Discussion Review…

I had my year-end review last week. It was slightly later than normal, but it has been a hectic couple of months. Last week was also very busy. I visited four sites in three time zones in five days. I met new colleagues on two sites and old colleagues on two others. At various times I was delayed, on time, cancelled, upgraded, downgraded, hosted, interviewed, engaged, fed and tired. The common themes were people, science, partners, business and coffee. Lots of coffee.

It was a great week. My first opportunity to meet with, listen to, and interact with some of our new colleagues…and to visit their sites. So many similarities but also some delightful differences. It is reassuring to see similarities…it is exciting to see differences. Up until last week we were competitors. Now we are colleagues. A week is a long time. There is so much opportunity for us all…as well as so much opportunity to offer even more value to clients who already work with us; to clients who don’t yet work with us but soon will; and to patients who will ultimately benefit from projects we help advance.

My visits to our old sites were rapid but rewarding. There is never enough time – even without flight cancellations – to see let alone meet everyone I would want to. But even a corridor chat is such high value…and so much fun!

Mid-week I was back in the mid-west. This was my annual performance management review…although formally it is a Performance Management Discussion. A distinction that is small but significant. A discussion implies much more of a two way conversation. A review suggests much more of a one sided assessment.

I did complete my self review ahead of time. That was a ‘review’ since there was only me involved…albeit with much input from others – some solicited and some freely volunteered. I tend to find my self-review hard to start, but of high value. I am my own worst critic – I am very good at identifying aspects and areas in which I have to improve. Over the years I have managed to become better at identifying aspects of my own performance about which I can feel pleased and proud. Nevertheless, I still tend to skip past those in my self-review so as to spend more time thinking about those areas that I want to do more in, or better at….or less of!

Ironically I also know from experience that in the actual review with my boss, my approach can veer to the opposite. It is great to hear recognition of any aspects my performance that have stood out…even more so if they are areas that I didn’t identify myself. I can find it harder to hear areas where – if I am able to improve – my performance and contribution would increase. Harder to hear but again of high value.

I have often had feedback that I don’t take feedback (good or bad) well. I don’t want to believe that’s correct, but I know it has to be true since it is the perception of those offering the feedback. I do always work hard to really hear and to really understand feedback. Both highlights and improvers. I listen, I consider and I seek to understand. I want to understand so that I can learn and improve.

Learning and improving. Growing and developing. Different projects, different people, different experiences and different opportunities. This is all essential to me. As long as I am learning and improving I am happy.

I was grateful for how much I learned in my year-end review last week…now to improve.



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Done Deal…

The deal is done. Everything completed on schedule last week – Wednesday and Thursday to be precise. The big deal is a done deal. We are a new company. More specifically we are a new business within a new company. It was a busy week for sure. Early starts and late finishes each day. What felt like ten-fold more email sent and received, read and reviewed. Meetings, calls, texts and even one or two videos.

I was on site in the UK all week. On Monday I wondered how I would feel on Friday. On Friday I wondered what on earth was I thinking on Monday. Everything happened – best I could tell according – to plan. A lot of effort from a lot of people went into the plan for the week.

So how did I feel on Friday? I stopped thinking about the events and started to think about today. And tomorrow. That was the answer. I was thinking about tomorrow and next week and next month. I was thinking opportunity, new ideas, new analysis. I was imagining. I felt excited. I felt engaged.

I was also thinking people. We had lots of news about people this week. Some superb news about fantastic people who will be in amazing roles as we move forward. Exciting news about people I have not yet met – people who, I am certain, are also fantastic – who will be in amazing roles as we move forward. And some news about people I know really well who will be in amazing roles…but just not necessarily amazing roles with us.

I felt excited about the announcements as I sat on Friday. I also felt very positive about the people news…all the people news. I wondered why. Why not happy (for some) and sad (for others)? Why not pleased for some and worried for others? Why just positive?

Well, part of it is that I had seen and read lots of information. I even made sure I had time to watch the CEO video (twice). I listened to everything and asked questions. Part of it is because I can see the opportunities we have in front of us. Opportunities for us as individuals and as teams, but even more so the opportunities we have to partner even better and even more and even more successfully with all of our customers in all our client segments across our whole new company.

I can recognise how the combination of this overflow of information combined with the new directions that are open to us, is a powerful combination to help me engage and enthuse about the changes happening around us and to us.

But there is one aspect that I know made an enormous difference to me this week. It is the support of people. People I love, people I know and people I trust…and even people I don’t know…reaching out and asking how I am doing. It always makes me feel so positive. I feel great when people thank me, or congratulate me. I feel amazing when people ask me about me. It is all support, and we all need support.

And it can happen in the most unexpected ways from the most unexpected people. A call to my cell phone from someone who I knew was unbelievably busy. A word or two in a phone call from a sponsor and friend I was supposed to be engaging and exciting. An unexpected email. Social media connection requests from new colleagues.

And I felt good because I had fed forward. I sent notes, pictures; I rang, I texted and I invited.

It’s always the people…



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Mixed Feelings…

I experienced mixed emotions last week. I was on site in the UK all week, and at various times felt happy, sad, anxious, excited, bemused and enlightened.

We are approaching closure of the Big Deal. The Shareholder vote is Wednesday. Wednesday is when we will know for sure. Wednesday will be a moment of change. At times of change, emotions can be high and feelings strong. We can feel the need to express ourselves, but frequently we don’t know how to, where to, or who to.

I recognised my own mixed feelings this week as I spoke with various groups and individuals. I heard these mixed feelings when I met with various individuals and groups…more interest, more questions and more requests.

This is often what change is all about – strong and, at times, confusing feelings. Everything ranging from delight to gloom…from frustration to joy…from relaxed to engaged. We all handle change of course – big or small – but we all handle change in different ways. There is no right way or simple way, although there are a few watch outs.

Information is paramount. The more information we can read and hear or give and share the better. There is almost no limit to our appetite for information regarding change. Information about people, teams, timings, and colleagues. Reasons, insights, observations and conclusions. Everything helps.

I consciously try to pass on as much information as I possibly can as soon as I get it. I also read everything that is communicated, connect to every Town Hall or telecom, and watch every video. In short, my desire for information is insatiable.

Support is crucial. We all need support in change. Some more than others and some less. And it is almost impossible to predict which. I always steer clear from making assumptions about how anyone else is feeling. I try to avoid anything along the lines of “you must be feeling good” or I know you are feeling bad”. If I want to find out how someone is doing I ask them. On the other hand if they don’t want to tell me then that’s fine as well.

I look after myself by seeking out people to talk to about how I am feeling. Friends and family. People who care about me and who I trust. People I know will support me. People I know who will support me even when I don’t realise I need their help and advice!

Times when we are under stress is often when we revert to type…revert to our preferred style of operating. If we are naturally more ‘command and control’, then that is what people will see. If we are more ‘logical and analytical’ then logic and analysis it will be. When we are under pressure we have less time to consider our options in any situation and as such we tend to react more intuitively. Again this is a watch out for me – another place where my friends and family, allies and mentors can and do help me. They see me and know mem and they are willing and able to hold that mirror up to me.

We are all passionate about our work, our colleagues and our partners. We work on important and significant projects. We are all committed. We are desperate to succeed and we always want to make a difference. Our future – and that of our partners – will include even more opportunities for us to do even more amazing work. This will all come, and it will come soon enough. In the meantime we continue to work, to support and to help…our colleagues, our partners and ourselves…



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Meeting Midwest…

I have never really understood why a certain part of the USA is called the Midwest. Moreover, I am not really sure which states constitute the Midwest. And yes. The second statement may well explain the first.

But I do know some things for sure about the Midwest. It can be brutally cold in the winter. It can be amazingly hot in the summer. Air travel is notoriously unreliable all year (see above about weather). Most everyone you meet is incredibly hospitable.

I was in the Midwest last week. All of the above applied (apart from the summer weather). I was delayed so long at Chicago airport that I could have researched the definition of Midwest…but rather I caught up with email…and sleep, whilst making sure I didn’t miss my eventual flight departure.

I was in the US for meetings with one of our partners, and also to visit a couple of our research locations. It was an excellent visit. Tiring and cold. Engaging and rewarding.

I often end up calling in remotely to meetings. It is virtually impossible to be present every time…no matter how much I would like it to be so. Being present in person is very different and, last week, allowed me to schedule additional high value meetings. Relationships underpin everything we do…and are one of the most rewarding investments we can make. Team meetings, one-to-one meetings, breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings are priceless…although they do make for long days.

I say a lot in these meetings. It’s a long way to come to not contribute. But I always make sure I listen more. A lot of what I say are questions. Questions can be a great way to contribute whilst still being able to listen and learn as much as possible. My big desire when I meet with partners is to understand what they want…their priorities, their focus. The number one focus for their company in 2015. Whatever that is, our role is to help them achieve and deliver.

It is often the same thing. To deliver their projects and portfolio. It is never to save money. Or to invest in technology. But it always involves growing and developing people. Money and technology are important parameters of course, but the priority is only ever the projects…and the people. The project performance defines the success of the year. The people define the success of the company. We work to deliver the projects. We work with the people.

At the end of the week, I visited one of our Midwest sites and was invited to have lunch with the joint Integration team. We are only a couple of weeks away from the crucial shareholder vote on the proposed merger of our two companies. Integration planning is well underway…and well on target. It is exciting, and I was excited to meet the teams. As I walked to where lunch was scheduled, I wondered what I was looking for, and what I would find.

I sat down next to one of the senior leaders from the other company, I observed the lunchtime scene. Engagement. Laughter. Deep and animated conversations. I had seen what I was looking for. Situations were being resolved. Opportunities were being seized. Potential was being created. Enthusiasm was rampant. People were passionate. And people define the success of any company.

My own conversation was superb (for me at least). I shook hands with a leader. I heard thoughts. Listened to ideas. Recognised leadership. Saw vision. Was inspired by science. Left lunch happy. And felt hungry for more.

I was still happy as I travelled home that evening. I am still hungry this morning…



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Team Incarnate…

Teams are an impressive thing to observe. Good teams are even better to observe. Great teams are a joy to be part of. Like many things we experience, it is not always obvious how good a team may be either until something happens – something that can only be solved by outstanding team work – or until a moment arises when we can compare our team to another. Another distinct team…or a previous incarnation of our own team.

I had a great deal of time last week to consider various teams that I am part of or that I get chance to observe. I flew. I was in a hotel. I worked. I flew back. But I saw teams everywhere. Some teams I recognised, some were new (to me). I was impressed, and tired, and happy.

Our role in the biopharmaceutical industry requires a commercial team. For our business to be successful, and for us to make a positive difference to the biopharmaceutical industry, we need our commercial team to be both outstanding, and an outstanding team. To borrow (and ruin) a sporting quote, a great individual can win a day, a great team wins the year.

I watched our commercial team in action all year. I saw our commercial team come together last week. There was support and friendship. Challenge and debate. Laughter and tears (from joy and sorrow). There were veterans and brand new members. They were superbly lead. They were engaged. And we celebrated them and their performance. They deserved every minute. They enjoyed every second. 2015 is a new year and will be full of new opportunities. I was inspired and I am confident.

I also saw a new team come into view. A small number in the room last week, representing a much larger team who are working to deliver a new opportunity. To say I am excited about what this opportunity will allow us to do with our partners is an understatement! I was so impressed by what this team have achieved, described, and will achieve.

We notice the highlights, we are attracted by how much we are engaged in the sessions and we are absorbed by the solutions brought forward. We don’t see the hours of work beforehand. The ‘insurmountable problems’ that have been solved. The ‘it’s how we do things’ that have been overcome. The ‘we’ve tried this before and it didn’t work’ that have been left on the roadside. It is hard work. It is individuals excelling in their own work and exceeding together. It was a time to sit back and admire. To feel so proud and so fortunate.

Sometimes it can be harder to celebrate and recognise teams. But it is all the more important. It can be difficult to delineate who does what in a team. Yet still we try. But why? The team is the value. The output is the impact. The partner is the beneficiary. Teams are based on trust and confidence. I am with you. You are there for me. Great teams don’t need much, but all teams gain from recognition. And reflection from outside, from a more distant – or neutral – observer, is only ever of enormous value.

Our teams never relax. Our desire to do more and better is ingrained. We celebrate and we champion. We are mortified and despondent if we don’t quite reach what we set out to achieve. But we never give up. We pull together, we resolve together and we solve together.

The next opportunity is in front of us. The next project needs our focus. The next partner needs our support. The next patient is waiting.



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Success Mode…

We carried out an After Action Review last week on an opportunity with a partner. I really like participating and learning from AARs. It is a good discipline and I like the discipline! Discipline can have a bad name, but there are many scenarios where discipline is a really good thing. Discipline can help make sure something that should happen does happen. Alternatively, a lack of discipline can lead to errors and problems.

Participating and learning from After Action Reviews (what did we want to happen? What happened? Why? And what can we learn for next time?) is a simple and enjoyable activity. I have long since felt that an organisation that invests, advocates and uses AARs has potential to set itself apart uniquely from others. A true Learning Organization will continually learn, grow and achieve…as will anyone working in such an organisation. Moreover, AARs should be engaging and interactive to ensure we learn from what we have done and make sure we do even better next time.

That having been said, no matter how impressed I am with AARs, I have always thought that a Pre-Action Review sounded like a really good idea. Done properly (and with discipline) a Pre-Action Review should be an excellent way to avoid a problem before it happens.

It turns out of course, that this is not a new idea. There are a variety of well described formal and informal methods of carrying out Pre-Action Reviews, including the unattractively named Failure Mode & Effects Analysis (FMEA). The good news, however, is that I have participated in FMEAs and it is – in truth – both an engaging and interactive process…and more importantly it really helped the teams I was working in.

Despite the name, a successful FMEA is should help teams identify how, and where, their proposed plan (of whatever complexity) is most likely to fail…based on past data and experience. This past data and experience is where the AARs blend in as well. Done properly and done at the right time FMEA even allows potential failures to be identified and ranked in order of likelihood and likely (negative) impact…impressive stuff! Even better is that the insight gained will enable teams to avoid those failures before they happen.

Like most of these activities, many of us would say it’s obvious and that we do it anyway. Maybe…maybe not. I wish I could say – hand on heart – that I always carried out such a review. But if we do (or if I do), then more often than not, I do so without discipline. Where – for example – do I record or share output from my own reviews?

Of course, none of us ever set out to do anything we believe will not succeed. But rightly or wrongly, we are all subject to the law of unintended consequences – unforeseen events can potentially be more significant than any of the intended outcomes of our actions. No matter what we may like to believe, it’s just not possible for us to fully control everything that goes on around us.

Theoretically, of course, (just not very often in my case) unintended consequences can be a positive outcome. But even if this is the case, then a well done Pre-Action Review should predict such outcomes…and even encourage them to be the result.

For an organisation to be a true Learning Organisation everyone has to want to learn and want to work together – openly and without judgement – to learn together at a personal, project team and business level. And part of this learning has to be about how we avoid ‘failures’ before they happen…at all levels.



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Three Ideas…

I was in the UK and on site all week. My first full week since New Year. This first week can often seem slightly strange…for some reason I find it easy to lose track of which day it is, and who I have met already this year. At some point I know I have to stop saying Happy New Year…maybe next week.

I tried to meet a lot of people this week. That’s one of the benefits of being on site after all, but also it’s a good way of getting back into the swing of things. There is not really any respite in our work. 2014 is behind us now. We can’t influence or change anything we have done – we can only influence and change what will happen next. We consider what we did, look at what happened and ensure we learn – both successes and not such good outcomes – but we move forward.

And often the best way – most successful, most enjoyable and most impactful – of assessing considering and planning is through discussion with someone else. We all have our own view over what we did and what we should do. That comparison and contrast that occurs when we share our views and opinions can be priceless…as well as engaging and exciting. We don’t know what we will achieve together…but there will be something.

The number of times I have managed to work something out by myself, let alone come up with a new idea, is very small indeed – most best ideas I have seen or heard come from groups or teams or discussion or debates. All the more reason I like to meet, to share thoughts, to listen to other points of view and to other ideas. I met in person, on the phone, on video, in big groups and in small groups. Early in the morning, late at night, over lunch, or dinner or coffee.

And three ideas really hit me. All were related to situations I have thought about off and on for ages. But none were ideas I had ever considered. I don’t know if they were ideas the originator had before the session, or whether they were ideas that appeared in those discussions. I just know they weren’t my idea. And moreover, I know that I would never have come up with the ideas any time anyway. I just happened to be there and hear them.

In one case I may have contributed to the thinking. In another I hope I encouraged the thinking. In the last I did nothing other than sit there and admire.

The first contribution was an idea over resourcing. We always seem to need additional people. This is good news in many ways – it shows growth and opportunity, but it is an issue nonetheless. We struggle with balancing costs of recruitment against timing of revenue. A straightforward problem but still a problem. We now have a beautifully simple but potentially successful idea to explore. Exciting.

The second encouragement was an idea for new opportunity. A very different opportunity to develop a key partner relationship into a genuine and significant ‘win-win’. More complicated to explore; but big potential to surprise and delight our partner. Very exciting

The third admiration was an idea on measuring our progress. It was so simple and yet so impactful. It will help us to develop and differentiate. It was such a good idea. In an area I had thought, and talked, about for ages, but it had never occurred to me. When I heard the idea suggested, I sat back and smiled, ruefully, for a moment…

…and then I just smiled.



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