Three Ships…

I like frameworks. Maybe it’s the scientist in me or maybe it’s just the chemist in me. I don’t know. But I do like frameworks. Strategic frameworks, communication frameworks, operations frameworks. You name…it I like it.

I like frameworks because they can help to make complicated matters simpler; I like them because they enable conversations and I like them because they can be long lasting. For example, a strategic framework provides a picture of how a range of activities are connected to achieve an overall outcome. The activities themselves will inevitably vary from time to time – normally based on unexpected or unprintable internal or external events – but the framework should always stay constant.

Operations frameworks should allow prioritisation of our actions whilst ensuring we balance our internal (process) components and our external (customer) needs.

And communication frameworks. Well I guess that I like these because they help me get over messages I want to share in a successful way. There was a time when I would plan my communication – especially spoken communication – to a significant level of detail. I stopped doing this partly because I just didn’t have enough time to do such preparation, and partly because I convinced myself that I sounded too scripted…and after all I was reading from a script…albeit one I had written myself!

Once I abandoned a script, I quickly realised I needed a framework of sorts to communicate through. A framework that allowed me to get over any messages I wanted to share…whilst ensuring – best possible – that I would keep within my allocated time. The most obvious version of a communication framework would be a slide deck used in a presentation, but I tend to apply the same approach to any occasion.

And although my communication frameworks vary from situation to situation, I always have one. They vary not least because situations vary. I could be meeting in person or by telecom. I could be meeting with five people or fifty. And of course the moment could be business or personal, good news or not so good news.

In most situations, my communication framework will involve three things. It could be more or less, but three tends to work well…and three is enough for me to remember without writing them down. I just have to remember what they are, and the order. And then for each one I say what comes to mind…and make sure I keep an eye on a nearby clock.

This last week I had to make an announcement – by teleconference to three different teams – that someone was leaving…a close colleague who we will all miss but who we all know is absolutely doing the right thing for himself and for his family.

I needed a framework…and decided on ‘three ships’. Leadership. Followership. Friendship. I knew ‘three ships’ was a corny concept at best, but it ensured I remembered the three themes I wanted to cover…and the order I wanted to cover them in. Leadership is what we see in an individual – it is an ability to inspire and to encourage. Followership is what we experience when we see or hear a true leader…the urge to follow them where they want to go; to help achieve what they want to achieve. Leadership and Followership are an amazing combination. Only select few people demonstrate them both so strongly.

And friendship. Friendship is very different. It is how another person makes us feel. How good they make us feel and how much they help us. Best friends at work are rare…and are special people.

Losing a best friend from work…no matter how good the reason…is tough.



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Firm Hold…

I like my car and I enjoy driving my car. Both of are good since I spend well over ten hours most weeks driving one way or another. I like the space I have and I enjoy the technology. I can talk ‘hands free’ on my cell phone and I can speak to my satellite navigation so that it can tell me where to go.

My car has a diesel engine. And it’s from Germany. But it’s not from the company what was all over the news last week. I believe the technology in my car does what it should do and that the exhaust emissions are ‘neutralised’. On the other hand, I am sure everyone who owns one of the impacted cars thought the same thing up to a week ago. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly our trust and confidence as customers can be eroded by (negative) events.

I woke up last Monday to a letter from my insurance company quoting my car insurance renewal for the next twelve months. It seemed at first glance to be significantly larger than the figure I paid for the last twelve months. So I found last year’s certificate and pulled out my calculator. Nineteen percent increase was the answer. Nineteen percent! I was shocked.

Nothing has changed in the last twelve months – other than me and my car being a year older…with a few thousand miles on both of our clocks. No accidents, no claims, no speeding tickets. No nothing. And the nineteen percent was applied to my insurance and to my associated ‘no-claims discount’ insurance.

I knew I was going to have to understand this increase. I also realised that I was suspicious. Suspicious that the insurance company were pushing up their price significantly more than inflation and just hoped I would pay. I knew that ‘suspicion of motive’ is a pretty good leading indicator for erosion of trust. And I also knew that in my limited experience, calling insurance companies over renewals in the past has never ended well…

I cleared my head; sipped my coffee; breathed deeply; dialled the number at the top of the letter…and started my conversation with a very helpful individual at the call centre. My approach was to focus on my confusion, express my disappointment and allude to my frustration…whilst stressing that my emotions were all directed at the company and in no way at the individual on the telephone.

The helpline operator was very concerned. He checked my account, looked for claims or tickets or other changes, but was unable to find or offer an explanation for nineteen percent. He was friendly and cordial, but I knew I could feel my trust and confidence waning. At the very least I had expected something about ‘challenges of the insurance industry’ or ‘overall increase in claims in general’.

‘Let me see what I can do’ was his next line. I was surprised. ‘OK’ he said, ‘good news – I bring it down to a seven percent increase’.

My instinctive response was to smile. Seven percent sounded better. But then almost immediately I could feel my heart sinking. It had been too easy. A simple phone call had resulted in a ‘saving’ of twelve percent. That made no sense.

If the insurance company had stuck with nineteen percent, I may have been frustrated, but I would have concluded the increase was based on something real. The ease with which they conceded only left me feeling more certain they were trying it on to see how much extra they could get.

My trust and confidence eroded…I have now requested competitor quotes…



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Whose Doctor…

Dr Who is one of those strange British TV programs. You either love it or you hate it. And if you live outside of the UK you have either never seen – or heard of – ‘The Doctor’…or you have watched every single episode.

Me? I am in the UK and I love it…and I have watched every episode. More specifically…we have watched every episode. My son especially got really – really – into Dr Who some ten years ago. And we have all dutifully watched every series and every episode since then. It is great family viewing for us all. We have laughed and screamed together. Complained and praised together. We have hidden behind the sofa together and we have cried together.

And Dr Who has proven to be more than a great source of birthday and Christmas gift ideas for my son….it was – and is – a family tradition. Something we can – and always will – do together on a Saturday night. Even with my daughter away at University these last three years…we have ‘watched’ together…aided by internet, text messages and FaceTime video conferencing. Dr Who has maintained it status and significance.

My wife, son and I were away together this weekend. My son started university today – Sunday – and we were there (with a car load of boxes, bags and suitcases). We were there to leave him. He was there to start his new life and to become even more of an amazing young man. We are already so proud of him words simply cannot describe it. And now, today, is his time. It is his opportunity. It is the moment he has worked so hard for, and done so well to reach. It is the start of his future. A new chapter. I am so excited for him.

And sure enough, we watched Dr Who together on the hotel TV last night after dinner. It was an excellent show…fast paced, thrilling, frightening, funny, and surprising.

One moment stuck in my mind. One moment I cannot get out of my mind. The moment The Doctor hugged the person he loved most in the world…and as he hugged her goodbye, he said his line…”Never trust a hug. It’s just a way to hide your face”.

Hugs always feel affectionate. They are more than a handshake and more than a kiss on the cheek. There is contact and connection. My wife and I have hugged our son many times these past few days. It is a time of strong emotions for us for sure. We know it is time for him to move on, and we are excited that he will meet new people. We know he will be happy, and we are certain he will do so well. But we also just can’t bear the thought of him leaving us. All those hugs have felt so good…but they have also helped us hide our faces.

We know he is eighteen and he may be well over six foot tall, but he is our little boy and he will always be our little boy.

And him leaving is a moment of such intense and conflicting emotions. It is almost unbearable. We love him – I love him – and we want him to go. We love him – I love him – and I don’t want him to go. We know he will go and he will be amazing. We know our life together will change again…and will be amazing. But it will not be the same.

And yes hugs help. Lots of hugs. They show how much we care…but they allow us to hide our faces.



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Mirror Mirror…

I was in the UK all last week. I had good days at work and I had bad days at work. Most weeks I have moments where events go very well and I feel good…and there are also times when things don’t go so well. Fortunately I don’t often have whole days that feel tough…and it is seldom the case where another day in that same week can feel overwhelmingly positive. But that was my week last week.

It was my wife’s birthday on Thursday. Thursday was a wonderful day – from start to end. I was able to arrange my schedule so that I could work from home – I travelled back very late Wednesday and returned early Friday. Although I had to work Thursday, at least I was there all day with my wife and our children. Birthdays are important. It was a day to remind myself about my family…a day just to be with them. A great day…

Wednesday was not a good day. One of those days it’s difficult to imagine being involved in when you start working. One of those days that if you experience once…you never want to experience again. But ours is an industry where change continues to happen – and an industry where many of the changes are in response to events over which we seldom feel we have much direct influence. Some say that makes change easier…or is it harder?

I have communicated big change in my career and I have had big change communicated to me. Neither are good experiences. Although both can feel bad, the experience and the feelings are different. Communicating change is a role – it has to be done and handled in the best way possible. Being on the receiving end of change communication feels personal…even when the messages are all about portfolio or business or industry. It can feel personal.

As I went to out to work on Wednesday I looked in the mirror. Not through vanity, or to count grey hairs. But more a figurative need…a need to be able to look myself in the mirror each day and feel confident I am doing my best.

I looked in the mirror again at the end of the day. This time there was more of a literal need. How did I look? Tired. As well as the figurative need. How did I feel? Stressed…depressed…impressed.

Stressed and depressed I could understand. Wednesday was that sort of a day. But impressed? Where did that come from? I knew I wasn’t impressed with myself. I hadn’t done anything to feel impressed about.

I was impressed with how everyone else had handled the day. And it wasn’t even just impressed. I was more in awe…inspired even. People are amazing. Our people are truly amazing.

Friday was a long day. Friday was our awards night in the Eu. More incredible stories of friendship, partnership and teamwork. Of dedication, and inspiration…of passion and compassion. More moments of great humour and great humility…of great pride and great pleasure. It was a special way to end a long week. I felt privileged to spend the evening in the company of so many of our so special people, their friends and their partners.

I drove home Saturday morning. The roads were quiet. Time to consider. And to wonder. The week was over. A chance to relax and reenergise. To think about tomorrow. To plan for next week. To look forward. To influence the future.

I made it home in good time. My wife met me at the door. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to say anything. She just hugged me. She knew.



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Away Awards…

I had a wonderful time on Wednesday evening…in fact I had an evening I will never forget. I was in the US Mid-West and I attended a presentation evening for colleagues who had been nominated – and selected to receive – our annual people recognition awards.

It’s not the first such event I’ve been to. But it is the most recent. And it was the most memorable. Each recipient had their nominations read out – these were amazing and I was in awe. Each recipient was praised and applauded – I was so impressed and so pleased for them. But why was the evening so memorable for me?

It wasn’t because of my introductory speech – although I was delighted to be asked; and nor for the superb setting and stunning view – although both helped make the evening such a success; and nor the meal we were served – although it was also excellent.

The evening will reside in my memory because of what the recipients said…and how they made me feel.

I was delighted to be asked to make a short introduction speech. I always try to be spontaneous, but I always to frame what I will say (not least to help keep me to time) and I always look around for inspiration.

Last week my focus was leadership. And I knew I wanted a quote.

I am sorry to admit that I had not heard of Maya Angelou…but I have now…and she truly was an impressive author and poet (amongst lots of other things). And Maya provided my quote last week – ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

Those words resonated with me. They touched me when I read them. I believe those words. Maya wasn’t especially talking about leadership – she was talking about people. People we interact with; live with; work with…

And I remember how people make me feel. Whenever I travel I interact with many people…and I remember how they make me feel. The airline cabin crew. The restaurant team. The hotel reception. That person next to me in Starbucks at Chicago O’Hare. The list goes on. Ask me in a week what they did…I don’t remember. But I do remember they made me feel happy; or special; or reassured; or welcome.

I used Maya’s quote in my introduction on Wednesday. Even as I read out the words – I wanted to be accurate – I could feel their impact on me. Maya is impressive.

And then I sat down to watch the awards. And every recipient looked so happy. I could see how they felt. And how their partner or family member or friend who was attending with them looked…and felt.

And then they spoke. Every recipient spoke as they received their award. They laughed or they cried. They stumbled or they reverberated. But they all spoke. And they were all moving…so humble…so real…so generous. Every one thanked their teams; their supervisor; their family. To a person they shared the moment with their loved ones in work and at home.

But it was so much more than just thanking. It was dedicating. It was assigning. It was moving. I laughed. I wondered. I held back the tears. I smiled. And cheered and clapped. I felt honoured…just to be there. I felt proud…of everyone. I felt good…good about what we do…and even better about the people who do what we do.

I may not be able to remember what everyone had done to deserve their award…or even everyone’s names. But I know – and I will never forget – how they made me feel.



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Change Happens…

The thing about times of change…is that things change! Obvious I know, but still true. Based on what I have seen, when companies merge…change happens. New leaders take over and old leaders move on. Based on what I have experienced, new leaders and old leaders are always great leaders – the only difference is that new leaders will be leading us…old leaders will be leading somewhere else.

Change can be unsettling. Change can give us a sense of lack of control. But change can also be exciting, and change can give us a sense of opportunity. And depending on what role we currently have in an organisation, the impact of leadership change can either happen very quickly, or can take some time to materialise.

At times of change, I am frequently asked if I am surprised by events that happen. My answer is always yes…because it is true. The only time I’m not surprised is if I am the person making or taking a specific decision. Sometimes my answer may be more that surprise…I can be as amazed as anyone else.

In truth though, at times of change, it’s never a surprise that things do change. I can find myself surprised by the rate, or extent, of change – whether that be people, or teams, or goals, or ways of operating – but not by the change itself.

But what about opportunities at these times? There are always opportunities – personal and organisational – sometimes more or less apparent…or that appear more or less rapidly. But opportunities are always there. We just need to see them or have someone help show us.

I always try to identify opportunities and activities over which I feel I have maximum influence. Again – sounds obvious – but it is still a choice I make. The converse – seeking out opportunities or activities over which I have little influence – feels much less useful or helpful.

For example, whatever change happens, I have opportunity to make the maximum positive impact I can every day on people and projects – to partner with the people I work with…and to do the best work I can on the projects I am responsible for.

And change frequently gives us new people to work with…or for. Whether that be internal partners or external partners. And new people always inspire and excite me. I learn from people. Gain experience from people. And delight from meeting new people. All the best times I have at work involve other people.

Change frequently allows us to learn more; about ourselves, about our work, about our science, about others. Learning and growing always energises and engages me. All the best times I have at work involve learning and growing.

I work hard not to worry at times of change. Worry is one of the most unhelpful emotions (alongside guilt). Feeling worried, or feeling guilty, can be an internal cycle to nowhere. That’s not to say I don’t have my moments – we all do – but I work hard to focus on thinking and planning. What will I do next? What can I try? What would happen if?

And that thinking and planning is always more successful and rewarding if I involve others – friends or family or allies. I know I am at my best when I am working with others. Involving others always helps me. All the best times I have at work involve working with others.

So it is true that times of change can feel challenging, unsettling or even disempowering. But these times can also feel exciting, engaging and even energising.

All the best times I have at work are times of change.



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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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