Questioning Talent…

Talent and succession planning. That was my week last week. Engaging, enchanting, entrancing and enjoyable.

Our people solve problems, seize opportunities and sell our capabilities. They partner, deliver and achieve. Without them nothing would happen. With them everything is possible. Our people are our past, who we are today and what we dream of being tomorrow.

Last week was my meeting of the year – our talent and succession planning meeting – a formal review once a year. The good news is that I am involved in many more frequent discussions about our people, their talents and our opportunities…but we only have this formal review once a year.

That combination of formality and uniqueness leads to a great deal of high quality preparation. We never have time in that one meeting to discuss everyone. But all groups and teams carry out their own detailed reviews in advance. So I knew we would arrive last week well prepared and well supported.

I have attended many talent meetings. Not as many as I would like, but still a large number. At their best they are a combination of detailed specifics on individuals, opportunities and strengths along with more general themes and developments…opportunities and gaps. What’s not to enjoy?

I often find myself looking for assumptions in these discussions. Moments when it becomes apparent that we are assuming we know what an individual wants from their career…assuming we understand what will make a team member happy.

My two favourites are when we assume our people have the same ambitions and goals that we did when we were their age. And when we assuming we know what would work or be acceptable to an employee or – worse still – to their partner or family.

The obvious answer is that we are all different.  None of us want the same things in life or in our careers.  Success isn’t always defined by movement up an organisation, more responsibility, more people or a bigger budget (to earn or spend).

From my decades of talent reviews, I have one absolute learning – I can only know what an individual is looking for from their career if I ask them.  I have to be interested.  I need to satisfy my curiosity.

And yet we don’t ask. Or we don’t ask enough or don’t ask well enough. It almost seems as if we are worried by what we might hear…or are afraid we won’t have all the answers

And the tell-tale line? The words that confirm this unspoken stand-off is in play? It’s when we hear (or hear ourselves saying) that immortal phrase…‘our employees need to take responsibility for their own careers’. (OK – I agree…this is true…in part. Wouldn’t we all do this much better with the support of our managers?)

Worse still, any leadership wariness we show can reflect as employee concern. Our people feel nervous about telling their leaders what they are after. We can all inevitably worry about expressing desires that we think our company can’t satisfy.

How can leaders know whether we can support our teams and team members achieve their goals unless we ask them?  It’s too easy to let our fears get in the way of us helping our people, ourselves and our companies.

Ask away.  And ask in such a way that we truly find out. What’s important? What do we want our experience at work to involve? What sort of opportunities, experiences and outcomes are we after? The more we know the more we can help…and the more we can be helped.

More conversations more often…definitely more than once a year. More relationship, openness, help, support, success.

And more enjoyment.



Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Timely Leadership…

We have another UK General Election underway to select our next Prime Minister. And I am already struck by how much electioneering, and how much politics in general, is about the person – the leader – than it is about the policies and beliefs.

Is a candidate impressive, confident, does he or she look the part, sound the part? Are they admired? Liked? This is all what we see and hear…so much more than what they stand for, what they value or believe. Inevitably we form our opinions much more based on the candidates’ leadership style and much less about what they and their Party are doing.

A commentator at the last UK General election (I know…it was only two years ago) offered a very insightful opinion. ‘A Prime Minister has to be loved or respected to be successful. Tony Blair was loved and Margaret Thatcher was respected. Both were successful. The Leader of the Opposition’s biggest challenge is that no-one loves him and no-one respects him’.

Even now that sounds somewhere between judgemental and harsh…but the more I thought about it, the more truth there is in this assessment. For example, all political candidates try to improve public perception of their image in these two dimensions. We are continually being told how our leaders personally acted to avert an economic depression or international crisis (respect) and what a caring partner and parent he or she is (love). And you can always tell which tactic is resonating best in opinion polls…just observe the next photo opportunity.

This ‘Love or Respect’ concept can also be a great way to pass time. Simply identify recent (or current) political leaders as well and make your call on whether their approach is based on engendering Love or Respect….and then on how you would assess their intrinsic style.

Inevitably I have looked to apply Love or Respect’ concept outside of politics. To leaders in general for example…‘a leader has to be loved or respected to be successful.’ Well maybe a little strong. So how about…‘a leader has to be well liked or respected to be successful.

So does this work? Well the more I thought about it the better it seemed. Every successful leader I have come across – at any level and in any organisation – I would assess highly on one or other of the ‘Love or Respect’ dimensions.

Hopefully none of us come across ‘unsuccessful’ leaders but I did find myself thinking about individuals who can invest too much time and energy chasing whichever of these two traits they don’t have. For example, rather than being happy with respect, many aspire to be loved. And rather than being content at being well liked, we continually seek respect. As Malcolm Forbes once said…‘too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.’

We made Leadership announcements this last week across our sites. Decisions that are never personal, but that always impact people. These times are about people – friends and colleagues. People we know and love and respect. Some of whom will leave and some of whom will stay. In all cases though, individuals who have worked very hard and partnered very well to do their very best, and help their very most.

Leadership matters at times like these. Leadership by leaders for everyone and leadership by everyone for everyone. In truth though, it’s not so much about the people making announcements or communicating messages – although they have to do it well and do it right. It is all about the people who hear these messages. People we thank greatly, care about deeply and respect highly.

And always will…



Posted in Personal | Leave a comment

Eclectic Surgery…

I was visiting the headquarters of one of our large partners last week on the East Coast. As well as meeting with key sponsors and contacts, I was there for a forum attended by representatives from large pharma, small biotech, academia, Government, politics and Venture Capital. It was an eclectic collection of passionate people and I felt privileged to have been invited.

My colleagues and I chose seats near the microphones. I listened, learned, thought and considered…and as I inevitably moved more to wondering and imagining…I kept finding myself standing up and asking questions.

I am never sure how helpful any of my questions or thoughts may be at these events, but I ask them anyway. And one added benefit is that asking questions provides a great way of meeting lots of other attendees…colleagues who remember my accent more than any insight I offer.

As with a lot of meetings like this, I frequently found myself being asked about our data. Everyone knows we have big data – labs data, clinical data, diagnostics data…colleagues are always interested in how we – or they – could use these data. I listen and think…I wonder and imagine.

On my journey home Thursday night, I read a news article about recent efforts in a major UK city to combat violent incidents and injuries associated with excess alcohol. The headline that caught my eye? Greater that 40% decrease in hospital admissions in the last six months. More than enough to grab my attention – what was going on?

Well it turns out that the answer was data. Not necessarily ‘big data’, but more precisely, data that were complete and accurate enough to enable successful preventative measures.

An A&E surgeon in one of the major hospitals in the city, found himself so frustrated by the number of facial injuries he ended up treating each week that he felt personally compelled to do something to drive change. His starting point was to study the available data for his city and he quickly realised – to his surprise – that only one in five cases involving A&E hospital treatment were listed in police records. There were literally no data reported or recorded on the remaining 80%. In effect, local police didn’t know these other incidents had even happened.

Our inquisitive and frustrated surgeon found himself wondering what would happen if hospitals reported all data on all violent incidents they were involved in treating. And his idea to overcome confidentiality – or reticence to report – was for the data to be anonymous – where, when and what but not who.

This simple suggestion gave local police real and complete data that enabled accurate analysis of trends and incidents. Police quickly found themselves able to predict where problems would occur and even what sort of incidents. And sure enough, accurate prediction led to successful prevention.

This story is aligned with what we know in our industry – accurate and complete data are priceless and predictive; inaccurate or incomplete data are next to useless.

And like the hospital surgeon, we care much more about prevention (of failure or delays, or problems) than we do treatment. Learning is only valuable if it leads to improved performance.

We want more successes not just fewer failures. Our industry wants to deliver more drugs with better profiles more rapidly…projects that advance…portfolios that deliver. We want better decisions and performance at each stage of clinical and pre-clinical development. We need more complete and more accurate data.

And we need more opportunities for eclectic, innovative and passionate people to work together on how we use data to make decisions and to advance compounds, projects and portfolios.



Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Passing Stories…

It was my mother’s funeral yesterday – five weeks after my dad’s. It was another long day, but it was such a memorable day. A day with a beautiful ceremony involving all of her children and all of her grandchildren. I know my mum would have been so proud of everyone. We all spoke and listened and thought. We cried. We laughed. We struggled. And we celebrated. We helped each other and we held each other.

It felt like my mum was with us there all of the day…watching over us, caring for us and loving every minute. Saying goodbye to us, telling us one last time that she loved us and that we would be all right…whilst at the same time we were saying goodbye to her and telling her we all love her. Telling her how much we miss her, but making sure we let her know we were happy that somewhere somehow she and my dad are together again.

Yesterday also felt like a moment of change…of transfer. With both of my parents now gone, it is just us. It is only us. It is us. It is all of us. It is all of us together.

Our experience since the start of this year has brought us all together. Family was always such a strong focus for mum and dad and of their life. Inevitably – and in some ways I think because of that example from our parents – the four of us children have focused so much on our own families. My mum and dad recognised this, and have been organising and hosting a family reunion at least once a year every year for years. These events provided opportunity for us all to get together…to catch up in person and to share stories.

And now, at the end, they managed together to make this reunion happen again. Over these last few weeks, the family – the children, husbands, wives, grandchildren, partners…their family – have come together to help and support each other. We have been there for each other when we needed each other most. We have spent emotional time together at a time of great emotions.

And when I think about these past few weeks, one of my strongest memories is of the stories we have told to each other as we have come together. Stories about us, about Mum and Dad, about Grandma and Grandad, about our families and about our lives. We have laughed and we have cried. We have remembered many moments that we had long since forgotten. Holidays, birthdays, parties, weddings, births, deaths and reunions.

These stories are precious. I realised yesterday that my sisters, brother and I are telling stories to our children about our own childhood and our family – stories our children had never heard before (as well as some of course they have). And telling them stories about their grandparents, how and when and where they met, fell in love, got married and became parents.

These stories are real – stories that make me smile, or laugh, or cry. The memories are true. The feelings they create are genuine.

Every time I heard a story about my mum this weekend, I could see her clearly, smiling at me, laughing and happy. Every time I told a story about my mum and my dad, I could see them together, happy and in love.

These stories are our memories of our parents. We know them and we love them. They are always there. They are who we are and why we are here. They will never go away and they will never end.

They are everlasting…



Posted in Personal | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Tiring Decisions…

I have made a decision. I will never be politician at local or national level. This is not that much of a surprise of course. We currently have many politicians – good and bad – and I don’t have any of the skill sets or experiences necessary to be a good politician. So in the scheme of decision making, this one was not difficult.

Conversely, at many times of our lives, or weeks or days, we all have to make many important and significant decisions. In many ways this is true. On the other hand we all have to make lots of decisions every day anyway – decisions we don’t ever think about that much. So perhaps in truth the difference is our perception of the importance or impact of specific decisions at certain times.

I have long since realised that my decision-making ability varies depending on how I feel and even what time of day it is. I consciously try to avoid making significant decisions when I am tired – for example late in the day or when jet lagged. I also try to run my meetings to ensure we keep to time. Not only does quality of debates seem better with regular breaks, but quality of decisions (and decision making) is better.

Turns out, all of this is a well-known phenomenon – Decision Fatigue – a phenomenon researched and understood by neuroscientists and psychologists alike. In effect, decision fatigue describes how quality of our decisions deteriorates the more decisions we make in sequence.

The classic example of decision fatigue is parole boards make a higher percentage of favourable (or at least clear) rulings for hearings held early in the morning, and many fewer later in the day.

My own example of decision fatigue would be how, if I find myself making important decisions late in the day, I inevitably find myself looking back a day or two later wondering, ‘what on earth was I thinking?’

So we now know that decision fatigue is not so much associated with physical tiredness, but it is more to do with mental energy….and this compounds the issue by making it harder for us to recognise decision fatigue in real time. Each and every decision we make drains ‘mental energy’…so as we make more choices during the day, our next decisions become progressively more difficult (no matter what their complexity). Sooner or later we end up taking shortcuts and make impulsive decisions (as opposed to expending energy to think).

Decision fatigue is well known in retail. Car salespeople know they are more likely to sell expensive options near the end of the sales process (when we are tired from making decisions) than at the beginning. And it why supermarkets place impulse purchase items (sweets, candy and batteries!) next to the cash register!

So what hope is there for us? How can we avoid decision fatigue? Well planning helps. Scheduling important meetings with significant decisions early in the morning. Preparing ahead of time but avoiding late night decisions. And taking breaks and letting our minds relax throughout the day always helps with decision quality.

But there’s also a solution from science. Decision fatigue neuroscientists and psychologists believe the answer is glucose! They have data to show that as glucose levels decrease, our brains stops doing some things whilst continuing to do others – hence our ‘mental energy’ can decrease without us feeling physically tired. A boost of sugar replenishes brain glucose and can restore will power, increase self-control and improve decision making.

Sounds like a pretty good solution for politicians or business, but sounds like a bit of a conundrum for anyone trying to lose weight…



Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

See More…

I once had a work colleague who was about to retire. I had known him for years, worked with him on and off throughout our time together. I once reported to him on a task force team. I caught up with him before he left to thank him and wish him well. Inevitably our attention moved onto some of the changes that were being rolled out in that company at that time…what we thought…what was possible…what was unlikely.

‘You will be OK though’ my colleague said, ‘you are intrinsically so inquisitive’. The first part of this message – being OK – is always good to hear I have to say…any time any day…on any topic. It’s true of course. Not so much about me I hasten to add, but about all of us. We are all so much better at handling any change – good or bad – than we ever perceive ourselves to be. Good or bad change we can work through…what we actually struggle with is uncertainty.

Being told I will be OK – whether by my parents, my family, friends or colleagues is always good to hear. In work or at home. In business or in life or in death. It helps so much when anyone takes time to care or help or share.

Being told I was intrinsically inquisitive was more of a surprise. I had to understand this message. What did it mean? What had he seen or heard? Who else thought this? (I know – that was what he said as well).

Over the years since that conversation, I have simply decided to accept (or assume) that inquisitiveness, or any other personality traits, are who I am and are therefore my strengths. I accept and seek to capitalise on them. And above all I don’t ever worry about them. Life is too short.

Inquisitiveness, or – as some may say – asking a lot of questions is of value in many situations. Whenever any significant event or change takes place – good or bad, expected or surprising – the best path I have found for me to cope is to understand. To understand I need information. To secure information I ask questions. And then I ask more questions on the answers I am given. Often I ask the same or similar questions of multiple people…or even the same person.

I am always intrigued when we have different views or opinions in any situation. It’s great if we all agree – whoever the ‘we’ may be. But it is often so much more interesting and engaging when we disagree. Another time when I know I ask lots of questions.

I know what I think…what I believe we should do…and why. But if you have a different opinion then that excites me. What is it that you see, or know or have experienced that I do not see, don’t know or have not come across before.  If I can see or understand what you see and think, then my opinion could be wrong and definitely could be improved.

The starting point is to accept that I just because I have my own opinions – it does not make my opinions right. I have to be open to ask, to listen and to understand. I want to see more of what you see. I need to adapt, resolve and improve. Or at the extreme to simply give up on my own proposal as soon as it’s apparent that yours is better informed, better conceived, better able to succeed…or just better.

So, I seek to offer my opinions and ideas freely and early. I enjoy seeking to understand and comprehend. I like asking questions.



Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Mother’s Day…

I had to travel to the North of England at short notice last Sunday. One of my sisters called to say that my mother was not well. I cancelled my scheduled US trip and caught a train.

As my wife drove me to the station – she passed me a card. It was a Mother’s Day card. Mother’s Day in the UK is today – Sunday May 26. My wife knew I needed a card to give to my mum today. I still have the card.

My mum passed away on Tuesday. I was with her and my sisters when she left us…holding her hand and their hands. Tuesday was thirty five days after my dad passed. And ten days after his funeral. My mum was there at his funeral…she had looked radiant. Beautiful. Lovely. I love my mum.

She and my dad had been married for over sixty years. Together and inseparable. She knew my dad had gone. Even though she has suffered recently from Alzheimer’s…she knew he was no longer with us…with her. And now, somewhere somehow, they are together again. Together forever.

And here we are planning my mum’s funeral…to celebrate and remember. It just seems so soon. So soon after my dad. But yet I feel comfort in them leaving together. They were meant to be together and now they are.

My mum and my dad loved each other unconditionally and absolutely. They had four children and ten grandchildren. Their family was everything to them and they would do anything for them…for us…for me. My mum and dad had friends, good friends and best friends. Friends were essential to my parents. My parents’ friends knew what it meant to always have someone there for you.

Both of my parents have gone. Together. In a few weeks.  I have pictures. I have memories. But I don’t have either of them. I have my mum’s mother’s day card. But I didn’t even have chance to write it. She died in our arms two days after I came to see her. To be with her. To hold her. To tell her that I love her. That her children and grandchildren, our husbands, wives and partners, love her. And to say good bye.

I see my parents in me. I have their values and beliefs. I learned from them. I look like them. I was loved by them. They will be with me forever. I see my parents in my children. My own children are our future. It is their mother’s day today and they have cards to give. I bought a new card to give my wife. She had travelled north to be there with me on Tuesday. I love my wife. I need my wife.

I will never forget the moments my mum passed. She looked at us with her beautiful eyes wide open. She stared at us and listened to us as we spoke. She didn’t say anything…but she told us she loved us and that we would all be all right. She was peaceful and she was at peace.

I feel I have lost so much but I know I am lucky to have had so much. That our whole family were fortunate to have had so much. So much I will always treasure and will never forget.

I will keep the card I had with me last week. I know it is just a regular Mother’s Day card. But it was a card for a special mother. It was a card for the first person I ever loved…a card for the first person who loved me. For my mother…

For my mum…


Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , , | 22 Comments