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…



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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…



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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.



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This Year…

As the Holiday Season comes to an end and 2017 starts, it is that moment each year when I look at myself in the mirror and admit that I have never ever managed to keep any of my New Year Resolutions. It’s no surprise…I know I am not alone. Nevertheless I seem to find myself pulled every year towards this bizarre ritual of telling myself that once the clock passes midnight on December 31 that I will stop doing something I shouldn’t be doing or start doing something I should be doing….

I have tried all sorts of resolutions. Often around coffee, alcohol, sleep, email, exercise, food, films and family – more or less, shorter or longer, better or funnier. No matter though…I never manage to keep any of them.

Over the years I have received much advice on what to do to keep my resolutions and why I fail. The answers seem to be deeply rooted….apparently I have failed because either ‘I have suppressed my cravings, haven’t adopted a role model, have (or is that haven’t) fantasized about being successful, or have relied on willpower alone’. More importantly, it would appear that all I have to do to succeed is ‘to break resolutions into smaller steps and reward myself when I achieve each step’. I should also ‘tell friends and colleagues about my resolutions, focus on benefits of success and keep a diary of my progress’. Sounds so simple!

In 2017 I am going to drink less coffee and less alcohol, sleep more, travel less, write shorter emails, drive safer, exercise longer, eat better food, watch funnier films and do all of these with my family! There. I feel better already. I will let you know how I get on in a year’s time…but don’t hold your breath!

This year for a change, I looked for a definition a resolution…a ‘course of action that has been decided on’. There we are then – nothing here about success, or delivery or achievement. If a New Year’s Resolution is simply ‘a course of action’ it’s no wonder they never work!

OK – how about promises? I know always keep my promises…‘an assurance’ given by me to someone else ‘agreeing or guaranteeing to do or give something in the future’. This helps explain why I keep promises. Invariably I make promises to family, friends or colleagues – people I care about and who care about me. I only make promises of significance and I only make them to significant people.

And last but not least, commitments? A commitment…‘the state of being bound emotionally to a course of action or to another person or persons’. Wow…being bound emotionally. That’s big. There’s no way out of this one. Commitments have both a sense of both responsibility and of accountability. A commitment both involves and signifies an investment by me in someone else.

Commitments are becoming more common. Many companies and leaders refer to use ‘Commitments’ extensively in both internal and external communications. For example, last year Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan made an ambitious commitment (supported by $3B over the next ten years) to help cure all disease.

So I like commitments much more than I do goals – and believe me I am a big advocate of goals. A goal is a purpose toward which effort is directed – and we all certainly put a great deal of effort into achieving our goals. But I just can’t get away from thinking about the power of commitments. Commitments based on sound beliefs and supported by consistent behaviour.

Once we make a commitment then everything starts….it just has to. Commitments launch action.

2017 here we come!



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Chemical Greetings…



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Birthday Plan…

Monday was my birthday. Originally I was going to take a vacation day, but a number of internal and partner meetings came up and I had to work. I compromised by working from home. I had a plan. Lunch at home with my wife and then for dinner out together in the evening after my work day was done.

It was a good plan. A plan that started off very well…up until around lunchtime. Lunchtime was the first time that day we heard from our son (away at college) that he had suspected appendicitis and that he had been sent by his GP to the local hospital.

Denial can be an immediate response to any big event – and sure enough neither of us “could believe it”…and both of us assumed we would hear from him later that it was a false alarm and that he had been sent  home.

Fast forward to 9:00pm Monday evening and we were in the car driving to see him after hearing that he had been admitted to hospital and with a plan to have his appendix out the next day.

It’s strange how your mind responds to news such as this – especially as a parent – and despite your son being an able and healthy young man. All sorts of unrealistic (and not in the least common) scenarios come flowing into your mind…as you drive three hours late at night to be there…still wearing your birthday present T-shirt.

Fast forward another 24 hours and everything is sorted and none of these worries have come true. It was the simplest of appendectomies with the whole procedure – from leaving the award to returning – taking a little under 2 hours including pre- and post-op.

Fast forward another 2 days and we were home and I am in awe of (or do I mean jealous of) the healing powers of a healthy young man. And last week seems hard to recognise let alone reconcile.

I had to cancel or decline many meetings – internal and external…individual and teams…old and new colleagues. And not only did nobody mind…and not only did everybody understand…but everyone was so generous and so helpful. Friends and family. At work and at home. When you need them they are always there for you…unconditionally. Thank you.

And everything worked well without me.  Good people, good teams and good allies stepped in, sorted and supported. And they all volunteered. Everyone asked to help…wanted to help.

And the medical professionals were very good…even though they all seemed very young (another artifact maybe, of Monday being my birthday). But their dedication and desire to help, to make better and to reassure was impressive. I even had opportunity to listen as my son was asked for his ‘informed consent’ to the operation and for those components unique to a University teaching hospital replete with medical students.

And there was – inevitably – a lot of waiting around. Waiting for him to go to theatre…and to come back. A lot of time to sit and think and remember. I remembered the last time he was in hospital (wisdom teeth)…and the first time (being born). I appreciated the fact that we were able to be there with him.

Those thinking times are the most unusual – a mixture of great rational and strong emotional…illogicality and common sense. Overall of course, everything was straightforward and problem free. Any time spent we spent worrying about unrealistic or infrequent events helped no one.

The answer was more instinctive…and in this case parental instinct. Our best decisions have always been ones we make instinctively together.

Once a parent always a parent…



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Meeting People…

My main philosophy for any meeting I organise is that I want everyone who attends to feel they really want to come back to the next one. It sounds pretty obvious in many ways, but I decided on this approach many years after realising that I personally experienced the opposite quite often.

If I was ever invited to attend a meeting – internal or external – I would dutifully turn up with a desire to engage and participate, to learn, add value and to enjoy. Sometimes that was straightforward to achieve and sometime it was pretty well impossible. Sometimes the stumbling block was most certainly me and my abilities…but other times it was the focus and style of the meeting.

I also realise there is no way that I can always satisfy that philosophy, but I do everything possible to make it true…and – as with most actions I take – I give myself time afterwards to assess and review. My fear being that team members will only come back because they feel they have to.

I focus my approach on the meeting content – what we are trying to achieve…what progress we have made…who needs to be involved – and the meeting style. I schedule longer time slots to fewer topics and always seek to include active working sessions in smaller teams on every topic.

I like to have an overarching theme. It’s good if topics flow together. It’s great to get different people presenting and leading. It’s a positive sign when I feel nervous energy. It’s better when we identify ideas and options none of us have thought about before. It’s best when I can see everyone’s faces.

I arranged a big meeting last week. But we were all remote rather than together. We covered four time zones and at least twelve locations. We ranged from six people in one place to several team members participating by themselves.

December is always a very busy time of year.  Everyone is working incredibly hard to do everything possible in support of our full year objectives…but 2017 is literally just two or three weeks away. This week was an opportunity chance for us to take stock of 2016 and plan for 2017.

Despite the virtual nature of our meeting, I stuck to plan over the format. We had multiple presenters – including a special guest – and virtual breakout teams. We even used our laptop videoconference capability on several occasions.

The assessment of whether our meeting left participants feeling like they can’t wait for next time is a personal one. But I know I felt energised by the team individually and collectively and by the meeting, and that at the end of the week I was happy…and tired.

The other assessment I make is whether the investment of time and effort delivers a business benefit as well as the obvious personal and team benefit.  And the simplest measure of business benefit is those ideas and options none of us had thought about before.

I always look out for these moments as the meeting progresses. It’s not necessary of course. When they happen it’s obvious.  There’s a surge of energy. Everyone jumps – both literally (well almost) and onto the idea. I recognise those moments when they happen to me.

I never know where or when they will happen. Or who will propose the idea, or make the suggestion or make the comment or ask the question that leads to the new idea.  But it happens. And it did. On what we are doing commercially and financially, with our partners, and with and for our people.

I was pleased. And proud. And excited.



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Weak End…

Friday felt like a tough day. I was tired anyway. I had been on the East Coast for client visits and meetings. Massachusetts and New Jersey. A lot of talking, introducing, flying and learning. All exciting and energizing. But also a lot of energy and focus.

I flew back home Thursday evening. I always fly back with a UK airline. On a UK airline flying back to the UK, the majority of people tend to be UK based…and on the same time zone as me…and want to sleep on the night flight.

This does not always happen of course…and Thursday it did not happen. I slept badly…and found myself thinking a lot (when I should have been sleeping) about the meetings and discussions of the week. In some ways this is good – it suggests I had lots of mental stimulation. In many more ways it is not good. I arrived at Heathrow avoiding mirrors! I managed some sleep on the way home from the airport – some good news.

I have long since realised that I can be less objective and more instinctive (in what I do, say and write) on these days back from the US. It’s not complicated – it’s simply because I am tired. But it means I tend to be more emotional in all its senses. Anything that is funny really amuses me. Anything that is irritating really annoys me.

I have to work harder on these days. Whenever possible I avoid more complicated situations and decisions. I avoid writing emails on topics that I know I feel strongly about. I keep myself hydrated with lots of water and caffeinated with lots of coffee. I try to get to the fitness center sometime in the day and get some exposure to natural light.

All sounds great in theory. But of course stuff happens. It’s the nature of things that ‘stuff happens’ when you least want it to. Either at home or at work or just in general about something or someone you care about.

So Friday was a long day. Looking back it’s not that there was anything too much out of the ordinary. There were just several topics and discussions and events that occurred in those few hours. One is manageable. Two is difficult. Three or more just seems to get exponentially harder.

I recognised I was having to work hard. I felt the need to explain to anyone I was talking to about the challenge of big or important things when jet lagged. I didn’t have to tell my wife. She knew.

The good news is that these sorts of days don’t last any longer than any other. And more often than not, those big or important things generally only feel bigger and more important on those days…and at that time. Saturday morning comes round soon enough and (after re-reading any emails I sent on Friday) I was left more with a feeling of excitement and enthusiasm about the people I had met last week and the discussions we had together.

I also realised how important people are to me – people who I work with and people who care. People who bend and stretch and adapt around these sorts of days. But more importantly those are the same people who are there for – and with – me every day.

No matter what happens – no matter how good and exciting, not so good and disappointing, big or small. The only thing that really matters is what we do next. What decisions we make and steps we take – ideas, options, projects, plans – together.

New understanding and next opportunity. Today and tomorrow.



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