when my wife was immense for me. A week when I was with my daughter and then with my son as well as with both my sisters, brother, their partners, my nieces and nephews. An emotional week…a week of so many emotions…a week of so much love. It was a week of messages and emails and phone calls to each other. It was a week full of tears and laughter, of hand holding and stories, of smiles and memories and hugs, and of more tears.

I have always thought friends and colleagues who care and want to help are extraordinary. Now I know this is true. I am so grateful to my friends and my colleagues.

What I don’t know is what will happen next, or when what will happen next will happen. In truth, I am not really sure of anything at the moment. But I do know that last week we have had chance to all be together and to spend more time with my father, our dad, their grandad. These last few days have been an opportunity that we could so easily not have had. I am pleased and I am grateful.

I have always believed that family are everything and that family are always there for each other. Now I know this is true – it may even be the meaning of life. I also know I am so fortunate to have my own family, my mother, my brother and my sisters, and their families.

And my dad? I love my dad. I always will…

Cheers

Steve

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England France…

We watched the rugby international together. England playing France in London. My dad and I. On the TV of course – it’s impossible to get tickets for events like this for love nor money.

My dad was feeling poorly. He has had a cold and was struggling to clear his chest and his throat. We also had the TV turned up loud which meant it was hard to hear ourselves speak.

But we sat there together. Me resplendent (my word) in my England rugby shirt. Him just resplendent. We watched and critiqued, praised and complained. Because we could.

I was the more animated. I was the one who leapt up at the key moments. I was the one who shouted and swore. I was the one who’s high five was left hanging. But we were there and we watched together.

There are slow times in rugby matches these days. TV reviews of big decisions, multiple substitutions throughout the second half. Lots of time to sit and think…ponder and wonder.

I inevitably found myself thinking of other moments we watched games together. Live games or televised games. Games we watched together or games where I played and he was there to support me. Different sports. Different outcomes. Similar experiences. Great moments and wonderful memories.

As I wondered I kept being myself back to the present. I was there with him. Watching together. Occasionally I helped him with his drink. Frequently he agreed (my word) with my insights on the game. More often we just watched.

It’s important and good to remember. It’s more important and better to be present. Whether with parents, family, friends or work colleagues. People need us today. Now. They need our help and support, our advice and encouragement. They need us to be present to achieve what we want to do and influence what we want to happen next.

There was no point me being there with my dad but just thinking about the past…or even just wondering what will happen next…I was there to spend time with him. To savour those precious moments together…doing something special with someone so very special.

Let’s just say that the outcome of the game was more important than the content. One aspect of professional sports that amazes me is how good they are at being present. No matter whether they score the best goal or miss the easiest shot…they clear their mind and simply focus on what is in front of them next.

No carry over and no regrets. Only refocus and re-engagement. It’s how they are trained…as well as being part of their nature. But it is all about being present, addressing what is in front of you…and making the right decision.

This approach applies to teams and individuals – our next action, or the next action in a comparable situation – is what matters most. To us, to our team and to everyone who is supporting us or depending on us.

Not many of us are remotely good enough to play sport at a high level – I most certainly wasn’t anywhere close. But this learning and approach still applies. This I know to be true.

I know this because it’s one of life’s lessons I learned from someone very special. Lessons I try to apply whenever I can…learnings and memories I have and will own forever.

I learned – and am fortunate enough to still be learning- a great deal else from my father – about life and love and family…and work. I learned what it takes to be a father. I was shown what it takes to be someone’s dad.

Cheers

Steve

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Cultural Breakfast…

It’s the best culture vs. strategy story I have ever forgotten. But it’s based in a hotel…which was why I remembered it last week. I was in the US for our annual Sales Conference and I arrived very late on the Sunday evening. I was tried but pleased to have made it. We stopped outside and collected our cases from the car. ‘Good evening sir’, was the friendly but formal welcome from the bellman outside the hotel, ‘is this your first stay or a return visit?’

Turns out there was renovation in the hotel foyer…he wanted to give us the right direction…as well as offering help with our luggage.

My forgotten story? A hotel’s new strategy required returning guests to be recognised automatically at check-in to allow receptionists to welcome them back personally. Hotel Management believed this personal welcome would enhance the hotel’s reputation and give them a competitive edge.

Unfortunately creation of such a booking system would take months to deliver and would cost far too much to produce. Management were unimpressed and frustrated.

Later that week, the hotel CEO was in the lobby watching one of the receptionists appearing to recognise returning guests over and over again. Moreover, the simple ‘welcome back’ was always greeted with a smile of appreciation from guests. The boss – desperate to understand how the receptionist had apparently solved the insurmountable problem – rushed over to learn the secret of guest recognition?

‘I have a deal with the bellman who carries our guest’s bags from the entrance’ explained the receptionist. ‘He always asks “is this is your first visit?” and if yes, he leaves the bags parallel to reception. If it’s a return, he puts them at right angles. Then I know.’

No new software, no memos, no slide decks no communication cascade…just simple strategic thinking in real time by people who work together, know each other and understand what their business is about.

We talked strategy a great deal last week. We always have great intent when we think strategy – what we want to do and why. I always look for simple and precise output…accurate and informative, readable and helpful. I have even been known to convince myself that my strategies are insightful and impactful with high value and great longevity. And – dare I say it – influence and control.

Who am I kidding? Experience shows that no matter what my intent, strategy generates a life of its own – documents get larger, more detailed and less digestible. When shared, output is rarely read and rapidly filed. Most recipients will carry on as before. Impact can be minimal…benefit short lived.

So what’s the alternative? We clearly have to improve. We have to analyse, learn and make choices. We have to deliver more, and better and faster. On the face of things…we absolutely need ‘strategy’.

But maybe – remembering the hotel receptionist story – what we really need would be better described as strategic thinking (by us all) as opposed to strategic planning (by a few). And whatever we do has to take account of our culture rather than in any way bypassing it…’culture eats strategy for breakfast’.

‘Culture’ – how things are done around here. Relationships are the basis of an organisational culture and are pivotal to any organisational success. Our ability to collaborate with humour, respect and energy enables us to apply strategic thinking – successful strategy – in real time. Successful strategy – and therefore success itself – happens when we think and work collaboratively. Time and effort invested in building relationships and working in collaboration always time well spent.

I had a tiring, collaborative and successful week….

Cheers

Steve

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Recognition Awarded…

We celebrated our Annual Awards last week. We had a mammoth, global, virtual teleconference with every site location connected and with most attendees congregated together on each site. I normally mute all the attendees on large telecoms when anyone is presenting. Without this technology, sessions can be distracting for the audience, and presenters are easily interrupted. That was exactly what we were after for the Awards Ceremony.

I began by letting everyone on the call know that Award Ceremonies are always better when thought of as a ‘participatory sport’ – cheering and applause, as well as shouting and laughter – are essential ingredients.

Everything about these ceremonies though is about recognition – recognising the eventual global winners; recognising winners from each Site; and recognising the hundreds of individuals and teams who were nominated for what they did – and how the did – in 2016 for their friends and colleagues, their clients and projects, and ultimately for patients.

The event itself is one of my highlights of the year. But it’s a culmination of many things. The principal one being the amazing work that is done every day in every location by everyone. Every single story described in the nominations is inspiring…and they are often moving and are always uplifting. It is impossible not to smile when I sit and read them. Pride, delight, humility, excitement – all strong emotions. All great emotions to feel.

We know the sort of contribution recognised in these nominations happens all the time, but in most organisations it is less obvious. More often our focus inevitably tends to be on solving big problems, sorting major issues. But although these acts of heroics are very important, they are but a small part of what happens every day in any organisation…in our organisation.

Every day every organisation has so many people who do great things because they can, because they want to and because their teams, their colleagues, their projects and their partners need them to.  Actions that are seldom requested let alone expected, but actions that always make a difference. Actions that make a difference to not just the work we do, but to the environment and culture in which we work…in effect how we do the work

In our event last week we listened to stories of these actions being recognised and captured in the nominations. Nominations that are made our people about their friends and colleagues.

All the categories are outstanding, but the highest number of nominations we received – by a long way – were for the Heart and Soul of the year. There is a long citation describing this award, but the last line captures the essence…‘They tend to be modest in their approach but are insightful about others…our work place would not be the same without them.’

And when we announced these winners there was even more applause, more cheers, and more emotion on the call. For the winners and the nominees.

Our meeting finished a few minutes early…which gave me time to prepare for my next call. This was good news. Those few minutes gave me time to come back down to earth…to let my adrenaline dissipate…to regain my composure. That’s OK – I choose my words carefully when I say ‘…one of my highlights of the year’ – it would be more worrying if a session like this didn’t raise me up.

I sent out the announcement communicating the winners later that day. The only delay being down to us wanting to be certain that the link we included to allow access to every single nomination worked.

I was inspired and I felt proud. I still am.

Cheers

Steve

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Onsite Insight

I’m often asked where I am. Where site are you at today? Which continent are you on? It has become more common since our organisation became larger, more global and more connected…but it was already a regular event.

I always like it when anyone asks me this question. Anyone who cares enough to ask about me – or is interested enough to care – is good. It’s the same logic if anyone wonders if I travel too much, or too infrequently; work too hard or too little. It is all good. It’s good to know that people care.

I like it when I can answer that I am at my home site. It is good to have a base and it is always good to be at home. Even if I my answer is prefaced with the customary ‘I flew back over night, but…’

A colleague explained last week that the only time they really know where I am is when we are in the same room. Technology helps – I can send emails and make calls anywhere there is a cell signal or Wi-Fi. And with our internet phones I appear to call from my office whether I am in the US, Eu or UK.

Sometimes the real benefit – the added value if you will – from being on Site rather than in a hotel, airport or at home, are those impromptu interactions…those moments I find myself on a site in a discussion with a colleague…not emailing, or telephoning or messaging…but talking.

I had several such interactions last week. I was visiting our UK clinical operation, ostensibly to attend a series of meetings on projects and partners…budgets and investments…opportunities and risks – whilst also taking time to meet some of the local team. All great and high value, but then at the last minute my schedule changed and I found an unexpected meeting appear in my calendar.

I didn’t know what to expect…apparently it was something to do with data, analysis and helping our partners and patients. I had heard that ‘introduction’ before and so I wondered as I waited. But I needn’t have worried. It was compelling and compulsive. Inspiring and energising.

I found myself in a discussion with a colleague who had thought in detail about what we had asked them to do. Someone who had listened intently to what our internal and external stakeholders were saying. Someone who exuded great passion and commitment…who partnered and shared. Someone who evidently wanted to make a real difference and was intent on helping…because it was the right thing to do and because they could.

We were soon in deep conversation about our partners and our studies. About recruitment and endpoints…people and projects…risk and impact. I knew immediately I was seeing and hearing was something special. Every question I thought of was answered before I asked it.

I realised very quickly that I wanted more time on this discussion (and that I needed some better questions to ask). I doubt I will be able to offer much help let alone any insight, but I just knew I wanted to hear and see more. We have set up time. It will have to be an online meeting – ideally a videoconference – rather than in person. But I am excited.

I never cease to be amazed at how much we learn from our experiences and from each other. In this case I believe we are on the cusp of something special and impactful…and if so we will have benefited from multiple people on many sites working together…complemented by outstanding individuals on specific sites applying their excellence to the team…

Cheers

Steve

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Thinking Systems…

I had to go to the US Embassy in London to get a visa. It will actually be the third US visa I will have had. Consensus view – consensus between US Immigration officers, corporate layers and relocation leadership – is that I need a US visa to be able to carry out my role. More specifically…that I need a visa to enter the USA as frequently as I do and with people based in the US who I supervise.

I have debated this conclusion – with myself at least – the US visa waiver system works very well and getting and using a US visa is both more costly and more complicated. But needless to say, good sense is to follow guidance of Immigration, Legal and Relocation. Nonsense would be to take the risk.

I was dreading my Embassy visit. Each of my previous two attempts – you have to apply at, and be interviewed by, the US Embassy – was a nightmare. I remember being in the Embassy for hours waiting to be called. Nothing to do, no smart phone or computer allowed. A whole day wasted.

But this time is was simple. Smooth and no delays. I was comfortable inside the embassy, the assistants inside were very helpful. Everything was great (and I was granted the visa).

I thought on the way home that morning – I was in and out 90 minutes – how impressed I was by how much they had improved the whole application process. How much effort they must have put in to improve the system since my previous experience. How they must have analysed the flow of applicants, the sequence of activities, the number of applicants, the number of assistants available to help…

So I sat on the train and I tried – based on my memory – to work out what was different…how they had improved. It was partly interest and partly for learning. Any time I see a system level improvement I am always impressed and want to learn.

The strange thing was that despite all my effort, I couldn’t spot anything different. It was the same set of rooms and interview bays. The same number of applicants – give or take. And the same process. But something must have changed?

The only difference I could see was that I was allowed to take my phone inside with me this time. I knew that when I arrived because I had checked on the embassy website before setting off. I also left my laptop behind because I knew I couldn’t take that in with me.

And then it dawned on me. The biggest change from previous applications wasn’t the system but was me!

This time I was prepared and informed. Last time I had arrived at my allocated time – but with my laptop and phone – only to be told by Embassy security that I couldn’t take them inside. My only choice was to go to a nearby shop where I could rent a deposit box by the hour.

And on my first visit, I remembered that my application wasn’t printed correctly and that I had to walk to a nearby office where I could re-print my application with the correct barcode. I was 90 minutes late returning to the embassy…

So that was it. And that was my learning. When I arrived on time. Prepared. Having checked my paperwork and having read in advance the security information…I entered on time, was processed on time, was approved on time and left on time. The system worked. When I entered the system ill prepared or ill-informed then I was delayed. That was my responsibility. The system still worked.

Cheers

Steve

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