Unconditionally Friendly…

I spent the weekend with my wife and with friends. Good friends. Best friends. Friends we have known for a long time. Friends whose children have become wonderful adults at the same time that ours have. Friends who have grown just that little bit older at the same time as we have.

Unconditional friendship. People who always care about us and are always there for us. Friends who know and accept who we are…just as we are. Friends who we know would do anything for us at any time…in the same way they know we would for them.

Friends we laugh with, cry with, tell stories with, learn from and love.

It has been a wonderful weekend. A memorable weekend after a regular week. I was on the East Coast at the start of the week. And I met with colleagues, customers and even managed to connect with a couple of consultants. I was involved in trying to solve issues, seize opportunities, finish 2017 strongly, plan for a successful 2018, increase recruitment, decrease turnover, and even plan the details of what I have to do next week.

I laughed a lot in the week. I didn’t cry. I told and listened to stories – good stories and engaging stories…exciting stories and disconcerting stories. I learned an immense amount about what I do and about myself. I love my wife.

Everything good that I experienced last week. Any opportunity to learn or improve. Anything new or unexpected that I saw or heard or learned. Came from people. People I met, called, emailed or watched. A thought shared; a question asked; an insight offered; an experience explained. It is always people that make a difference. People we work with or live with. Our people. Friends at work or friends out of work. People we like or admire; Friends we enjoy and love.  Our friends.

In the midst of the weekend I also met I met an old friend from work…from some six or seven years ago. An individual I hear about often…who always impressed and inspired me so much. Someone I used to interact with regularly and even had chance to work on projects with. She didn’t see me…but I saw her and I went over to say hello.

We only spoke for five or ten minutes. She was leaving and we were eating (with our friends). But we laughed and updated and events, and travel and places and companies, or people and about each other.

Occasionally I am still asked if I miss my previous company. It’s an interesting question – how can I miss a company? But I do miss the people. Colleagues friends, allies and mentors. I miss people. And it’s just not possible to stay in touch as much as I would like.

And then occasionally – like this week – I find opportunity to meet an old friend, and despite all my fears, I only experience pleasure and happiness. There is never any resentment on either side. Never any unfriendly feelings. Unconditional friendship.

Friendships – especially friendships based on work – presumably can or must have a time and a place. We all move on all the time – as individuals, in families, at work, in life. To assume that all our friendships will stay the same over time would be either idealistic or unrealistic. And would be nothing like as much fun or value.

And yet, despite time passing and events unfolding, important friendships stay important to us. Best friends at work or best friends in life are still just that – best friends. And unconditional friendships are just that – free from any conditions.



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Forgiving Permission…

It is one of the perennial questions of leadership – debated by leaders and asked by team members. Permission or forgiveness? Do we seek permission (for an action or decision) or do we ask for forgiveness after said action or decision.

I ask this question of new leaders…I have been asked this question (or a variation thereof) every time I have taken on any new leadership role. And as we reorganise our organisations we are asked asked…we were asked last week.

I am still not sure if there is a right answer…but I am certain there is a good answer (and bad answers). Permission is never a good answer.

A simple answer of permission to such an open (or a meaning of life) question is too simplistic and is too disempowering to anyone asking or listening. And it’s unrealistic – none of us could expect to ask or be asked for permission on every decision or action.

This world did exist once – it is a manifestation of a ‘command and control’ environment that theoretically existed in large organisations of unskilled labour that needed to be told what to do, when and how. This was another era and another industry.

Ours is a highly (and appropriately) regulated industry and as a result there are GLP, GMP and GCP protocols and procedures we have no choice but to be compliant with. But we still have many decisions…opportunities and challenges…that benefit and require independent, informed and innovative timely thoughts and actions.

So no – permission is not a good answer. To give or to hear.

Forgiveness is a better answer. Not a good answer but better. Anytime anyone asks this question my assumption is that they want to feel more empowered. The question normally comes from a place characterised by a feeling of too much control and not enough freedom. Anytime we hear from someone asking for more independence, trust or confidence we should always err on the side of giving forgiveness.

Intrinsically we want organisations who feel empowered and inspired. Us telling – or being told – permission goes against this…so forgiveness is definitely a better answer.

The best answer I have heard is qualified. It is forgiveness…with communication and feedback as the two qualifiers. Sounds obvious I know…and simple…but still it’s the best I have heard.

Forgiveness is the easy part. If we ever ask this question the answer has to start with forgiveness – not it depends, or it’s tough, or I don’t know. Forgiveness. But with a requirement for enhanced communication from the team making the decision to the individual or team offering ‘forgiveness’. Regular, open and detailed communication of what is being decided and done and what progress is being made and measured. Not only is this valuable and important, it is the biggest single action to engender mutual confidence and trust.

And feedback – more specifically being open to feedback (both positive and constructive). If we are seeking to make more decisions ourselves – more important decisions in the work we do – then we have to seek out and learn from feedback. Feedback of praise and encouragement when decision we take lead to progress, success and engagement. But we also advice have to be open to advise on what we should do differently, or could consider more, next time.

I think that is what we tried to say in response to the questions last week.

Time will tell on that one. But most (or best or fastest or most rewarding) success is based on team work and trust, partnership and confidence…

Forgiveness, always forgiveness, but with enhanced communication and open feedback.



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Including Meetings…

I have been to my fair share of global meetings….and I’ve attended a lot of local meetings whilst travelling globally. So much of whatever I have learned has come from these opportunities. So much of what I have enjoyed is from these meetings.

I vividly remember my first big internal international meeting. I remember how nervous I felt. Excited. Interested. How amazing it seemed to meet people in person who I had only ever heard about before.

I also remember how I couldn’t think of anything to say. Or to ask. It was partly that I was new to these discussions and topics. Partly because I kept debating (for too long) with myself whether my ideas or questions would be of value or use.

I remember a feeling of exclusion. Everyone else seemed to be involved and contributing…active – I was observing and listening…passive. I wanted to be more involved…I wanted to be included…I wanted to contribute and help…it just felt so hard.

One morning – the last morning of the meeting…jet lagged and wide awake in my room – I made myself a resolution…well a couple of resolutions. The first was all about me. I resolved I wouldn’t feel like this again. I was going to change myself and my own situation.

I make sure I always get the agenda in advance of these meetings. I ask for slides in advance. I read and think about messages, ideas, issues and opportunities. I do my own pre-work to ensure I am pre-pared. I have questions and thoughts written down in front of me when meetings start. I don’t always ask the questions I bring in with me…but I know what the topics are…I am ready. No pause. No self-doubt.

Needless to say, I am always more than happy to discuss whether or not my contributions add value…but my morning resolution was to be ready and able to make contributions to allow that assessment.

Interestingly enough, the second resolution was also all about me. I decided that morning that I would do whatever I could to help make sure future ‘first-timers’ had a better experience and felt better than I did that week.

Stimulated by my early caffeine fix, I recognised that diversity of thought, perception and idea is always essential and only ever adds value. And that team members who feel included – especially those with diversity of experience or background or thought – would be better able to help achieve that benefit of diversity.

But rather than trying to convince or change everyone else’s behaviour…rather than broadcasting my newly clarified beliefs over breakfast…I once again decided to change myself.  I resolved to do what I could to improve anyone’s experience coming to a meeting I was attending or running.

Any every large event I am at – in whatever capacity – I seek out new attendees, shake their hand, introduce myself and include them with the same four words “welcome to the team” (courtesy of my wife’s experiences). And I seek to catch up with new team members over breaks or meals to ask their opinions, find out who they are, see how they are doing.

And I try to make my own meetings engaging for everyone. Longer discussion sessions, frequent break out groups, more pre-work and many pre-discussions. My intent is to give opportunity to feel included and offer diversity of thought.  My goal is for better debates, improved ideas and widest ownership of solutions and actions.

It doesn’t always work of course. Nothing always works. I just believe that more inclusive is more engaging, more likely to work, more likely to work better and more enjoyable…



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Week Moments…

I was up and down the East Coast last week. I started in Philadelphia for a couple of nights attending a sales conference. I ended in North Carolina for two more days looking at budgets and strategy. I travelled alone and together and alone. I was with old friends, by myself and with new friends.

I many ways it was a classical ‘travel and meetings’ week. Some aspects were stunningly good…some not so much. Things I had thought about a great deal worked OK…some areas I had hardly considered worked incredibly well. And everything in between.

As I struggled to stay awake on Friday evening sitting back home in the UK…I found myself thinking about my week…the highs and not so highs…the good and the not so good…the expected and the unpredictable.

And as is often the case…I found myself focusing on the little things…a moment here or there…something that happened – or shouldn’t have…something someone said – or didn’t say…a slide that really worked – or that miscued…an unexpected question – or a confusing answer. Minutes during a long week. Seconds even. Moments!

How can it be that so often these sorts of moments can end up feeling like they define a week? How nonsensical is that? How unrealistic? How unfair.  How not to spend a Friday evening! And so I decided, very deliberately, to identify and write down three moments of sheer unadulterated enjoyment. Three delightful moments from those same days and places and occasions last week. Just to see how it felt….as an experiment. The little things yes…but the good little things.

That moment on Thursday in North Carolina when I realised my final day of meetings were all in a location less than ten minutes’ drive from the airport…and that I was booked on a direct flight straight to London. No internal US connections. No rushing across terminals. No second security inspection. No delayed arrivals or departures. No need to extend my concentration. Rather I enjoyed a rapid transfer, laughter, enjoyment, beer and wine with friends in an airport bar, straight onto the plane, a more comfortable seat than I expected, and seven hours later…back in London! What’s not to love?

That moment on Tuesday in Philadelphia when I looked around the room and realised the commercial team I was with was exuding confidence. They were walking on water and ready to walk through walls. They were riding past distractions and were focused. No excuses, no ‘what if’, no blame being assigned anywhere to or from anyone. A new quarter, the last quarter of the year, our quarter, our year. A team together and sure.

That moment late Friday evening when I opened an email with a cryptic, acronym based title. That moment of delight when I realised I was reading a collation of spontaneous and positive feedback from so many of our partners describing their satisfaction on the work we have done together these past few months. Calling out individuals and teams who had helped their projects work and advance. Who had prevented issues, solved problems and seized opportunities. What a summary and what a delight.

And my experiment worked. It took my no time to identify these three moments. And there were so many more I could have easily chosen. I felt good. And pleased and positive about my week. Even those moments I had been fretting about earlier seemed less of an issue…more of an opportunity. I found myself planning and looking forward.

But then I stopped myself. Found my wife. Gave her a hug. Told her how much I love her. Mentioned my great trip. And asked about her week….



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Complex Learners…

Complex and complicated? Complicated or complex? I am pretty sure that I have always used these two adjectives interchangeably without ever really giving either word any detailed thought. It turns out that there is a subtle but important difference.

Complex is when a situation or event or activity is composed of many interconnected parts. Whereas complicated is used to describe a situation made up of many more – and more intricate – interconnected parts.

Based on that definition them I think that most of what we do at work is best described as complex. Occasionally we come across complicated…just not as much as I used to think.

So why spend any time thinking about the difference? Well it’s not so much what the adjective means…it’s about how we could or should respond to situations we find ourselves involved in.

If a situation is complicated we seek clarity; if a situation is complex we should remain curious.

This philosophy – which I have shamelessly borrowed from a very good friend – came to mind several times last week as I spent time in person and on telephone calls with new and motivated and able colleagues.

I rapidly realised in these interactions how impressed I was with the speed at which these new colleagues had learned and are learning about our industry our business our company and our people. They were fast learners…

Once upon a time, I am certain I remember being told I was a ‘fast learner’. I am sure this memory is real since it was the first and only time anyone ever said it to me or about me. I remember being pleased and feeling good. I aspire to that feedback again….

But what does ‘fast learning’ mean? It certainly sounds like a good trait or skill to have or demonstrate…so then what does it look like and how do we improve? Hence the thought about that crucial difference – complicated vs. complex.

Most everything we do is complex – we always have multiple moving parts, perceptions or objectives. But it is only ever very rarely that we experience complicated.

Faced with complexity then, the key skill or behaviour is curiosity. We ask ourselves or others we work with questions…open questions.  Which? What? What? When? We seek more information and more options. We want to compare and contrast…assess and analyse. We want to understand.

Complicated – or potentially more precisely when we perceive a situation as complicated – we just want someone to tell us what it means. Complicated is when we ask someone else to own and solve the problem – or seize the opportunity – and tell us what to do.

Understanding is about learning. Learning isn’t often based on being told what to do. Learners ask questions. Fast learners ask lots of questions…or the same questions to lots of people. And they keep asking.

Implicitly then, a fast learner has to admit to themselves and others that they don’t know or don’t understand. Whilst at the same time explicitly demonstrating that they want to know and want to understand more…

And fast learners often have a tell-tale sign…they always take copious notes in conversations. Fast learning is a skill. Practice improves skills. Fast learners realise that writing down what they hear helps ensure (and speed up) what they learn.

I always recognise fast learners when I have opportunity to work with or for them. Fast learners are wonderful to work with – they always help us directly and indirectly. Working with a fast learner, we inevitably end up with better options and ideas as well as outcomes and results to our complex problems and opportunities.



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People Change…

Change happens. It’s how you handle it that counts. This – or one of the many variations thereof – is as much a truism of life as it is an opportunity and a challenge. For example, if I was going through change and someone said these words to me then it sounds like someone somewhere felt I wasn’t coping. It would be a verbal nudge in the back (or one of the many variations thereof).

If I was informed I was about to undertake a change, or that change was about to start around me, then those same words would be inspiring and full of opportunity. It would be a verbal round of applause.

Like everyone else, I have had my share of change – at home, at work, in family, in life. Good or bad…big or small…quick or slow…to me or around me (who makes this assessment by the way?). And yet here I am. So at some level I clearly cope. We all do. We all cope. We cope much better than we tend to give ourselves credit for. It is in our nature. It is who we are.

I have thought a lot about change – more specifically change at work. I guess this is because I have had my fair share having been in our amazing industry for a good time. I have been asked for advice, been offered advice and have listened and read and watched.

And what have I concluded? It’s that people are the key. And not just at the obvious level that other people – friends and colleagues and family – help us when change happens. This is an essential and beautiful thing about people we know. They are there for us when we need them.

The other people component of when change happens is that people always leave. We lose people in change. People we know, love, live with, work with or work for. They go away physically or emotionally or both.

When companies change people we will have worked with and enjoy working with – people we know well and who know us – these people will leave or move. And this manifestation of change can often be the most significant and impactful on us.

People we know leave. People we don’t know arrive. Teams and networks and contacts change. Emails are returned undelivered. Internal message networks move to status unknown. We miss people. People who helped us and who did great work for us or with us, and yes sometimes despite us!

And new people join. But we have all been new people who join. And when we arrive we are going through change ourselves. A new starter has left someone else. People and teams who they knew and loved and valued. And now they are with us. Alone. They know no-one; they don’t know who we are or how we work. What we do or how we do it. But new people are with us because of changes that impacted them. Sometimes good changes…sometimes not.

So what do we do? What helps?

Building new relationships. Reaching out and introducing ourselves. Building new networks. Asking questions, investing time. Being present. Work time and social time. Learning, laughing and linking.

New people are always good people who always want to help and enjoy and contribute to success – this is what we were like when we were a new person!

And we learn so much from other people. Their experiences, ideas, beliefs. We lean in…we enjoy.

So we all – always – miss people who leave…people who were part of our lives. But we all – always embrace the new.

It’s how we handle it…



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Timing Vision…

After a few days in the UK last week, I travelled to meet with one of our larger clients, for an annual review of our progress together over the past year and our opportunities for next year.

There are many differences – big and small – between being a member of a pharmaceutical company and a CRO industry customer (the role I used to have) and being a member of a CRO company with pharmaceutical industry customers (the role I have now).

One of the best for me – by a long way – is that we get to interact, partner and work with such a diverse set of customers – ranging from the largest, most established and most successful pharmaceutical companies…all the way though the smallest, most recently created and most innovative Emerging Biotechs. In my old role, I never had that opportunity, that diversity, that excitement.

And last week I was with a large pharma in person meeting old friends and new partners. Discussion, debate, ideas and actions. Opportunity. Excitement. A tiring few days but at the same time energising. It always is.

And exactly the same description would apply if I had been meeting with Emerging Biotech (or pharma consultants, or academia, or non-pharma) in person. This breadth defines the diversity and the opportunity and excitement. The addiction almost…

Another big difference in the pharmaceutical industry between being a member of a CRO rather than a pharma company is decision feedback time. In effect how long it takes to discover whether an important decision is right or wrong, works or doesn’t …is successful or not.

The emphasis is on the ‘important decisions’. We all make decisions all the time at work and we get outcome resolution at a similar rate, irrespective of our part in the industry. Which compound to make, which assay to run, which individual to recruit….but the bigger, strategic, important decisions inevitably play out over different time lines, depending on which part of the industry we are in.

For the Research and Development division in large pharma, one of the most important decisions is which mechanism is selected to treat a specific disease safely, effectively and conveniently such that it will be a success for patients and a success commercially. And the time line between a large pharma making this decision and finding out if the end product drug is truly a success is routinely over ten years.

Ten Years! Yes there are indicators at earlier time points, but success for patients and success financially takes a long, long time to resolve.

Emerging Biotech make similar pivotal selections on target mechanisms for specific diseases, but historically at least, Emerging Biotech have an earlier readout on the success of their decisions. In general the goal for Emerging Biotech is to partner with (to sell their project to) large pharma…at some point early in the project’s development. And deals are often done when a compound is showing positive results early in clinical development – maybe three to five years after the initial decision.

CROs have a very different business model.  Our cycle time between big decisions and resolution is much shorter and is measured in months or quarters years. For example, when we make decisions to invest in new scientific capabilities, increased capacity or specialty services, we are frequently looking for successful resolution in a twelve to eighteen months or less.

And inevitably an organisation’s culture and operating model is defined by this intrinsic environment over decision making/feedback time.  But the resulting differences and diversity in viewpoint also lead directly to engaging and exciting discussions across our industry…

…just like those I had last week.



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