Author Archives: Isabelle Widmer

AI-Giarism and the future of content generation

It’s a new year and the journey continues. I hope you made it aboard your train and are speeding mindfully to your next destination in 2023. I wish you all the best and look forward to catching up as we enjoy face to face meetings once more.

Topics for today’s blog are:

– AI-Giarism – or the future of creativity and content generation
– Project planning reminders – remember you have less control than you believe
– Mars or the sock drawer
– Students, employees and patients of the future

AI-Giarism – or the Future of Creativity and Content Generation

Like many others I recently tested ChatGPT. A friend is an IT engineer and, when I mentioned, that ChatGPT was being used by students to write papers, she said, confidently “Oh the plagiarism software will pick that up”. As ChatGPT writes bespoke responses based on various data sources across the web, and presumably the responses provided are not verbatim sentence copies, I wondered how this might work. And, I was right, it seems, using AI to write your homework, may not be plagiarism, but it would certainly constitute cheating, at least based on our current understanding of cheating.

An article in the Guardian recently addressed this topic (you can read the whole article here) and quoted Scott Aaronson, a guest researcher at OpenAI, the company that designed ChatGPT. Aaronson reportedly said that OpenAI is in the process of designing “a system for countering cheating, by statistically watermarking the outputs”. The system would be based on pattern recognition, giving the AI outputs a unique linguistic signature, which wouldn’t be readily apparent to the casual reader, but would be identifiable as machine-generated text if someone were looking for it.

The challenge here is, that it’s simply not practical for every teacher to run tests on every text that is submitted. But perhaps, that isn’t necessary. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before students have to submit proof of original work, by submitting an anti-plagiarism software scan, along with a copy of their homework? When I suggested this to a friend, he said “We used to do maths in our heads, now we use a calculator. Perhaps in the future all text will be written by AI and there is no value in teaching people how to write anymore?”. Language is how we express ourselves, however, the genie is out of the bottle, and it will influence how we write and work in the future.

In the past when I wrote radiology reports as a student, we had standard texts saved, for standard results, any normal result report had the identical text. We would type in the name of the patient; age etc. and then select the standard text for a male or female scan result and insert that into the report. This was in 1994, no AI, but standardised, signed off by a human, but that was it. Looked at in this light, the use of AI generated text for standard situations seems much less a huge leap of progress than a natural improvement of an old process.

Perhaps in the future standard texts will be written by AI, for example the introduction section to scientific papers, the materials and methods section, the introduction section etc. and the results and interpretation section will be written by humans. This could work for industry generated standard introduction texts too, enabling humans to put more focus on the creative aspects of the work at hand.

What are your thoughts, does the idea excite, or frighten you?

Key takeaway: As AI generated content becomes standard practice we will redefine what original work and what original thinking are.

Project Planning Reminders – Remember you have less Control than you Believe

It’s unusual for me to take a proper holiday. But last Christmas, after a challenging 2022, I decided to take time off. I was really looking forward to spending time with family and to taking care of tasks around the house. However, in keeping with the rest of 2022, I tested positive for COVID on Christmas eve, so ended up spending the holiday by myself.

Determined to make the best of it, I put up a Christmas tree, and decorated my house with flowers, so that I would at least spend my time alone in festive surroundings. Friends brought me soup. I felt taken care of. It was, overall, not a bad Christmas. Some thoughts as you plan projects for 2023.

  1. Plan for the foreseen: Remember not each month is created equal. Be sure to take holidays into account when planning your projects. Especially if you are located in the US working globally. It is always good to check with your colleagues in other locations when their summer holidays are, and how long they typically take.
  2. Plan for the unforeseen: illness, reorganisations, people leaving the organisation. You don’t know when it will happen, but you do know that it will.
  3. Move fast: Plan well and move fast. Be realistic with your budget, project planning and sign-off but do it as speedily as possible. Often teams spend a long time planning, to discover, that when they are ready to move on a project, budgets have been frozen.
  4. Resist the urge to please at any cost: Projects often address issues in organisations that have existed for a long time. When the issue is finally deemed pertinent to be addressed, senior leaders frequently want immediate solutions. Resist the urge to promise a fast resolution.

Key takeaways: a) You cannot control the future, but you can learn from the past: prevent the preventable and put contingency plans in place for everything else b) When things don’t go to plan, it’s best to resign yourself to a new situation and to invest your energy in putting new plans in place, rather than fighting the change c) aim for sustainable implementation rather than speed.

Mars or the Sock Drawer

In the weekend edition of the NZZ newspaper there was an interview with architect Vera Mulyani, the founder of Mars City Design, which creates architectural blueprints for sustainable cities on Mars (source IBB online). I skimmed the article, but what stayed with me was the intimation, that by building on Mars, we would be solving problems we have had for generations. This is an expression of a universal phenomenon: when there is a critical problem that needs solving, we tend to dream of alternatives, or focus on other tasks.

A classic example might be if you really need to do your tax return, but instead you decide to tidy your sock drawer. Pollution won’t be solved by us moving to Mars, that’s an avoidance strategy.

Your tax return won’t be filled out by you tidying your sock drawer. At least it never worked for me. I mention this because the behaviour is universal. And because a friend once said “we keep implementing new solutions, new projects, new things, but we never seem to be able to let the old ones go, so we are all overworked”. In the words of another friend “it’s all run, run, run, we rarely take time to stop and think about where we are running to”.

So, this year, as you consider your activities, perhaps ask yourself the questions:

  • “Are there activities that we should stop doing?”
  • “Are there activities that we should start doing?”
  • “Are any of our activities “sock drawer activities” i.e., they look important, they make us feel good, but ultimately we use them to avoid doing the things that will matter.
  • “Are there activities we are not doing, because we don’t know how to start, because they seem hard to do, because we feel fearful for some reason?”

Key takeaway: Identifying your “sock drawer activities” may help you identify the actions that need taking, that you are avoiding.

Students, Employees and Patients of the Future

When I was a teenager the library stocked books in various sections. Fantasy, cooking, young adult etc. Films were, as they still are, rated by suitability for age groups and the real world was split into adult, teenage and child adapted reading, activities and interests.

The internet has changed all that. On the weekend I was having a conversation about Codeine and Morphine with a teenager. The conversation started out with the statement “Codeine is metabolised to morphine.” It’s a long time since I took pharmacology and as I cast around in my memory for data on this specific topic, I was frustrated, but unsurprised, when I came up short. Then in quick succession came questions on the addiction potential, mode of action and uses of codeine versus morphine. When, I challenged the statement “all drugs are addictive if abused” with the question, whether there are no products that result in immediate addiction upon first exposure, I received the response “Yes, methamphetamine”. This was on Saturday evening while we were playing cards.

It brought home to me, again, that all knowledge is now available. That data we couldn’t readily get access to when I was at school is now freely available. Topics are no longer restricted and pre-sorted into gender-specific, age-specific or other categories. The only thing that limits access to knowledge is a person’s interests and of course their ability to identify accurate data sources.

Key takeaway: how people process, think, access information and combine data has changed.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Wishing you all the very best for 2023!

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Isabelle C. Widmer. London, December 2022

The goat ate my homework – or why to give people the benefit of the doubt

The end of the year is nigh. Every year, starting with 2020 has been worse than the last. Here’s hoping that the final days of 2022 are filled with warmth, candlelight and simple joyful moments. December is a month of celebration, and for those of us, who celebrate Christmas, gift giving. In line with gift giving, today I continue my focus on the gift of great customer service.

Topics for today’s blog are:

– The goat ate my homework – or why to give people the benefit of the doubt
– Thoughts on medical Information provision to patients
– Medical information inquiry tracking – the tip of the iceberg?
– How does your contact centre measure up?

The Goat ate my Homework – or why to Give People the Benefit of the Doubt

As many of you know I am on the board of the charity the Virtual Doctors. We provide access to NHS volunteer second opinions for clinical officers, providing healthcare to rural populations in Zambia and Malawi. We have been working with a volunteer-built software for enquiry management and are now developing a new tool to provide better service and better analytics to monitor what we do, how we do it and how useful it is, and to allow us to keep on learning to improve the value we add.

One of my volunteer colleagues, who is working with me on the software, sent me this today “Bizarre as it sounds, I just started reading your last email about the RFP, when my little goat kid stepped on the keyboard and now not only has it been deleted but it’s not even in the Deleted file!! Goat magic”.

Key takeaway: Always give people the benefit of the doubt, because sometimes the dog did eat the homework.

Thoughts on Medical Information Provision to Patients

Whether it’s an industry meeting, on a pharmaceutical company website, or when in a conversation with an individual, who works for a pharmaceutical company, at some point I hear the words “everything we do, we do for patients”. Pharmaceutical company employees are justifiably proud of the fact that products their companies develop are life-changing, lifesaving, life-prolonging. I have witnessed this in my family and the gratitude I have, that thanks to research and innovative products, someone I love very much is still alive 20 years after a cancer diagnosis, is enormous. The industry, researchers, doctors and insurers as well as regulators all play a part in improving healthcare for patients. The problem is that patients expect more today than they did 30 years ago.

Today’s patient is well-informed, has access to the internet, has generally already researched his or her condition and expects a dialogue with the partners who provide healthcare solutions, this includes the pharmaceutical industry. However, when patients contact pharmaceutical companies, outside the US, where different rules apply, with questions on products, they are almost always referred back to their treating physicians with the words “unfortunately, we cannot provide you with a response to your question, please discuss this with your physician, and he can contact us if he has more questions”. Sometimes patients have questions on stability, access to medicines, drug interactions, or just want more information so that they can make an informed decision when talking to their doctor.

Some companies have standard response documents for patients, involving patients in developing these documents, some have websites with information for patients, others provide data on product stability to patients but don’t respond to other questions.

If you currently provide none of the above, perhaps 2023 is the year you review what your company provides to patients, benchmark this against what other companies are doing and have a heart-to-heart conversation with your legal and compliance department to see if you can expand your service offerings for patients, compliantly, but with the goal to add more value for them, when they reach out to you.

Key takeaway: the pharmaceutical industry could do a better job of meeting patients’ information needs. Finding the right approach is not easy, but eminently worth doing.

Medical Information Inquiry Tracking – the tip of the Iceberg?

Data is king. Everyone wants insights, metrics, integrated datasets and data trends. So far so good. The issue is that if you don’t track you cannot analyse, this is a challenge that many companies face. Many different individuals engage with HCPs and depending on the employee’s allegiance, commercial, medical or medical information, what they track and how they track will vary widely. If you are only looking at your medical information database to understand key topics that doctors are interested in, you are missing out. To find out if the Medical Information enquiries you track are possibly only the tip of the iceberg, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How is Medical Information categorised in my company:
    • Only the enquiries that reach the Med Info team?
    • Enquiries that reach the Med Info team directly as well as any that are answered directly by MSLs and Medical Affairs colleagues without involving Medical Information
  2. Where are these inquiries tracked?
  3. Do you have comparable ontology and taxonomy across systems so you can analyse the data easily?
  4. If you look at the size of your markets, are you receiving the volume of inquiries you would expect, relative to the market size, from each market, or are you seeing huge differences?

Key take away: you cannot analyse what you cannot see.

How Does your Contact Centre Measure up?

Your customers do not differentiate between your solution provider and your company. From the customers’ perspective you are one and the same thing. Naturally, your contact centre provider is working on your behalf, however, some things may be automated, and it pays to look at the entire process and all the communications that are sent out, holistically. As, here, like anywhere small things can make a huge difference, beyond turnaround times, time to picking up the phone, research abilities etc. So, when looking at how your contact centre does, beyond metrics, consider the following, whether the materials are generated by you and provided to the contact centre or generated by contact centre staff:

  1. Cover letters that go out to customers
    • Is the customers enquiry summarised or rendered in detail?
    • Is the letter personalised?
    • If there is no data available, how is this communicated? You cannot change that there is no data, but you can communicate, that you regret that there is currently nothing available, and that you cannot help the customer at this time
  2. Letters that go out to patients. Does your contact centre merely state, “we cannot provide you with any information” and refer the patient back to the doctor, or do they do more?
  3. Is the response provided targeted to the customer’s enquiry, or are entire long documents sent out, in the words of one customer a “ I am sorry there is no answer” plus 3 disclaimers.
  4. How is the data tracked? Do you receive analytics? Do you have access to the system and the data?
  5. How are internal stakeholders informed about HCP enquiries the contact centre manages? How do you ensure that everyone is in the loop?

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s enough to be going on with!

Key take away: you can always be better at what you do.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Wishing you all the very best for 2023!

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Peter Lloyd on Unsplash

Peekaboo – or can your customers find you? Manners and communication

In the past weeks I have travelled to Berlin, Paris and now London. I have worked from each location, enjoyed the unique perspective each city provides, and experienced varying degrees of customer service. These experiences form the basis of today’s blog.

Topics for today’s blog are:

– Peekaboo – or how easy is it for your customer to find you?
– The not so gentle reminder
– Through the culture filter
– Launching a webinar series – first webinar will be on data analytics 2.0

Peekaboo – or how Easy is it for Your Customer to Find you?

When you make it hard for the customer to contact you, the customer may be tempted to find solace elsewhere. In my last newsletter I highlighted how hard it is to get through to customer services using a chatbot. This week I take a step back and share how hard it is to find the contact channel. In recent attempts to find information on various companies I have observed the following:

  1. Store locations are often hard to find on websites
  2. Store phone numbers are rarer than gold dust
  3. If you do find a phone number, the international country code is usually missing, this is an issue for callers using phones registered in other countries
  4. Store phone numbers, even when listed as belonging to a single location, usually go through to a single call centre that then has to connect you
  5. Frequently, pop-up ads obscure the main website’s content, forcing me to move to a competitor website

Thinking about this in the context of Medical Affairs and Medical Information made me wonder whether Medical Information is perhaps sometimes undervalued, simply because stakeholders don’t know what the team provides or if they do know, they cannot access the content. Are you your company’s best kept secret?

Answer the following questions to find out.

  1. Is it easy for new customers to contact you?
    • How long does it take them to find your contact information online?
  2. Have you identified your internal and external stakeholder groups?
  3. Do your internal and external stakeholders know:
    • How to contact you?
    • What services you provide?
    • How to access your services?
    • What your value proposition is?
  4. Do you know what your value proposition is?
  5. If you generate standard content for use beyond Medical Information
    • Do customers know that it exists?
    • Do they know where to find the content?
  6. If you analyse your Medical Information inquiries
    • Do you share that information?
    • Did you get stakeholder input to identify what metrics and insights are of value?
    • Do you regularly engage stakeholders to understand their needs?
    • Do you monitor your stakeholders’ satisfaction with the value you provide?

Key take-away: Doing a great job is not enough. Knowing your value is not enough. Your customers need to know what you do, how to contact you and how to access the value you provide.

The not so Gentle Reminder

In Berlin I met the mother of a famous German actress. She told me that after the last curtain of every play her daughter acts in, the daughter sends the producer a hand-written note on parchment paper thanking the producer for the opportunity to work with him. The mother told me proudly “I taught my children that good manners are the world’s best business card”.

Sadly, good manners are now rarer than hen’s teeth. I receive daily emails via LinkedIn from people who want to help me with lead generation, help me improve my website, improve my SEO rating, help design apps for me or resource headcount for me. The list is interminable and the emails unmanageable. I have given up politely writing back to say that I have no interest in the service that was offered to me, unless the writer is clearly addressing me personally, and I am not just being mass-mailed to.

Consequently, I am now the recipient of daily follow-up emails, the text is frequently a variation of the following, which I received today: “Hi, Kindly treat this as a gentle follow up mail as I was wondering if you have gone through my previous mail, Please let me know your views so that we can take this forward”.

While this type of email is now standard practice, I don’t believe it can ever be effective.

Recommendations for communication: 1) don’t pester people 2) don’t use hi in formal emails 3) use people’s names 4) check punctuation 5) never use the term a gentle follow-up, it’s one of the most passive aggressive terms I have ever come across.

Through the Culture Filter

A recent US American visitor to the UK wrote enthusiastically about the fact that English people queue and that taxi drivers thank you if you tip them.

During my recent trip to Berlin, with a US American friend, our waiter didn’t take our drinks order for half an hour, didn’t lay the table, so that when the food came, we had to go hunt down the cutlery. He put the plates down at the end of the table, so that we had to get up to retrieve them, as we couldn’t reach them from our seats. He brought a jug of hot chocolate at the end of dinner, but with no cup. By the end of the evening, we were in stitches, laughing as tears streamed down our faces, wondering whether there was a camera filming us.

Luckily the food was excellent, and the floor manager was wonderful. She kept trying to compensate for her colleague’s shoddy service. At the end of the evening, my friend paid the bill. At that point, the waiter seemed to take notice of us for the first time, asking us “Where are you from?”. My friend said, “I am American”. She didn’t leave him a tip. The waiter looked at her, looked at the bill, pointed at it and said, “The service charge is not included”. I don’t think he knew what to make of our giggles.

English cab drivers are grateful if you tip them because they don’t expect to be tipped, necessarily. In the US tips are an integral part of people’s wages, whereas in other countries they are not. Hence, in the US a tip is expected whereas in England it is appreciated.

Americans are known to leave generous tips, however, this is not, as our waiter seemed to think, a default setting.

Key reminder: you cannot assess the behaviour of individuals with a different cultural background using your own culture’s frame of reference, not when travelling and not in business.

Launching a Webinar Series – First Webinar will be on Data Analytics 2.0

Next year I am launching my webinar series. The first webinar will be in early February. I will be joined by a partner who provides solutions for companies in the data analytics space. Some of the topics we will address include systems, processes, stakeholder engagement, when to use AI, when not to use AI, and how to collaborate with others in your company to make the most of what you have. I will also address how to approach systematic data capture, taxonomy and ontology.

If there are any specific topics you are interested in for my webinar series, do let me know, what you want to hear about.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Chris Greenhow on Unsplash

A Chatbot Case Study, Introducing The Squad, Or When Did Team Become A Bad Word?

Hot topics in Medical Affairs and Medical Information today? Operational aspects, including omnichannel, all things digital, how to delight customers, HCPs and patients alike and data analytics and how to deliver more with less, this last one is a constant topic.

Topics for today’s blog are all sparked by recent conversations.

– A lost hour with a chatbot
– Are your activities in line with your strategy?
– Introducing the squad, Or when did team become a bad word?
– Different, different but same? Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z

A Lost Hour With a Chatbot

Two days ago, I was locked out of an account by a service provider due to a change in their processes. The provider’s website informed me that I need to submit my email via chatbot. I duly typed “I need to talk to an agent” into the window. The response “Before I get you in touch with our team, try typing your question below. I may have an answer to your question.” I expressed the sentiment that this is not a customer friendly approach. The answer? “I’m sorry, I’m not trained on that topic yet. Would you mind rephrasing your message? I learn best with short sentences. Or you can choose a topic below to browse for an answer.” I try again, this time typing in the exact issue I am facing, however I get the same result, the chatbot tells me to rephrase. Finally, the algorithm allows me to submit a request to customer support. Instead of using a form I have to do it by chatbot. The fields are not word-count restricted, so at one point I get the message “It looks like you’ve entered too much text. Please summarise the issue in ten words or fewer, like you’re writing the subject line of an email. I’ll ask for more details next.”

In my last newsletter I shared my conviction that the types of digital channel you implement are, per se, less important than ensuring that you implement the channels you do implement well. I stand by this observation. I believe that the shortest path to resolution, is, from the perspective of most customers, the best path.

After my latest chatbot experience I’d like to add the exhortation that before you design and implement a new solution you are clear on what you are trying to achieve. Is your goal to make customers feel you are restricting access to customer service agents, by making them interact with a chatbot, or are you trying to improve the customer’s experience with your company?

Key takeaway: Remember, new is not always better. Before introducing a new solution, ensure that you are clear on how it will improve the status quo and think about how you will measure the improvements.

Are Your Activities in Line With Your Strategy?

It is easy to be so consumed with daily operations that you lose sight of the bigger picture.

Why not take a break with your team sometime towards the end of this year and do a workshop. Ask yourselves the following questions:

-1- What are the three most important topics we should be focusing on right now?
-2- What should we be doing to support these topics?
-3- What are we actually doing to support these topics?
-4- How does what we are doing relate back to what we should be doing?

Often, teams discover that there is a discrepancy between what they are doing and what they should be doing. If that is the case, then discuss in your team:

-5- What is preventing us from doing what we should be doing?
-6- Are the obstacles we perceive real, or imagined?

Frequently, there are different opinions about what the priorities are, or individuals with divergent backgrounds assess priorities differently. This type of session is easier with a moderator, an individual, who can function as a mediator and synthesiser of team output. However, even absent a moderator, the discussion can bring some interesting insights.

Introducing the Squad. Or When did Team Become a bad Word?

Last week, I was in Paris discussing with a group of fellow coaches and consultants what defines a team. One colleague proposed the following definition: “A team is an entity in which people have a common goal and a common task.” He added “But how do we make people understand?” Thinking about this I realised that it seems as though many companies have done away with the word altogether.

Instead, there are now pods, squads and squad leaders or, in some truly innovative environments you may simply be cast adrift in an untethered structure, in which you identify the projects you want to work on and engage in ever changing groups of individuals with flexible leadership. This leads me to three observations.

The first is that you can change the names of things as frequently as you like, but unless you change the fundamental nature of something, it will not change, it will simply be named something else, because real change takes time and work.

The second is that in nature, in society, in organisms, the list is endless, there are always smaller entities that perform a certain function, to support the whole. There are good reasons for this.

The third is that in times of uncertainty, when business is moving fast, resources are scarce and change is all pervasive, adding in more complexity in the form of an unstructured environment, seems a risky strategy, because beyond delivering complex projects, individuals will also need to identify the resources they need to help them succeed as well as navigate working effectively in ever changing constellations.

Different, Different but Same? Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z

On a trip to China many years ago, whenever I was in a market, looking at something, and they didn’t have exactly what I wanted the salesperson would invariably say “Same, same but different.” Whenever, I read about millennials, Gen X, Gen Y – especially as relates to their unique needs in the workplace, the writers stress the differences, to the generations that came before, I cannot recall ever reading about the similarities. This crossed my mind after a recent conversation with an adolescent, where we had a difference of opinion.

I told him I would need to do some more research in order to reflect more on his views. When I let him know that I had done so and that I found his position both interesting and valid. He said, “You know, you are quite mature for an adult.” He explained that most adults discount his opinion because he is a teenager. In a later conversation, on a different topic, the same teenager said to me “I know what you are going to say, people of your age group all have a similar opinion.”

Curious to see whether he would link my questions back to our previous conversation I asked him if he felt putting people into categories served him well. His reply: “Well we all do it, it makes the world easier to manage, and anyhow usually I find out that I was right.”

While it is important to understand what makes us different, and what that might mean, it also helps to understand where we are similar across age groups, countries, cultures etc., just by dint of being human.

Key takeaways: We are sometimes more similar than we might imagine and the fundamental desire to simplify the world is probably universal.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Naturally, if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Let’s get Digital – Things to Consider on the Path to Digital Excellence

Since my last blog I have taken part in translation company TransPerfect’s online panel discussion on digital excellence in medical affairs, co-chaired a webinar with Peter Brodbin on Medical Information Innovation, and realised that the end of the year is nigh, again. To my irritation, the impending end of the year always takes me by surprise, despite the fact that it’s a regular occurrence.

Topics for today’s blog are all related to the digital excellence in Medical Affairs panel discussion I recently took part in:

– Let’s get digital – things to consider on the path to digital excellence
– The benefits of harmonised medical information responses
– The difference between multichannel and omnichannel
– Fuelling harmonised content using component authoring

To hear more thoughts on the topics I share today, you can access the recording of the panel discussion on digital excellence in Medical Affairs on TransPerfect’s website, which will be uploaded shortly. 

Let’s get Digital – Things to Consider on the Path to Digital Excellence

Last week I joined Ben Gallarda, PhD, Head of Scientific Content – EPG Health and Quynh Nguyen, Medical Digital Initiatives Lead, Europe & Canada, Organon for a panel discussion on Digital Excellence in Medical Affairs which was run by solution provider TransPerfect.
 
We covered topics including how to implement digital across geographies, key considerations for digital channel selection and customer expectations. We also discussed omnichannel versus multichannel, which I cover later in this blog. If you are thinking of expanding your digital customer engagement offerings, I have three suggestions for you:

  1. Consider your product and where it is in the lifecycle. What you design to support the launch of an orphan product with a new mode of action will differ from what you build to support a product in an established indication in an area where your company is the market leader.
  2. Your digital mix will need to complement your other engagement activities and will depend on your customer types, the geographies, the type of product and cultural preferences for engagement as well as the product lifecycle.
  3. Make sure you understand your market, especially how your customers like to engage and when. For example, what devices do your customers typically use. When do they typically access information? During the day? Or during their commute on a Smartphone. Plan your digital offerings accordingly.

Overall, the digital channels you implement are, per se, less important than ensuring you implement the channels you do implement well.

The Benefits of Harmonised Medical Information Responses

Another question that was submitted during the panel discussion on digital excellence was the following:  Medical information has typically been strongly locally customized, which makes the delivery of content a locally driven activity. Do you see a drive for greater global consistency in messaging across markets (for example for products with risk min)?

My thoughts are that the best approach is to minimise reduplication of effort where possible especially as local resources are frequently stretched. Hence, I would recommend customising cover letters but using harmonised scientific content wherever possible.

Ideally, for products that are available globally,  scientific response documents are written, reviewed and approved centrally. They can then be adapted for local use; this might include adapting the content to local label where needed and translating the content if required by local regulations or by your customer. In addition, where a personal relationship with a customer exists, the cover letter that is sent to the customer can be personalised.

Where products are only available in certain markets, or medical information requests are market specific local authoring makes sense, however, for most cases and most products a centralised approach is, I believe, the best way to go.

The benefits of a centralised approach? Consistent information, increased efficiency and faster adaptation of content across geographies, reduced reduplication of effort and in addition, the ability to easily assess which documents are used in which markets and what topics are thus of interest to customers. With a less harmonised approach getting access to this data is sometimes challenging.

The Difference Between Multichannel and Omnichannel

Yet another question we received during the panel discussion was: What is the difference between omnichannel and multichannel engagement? As this is such a big topic at the moment, I offer a brief explanation.
 
Pharmaceutical companies engage with customers using many different channels.
 
In a multichannel approach, any channel that is used, both offline and online, to engage with a customer, exists and functions independently of the others. For example, you might have a general call centre, an online form for general inquiry submissions,  a medical information call centre, various educational websites with logins, chatbots on various sites and also use WhatsApp messaging for certain stakeholder groups. Beyond these channels, your customers may also engage with company employees such as medical directors, medical science liaisons and sales representatives. In a multichannel approach each of these channels exists and functions independently of the other.
 
There is no integration of content across channels, and no single CRM database that underlies all these channels, and hence the experience is inconsistent for customers across channels, and a single customer’s engagement across channels is hard for a company to evaluate.
 
The downside of a multichannel approach for customers  is that customers experience slower response times to their enquiries and different responses to the same question depending on the team they engage with. In addition, if they transition from one team to another in pursuit of a solution to their issue, they will find themselves repeating their question over and over. The ensuing frustration for a customer can be tremendous. I speak from experience.
 
The downside of a multichannel approach for the company is that there is a significant amount of reduplication of effort, which, however, often goes unnoticed. In addition, there is the risk of inconsistency across channels and there is no way of identifying which content works well on which channel.
 
In  an omni-channel approach, the channels remain the same, however instead of them working independently, there is a consistent approach across all of them which provides customers with a seamless customer experience regardless of the channel used. Customers are not forced to pick  channels depending on the type of need they have, instead they chose the channel they prefer, to access the information they seek.
 
The benefits of an omni-channel approach for the customer is that she gets access to consistent information across all channels, can switch channels depending on the situation or personal preference and has a smooth experience.
 
The benefits for the company? Better customer service, more efficient customer interactions, reduced reduplication of effort, better understanding of customer needs, the ability to compare how content is used across different channels and consequently the ability to invest money and deploy resources accordingly and to focus efforts where they will have most positive impact for customers. Overall omnichannel is more cost-effective, provides better data insights and makes monitoring for compliant information provision easier.

Fuelling Harmonised Content Using Component Authoring

When discussing how to improve customer services and harmonising content, be it across geographies for a single team, such as Medical Information, or across various channels and multiple types of content, component authoring is a topic that is unavoidable. With this approach each document type comprises multiple “components.” For example, for a scientific response document you might have the following components:
 
Component 1: Introduction
Component 2: An executive summary of the key data that is included
Component 3: The core scientific content with all the necessary expanded detail
Component 4: Disclaimers
 
The benefit of using a component authoring approach is that you can use/reuse each component independently of all the others, enabling you to ensure that all your documents are consistent and up to date at all times. As each component is authored and stored centrally, when you update it, or change it, any changes you make are automatically reflected in each document that contains the component, provided you are using a tool that supports this of course.
 
Using this approach, you generate your content once, it is stored centrally, you update it centrally and you can easily  use and reuse it across it different teams, channels and  different geographies. Smart, simple and efficient.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Naturally, if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat. 

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Isabelle C. Widmer
Poem Portraits, Es Devlin

Digital excellence in medical affairs webinar, what stakeholder management and herding cats have in common

After every DIA meeting I put time in my calendar to download the slides, review my notes, revisit some of the presentations and to follow-up with attendees to find out what their meeting highlights were. Invariably, my plans get delayed slightly. However, I am running the first ever follow-up session from a DIA event on Innovation in Medical Information together with Peter Brodbin and our session’s speakers.

Check my LinkedIn feed for more information. The session is only available to attendees of the DIA meeting in Barcelona. However, I will also be on a panel discussion discussing digital excellence on the 10th of November. The panel is hosted by TransPerfect and is open to all. You can sign up below.

Topics for today are:

– Expect surprises; project planning lessons from a 4am motorway rendezvous
– Driving digital excellence in medical affairs – upcoming webinar
– What stakeholder management and herding cats have in common
– The curse of the time zone – being late while being on time

Expect Surprises; Project Planning Lessons From a 4am Motorway Rendezvous

I recently had an appointment at 4am. The location was sent by text message. Having confirmed that it would take me thirty minutes to drive there, I added an extra half hour to my trip time, just to cover any unforeseen events.

Navigating unknown roads in the middle of the night, alone, turned out to be a challenge. In addition, because I would have suggested meeting in a brightly lit service station, that is what I was on the look-out for. I ended up missing the designated pick-up location and having to make a long detour. At 3.58 my phone started pinging, as I received calls, asking where I am. Worried that if I took the call I would miss the stop again, I didn’t pick up. When I finally got to my destination at 4.05am it turned out to be a very small motorway lay-by, it was a dark, scary place to be alone at 4am for a meeting with people I had never personally met. No lights, no humans, just loads of parked lorries, cockpits lit by the flickering of screens.

Project planning learnings.

  • Plan ahead and add in extra time to complete your project. Expect the unforeseen.
  • Be aware that what seems like common sense to you, in the example above, to meet at a populated service station not in a dark and desolate lay-by, is not necessarily what makes sense for others taking part in your project. Be prepared to be surprised.
  • Have a wing-person along for the ride if possible.
  • If you are going somewhere, you have never been before, even if you have mapped out your route, you may get lost. For complex projects it may be worth taking a guide along with you.

If you are thinking of setting off on a new destination in the Medical Affairs arena, I’d be happy to divulge if I know the particular route you are looking at, to highlight some potential dead-ends, and detours to avoid, and to discuss how I might be able to support you.

Driving Digital Excellence in Medical Affairs – Upcoming Webinar

The recent pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital capabilities in the pharmaceutical industry. Most pharmaceutical companies are expanding their digital capabilities in order to better understand customer needs and to provide better customer service. Digital solutions have been rolled out in areas including IIS submissions, training and education, key stakeholder engagement and interacting with patients, to name just a few.

Beyond changes in individual areas though the biggest change that is currently underway is moving from individual engagement channels to an omnichannel approach, with the aim to provide customers with a seamless engagement experience and companies with improved insights into market needs.

Does your company have a digital engagement strategy? Do you know what it is? Is it holistic? Spoiler alert, if it is not, it should be. If you are interested in this topic and want to hear more, please save the date for the TransPerfect Webinar on Driving Digital Excellence in Medical Affairs. November 10th at 10am EST.

I will be joining a panel hosted by TransPerfect together with Ben Gallarda, PhD, Head of Scientific Content – EPG Health, Quynh Nguyen, Medical Digital Initiatives Lead, Europe & Canada – Organon. We will share perspectives and lessons learned. You can sign up here.

What Stakeholder Management and Herding Cats Have in Common

People often say, “it’s like herding cats” when they are exasperated with a project. This was an abstract concept until Henry fell out of the window, landed in the bushes below, and high-tailed it into the garden. A recent addition to the household, Henry is scared of his own shadow, and I can’t touch him. After trying to catch him by wandering around the garden calling his name, I realized, that I would not be successful even if I spent the rest of the afternoon in the garden shaking a bag of cat food. Especially as I couldn’t see where he was. So, I needed a stakeholder adapted plan.

Henry may not trust me, but he is, luckily, besotted with his brother. Consequently, I knew I’d need to incorporate his sibling into my rescue plan. The sibling was duly harnessed and led to the area where Henry was last spotted. After a short while Henry emerged from the woodpile meowing loudly. Step by step I enticed him towards the house. It took an hour, but finally I had him back indoors.

This situation reminded me, that you can save a lot of time and energy if you adapt your approach to your stakeholders and the specific situation because attraction always works better than coercion.

The curse of the time zone – being late while being on time

Whenever we rely on something too much, this reliance becomes a potential liability. For example, when I use Outlook to plan my meetings, it automatically fixes any time-zone differences. Everyone knows when they need to dial in, it’s all very simple. Sometimes, however, I agree to speak on the phone, in this situation I don’t necessarily send out an invitation, I just put a reminder in my calendar. This is where things can go wrong. Some recent examples:

  • A phone call with Athens. We agreed 10am. We didn’t think to check for time-zone differences. We both assumed 10am our time and ended up connecting at 9.30 am Swiss time, 10.30 in Greece.
  • A teleconference with the UK was organised through Doodle. The meeting time showed as 9.30am, I assumed this was UK local time, so an hour later for me. However, Doodle corrects for time-zones too…Then a WhatsApp message came through with a Doodle screenshot confirming the 8.30am timeslot.
  • A teleconference with India. The link and time shared by the service provider through email. The invitation was sent out to Outlook calendars but the service provider was not invited using the same Invitation. It took us a while to connect.

Even if none of this has ever happened to you, it’s probably worth taking note that the clocks went back today. At least they did in Switzerland. This means that now, instead of a 6-hour time difference to the East Coast, there is a 5-hour time difference, until the US changes their clocks back on the 6th November. What I have learned? Even when I am in a hurry, I need to double-check meeting time suggestions and confirm participants’ locations.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Isabelle C. Widmer at 4am

Nobody drives a Lamborghini just to get from A to B

I am hugely motivated by the recent DIA Medical Information and Medical Communications meeting in Barcelona. The conference was a success, the speakers shared excellent case studies, the audience was engaged, and it was a pleasure to welcome many newcomers to the Medical Information community. Today’s blog covers some of the topics raised by newcomers to the field of Medical Information.

Topics for today are:

– Introducing a new medical information service that adds value to your business
– Nobody drives a Lamborghini just to get from A to B or value is in the eye of the beholder
– Harmonising medical information in an established business
– Should I stay or should I go?

Introducing a new medical information service that adds value to your business

At this year’s DIA meeting, many representatives attended from companies that are just starting out the process of building a medical information function.

In the past, the medical information function was regarded as a necessity and implementation focused on meeting the requirements outlined, for example, in Article 98 of Directive 2001/83/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 November 2001 on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use, which establishes the European regulatory framework regarding advertising, promotion and communication regarding medicinal products. Article 98 states: «the marketing authorisation holder shall establish, within his undertaking, a scientific service in charge of information about the medicinal products he places on the market».

EU member states have transposed the European Directive into regulatory requirements and local laws adding further specific measures, and in some cases, adding additional requirements for the delivery of medical information.

Nevertheless, the laws do not give precise guidance on how medical information services need to be implemented, giving companies a degree of freedom in implementation.

In my view, considering the flexibility provided by the regulations and a relatively standardised approach across the industry, setting up a medical information service, per se, is not complicated.

The question you need to ask yourself is, are you building a medical information service that will merely respond to customer inquiries, in order to “tick the box” regarding legal requirements, or are you building a medical information service that will add value to the business?

The investment to build either approach will be similar, but the return on investment if you implement a value-add approach, can be immense.

To build a simple medical information service you can work in a silo and implement: a team, a tracking approach, SOPs, standard content, training and reconciliation processes.

The outcome: a team that manages medical information enquiries from all stakeholders, a medical information tracking tool and data that is kept sealed off from any similar data.

If you want to cover the basics but also add value to your business, you need to adopt an integrated approach and implement a tailored medical information service. Medical information, along with drug safety and product quality complaint teams, are key teams that receive inbound communications and questions from the marketplace. Insights generated by these teams can add enormous value to an organisation. As other teams struggle to talk to physicians, the value of medical information increases.

To build a medical information service that will add value to your business, you will need to work closely with other stakeholders. Before you start implementing you will identify how you can add value. Things you can do include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Interview stakeholders across the organisation to identify their knowledge needs
  • Identify all IT systems that capture customer data and design an approach that allows integration of data across systems
  • Work with different departments across the business to identify synergies – e.g., for content sharing, standard responses, omnichannel use etc.
  • Identify key insights that medical information can help generate, that will help develop your business and improve the safe use of products as well as potentially highlighting areas that your business’ R&D department can address, potential gaps in commercial teams’ communication etc.

If you need any help in setting up a medical information service that is fit for purpose but also adds value to your business, please get in touch.

Nobody drives a Lamborghini Just to get from A to B or value is in the eye of the beholder

If the sole reason you own a car is so that you can get from A to B, you will never buy a Lamborghini, indeed it’s likely that you will struggle to understand why some people have to own one.

When we spend money on an item, it is because that item has a value for us, this is what leads us to spend a lot of money on an item such as a car, a designer handbag, a watch etc. despite the fact that an unbranded product would do the job equally well.

I once went to a furniture shop to buy a bookcase. I told the sales representative exactly what I was looking for. The next hour he showed me all the articles he had in his shop, sharing their unique selling points with me. He was enthusiastic, he loved the products, he would have bought them, because they met his requirements, however, unfortunately none of them met mine. I left the shop without a bookcase, the salesperson invested a lot of time in talking to me, but ultimately did not make a sale.

Medical information teams often lament the fact that the value they add is not recognised. I think the reason for this lies in the fact that each stakeholder group looks at value differently. There is a different discourse, or language around value. In medical information the discourse is scientific and medical information teams showcase the value they add by talking about the science or the customer engagement aspect. Frequent statements include:

  • We are the only team that speaks directly with patients.
  • We are the only team that manages inbound communication on our products from all customer segments.
  • We provide fair, balanced etc. scientific information in response to customer inquiries.

The challenge is that for commercial teams, for example, value is a financial term, and any activities are ultimately linked to a number. Value is thus described by terms such as:

  • Market access
  • Sales
  • Market share

The value that medical information teams can provide to an organisation can be framed in different ways. If you want your key stakeholders to understand your value, you need to adapt how you present the value you add.

Consequently, when speaking to commercial teams, reframe your activities to represent value in the eyes of commercial. For example, highlight that inquiries to medical information can provide:

  • Insights on the real-world use of a product and hence potential new indications
  • Information on product administration and ideas for improvements
  • Insights on competitor products
  • Insights on enquiries pre/peri/post product launch which can be used to support launches in further markets etc.

Ideally provide examples. If you do not have examples, consider mock-ups of graphs you could generate.

Key take-away: the value that medical information teams generate is not that they speak to patients, but what that means for your business.

Harmonising medical information in an established business

If you are working in medical information in an established business and you are tasked with harmonising the approach across the entire business, you will typically be faced with the following two principal challenges.

  • No two affiliates have an identical set-up regarding any of the following:
    Roles and responsibilities
    Tracking and computer systems
    Content generation
    Solution providers
    Training
    SOPs
    Disclaimers
  • Global and regional teams generally work in a matrix with local teams, hence, you will need to work collaboratively and cooperatively. Top-down approaches never work.

In order to harmonise your approach, you need to know where you are going, but you also need to know exactly where you are starting from.

My key recommendations for global harmonisation programmes 1) solid analysis of your status quo 2) key stakeholder identification and interviews 3) define mission and vision 4) be clear on whether you are implementing a “Tick the regulatory requirements box” Medical Information service, or a “Value-Add Medical Information Service” 4) build project teams to design, discuss and drive implementation of various workstreams 5) ensure you have a communication strategy in place

If you have any questions on any aspect of this approach, or want to share your best practice recommendations, I am always happy to have a chat.

Should I stay or should I go?

I have recently had a number of conversations with erstwhile passionate employees, who have lost their spark. In some situations a new manager, with a different management style, represents a challenge. In others, the organisation has been restructured, complexity has been added, new acronyms introduced, with, however, no obvious value add for the pragmatically minded. There are many reasons why employees lose their passion for the work they are doing, or the business they are a part of. At that point the question becomes «should I stay or should I go?».

In my experience, what causes distress is rarely the situation per se, but the feeling of being stuck in an unsatisfactory situation. The solution to this is not to make a fast move, but to start looking at the situation and reminding yourself that you always have choices. Some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Is this situation the final straw? Or was I already unhappy before this new event? This is an important data point.
  • Is this situation taking a toll on my mental health?
  • Is the situation due to a mismatch of personalities or is it a difference in working styles?
  • What alternatives are there inside and outside my business?
  • Are these challenges I am facing unique to this situation or have I faced them before with other managers/employers?

In general, the longer you stay in an unsatisfactory situation, the more frustrated you are likely to become. An executive coach can help you explore your options, support you to find your next career opportunity or potentially, help you identify ways to transform a situation to your satisfaction. Especially in situations, where the challenges are due to very different personalities, your mental health is impacted or if you do not feel you are being treated with respect, I’d recommend engaging a professional to support you as you decide on your next steps.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Change management in practice in Medical Information

Welcome to this week’s blog. I am excited to be off to the first in person DIA meeting I have been to since 2019. I am excited to see old friends and to make new ones. There is still time for you to sign up for the meeting. You can join us in person in Barcelona, or online. It’s a great opportunity to meet your peers, ask questions and to get involved. I have been on the programme committee for a long time now and this year’s meeting promises to be a really great one.

Topics for today’s blog are informed by the upcoming meeting.

Today’s blog topics:

– Change management in practice in Medical Information
– Innovating Medical Information – putting theory into practice
– Show and tell – secrets to engaging communication
– Secrets beyond the tech for selecting an IT systems service provider

Change Management in Practice in Medical Information

Introducing change is often challenging but it does not need to be. The foundation of a successful change management process comprises a compelling vision, cross-divisional stakeholder buy-in, transparent and frequent communication, realistic timelines and measurable outcomes.

While the basic principles are a given, how you approach change and implement successfully depends on additional factors such as the size of your company, how established your teams are, the number of individuals involved and the urgency of the change.

The COVID pandemic is a great example for how a crisis can facilitate change. Many leaders were sure that remote meetings were ineffective and that working from home would not work for their teams. Then, when there was no choice, companies had to make it work. And it worked. Luckily, most change programmes are initiated in order to generate opportunities for a company and not to react to a crisis. Absent a crisis knowing what tools you can use to make sure your change programme is a success is important.

If you want to hear more about this topic join me for a great session at the DIA Medical Information and Communications Conference on October 5th at 9am CET. I’ll be joined by my co-chair Monica Rojo-Abril, Grünenthal, Elena Molina, Amgen, Chedia Abdelkafi UCB, Elvar Eyjolfsson, Otsuka, together with Gergana Hristozova – Associated Director of Operations, Medical Communications, PPD, part of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Our speakers will share their expertise and recommendations on managing and implementing change in the medical information arena. We will cover why changing how Medical Information Specialists are trained will transform the role of Medical Information in the future, how to run a change process, and how to work collaboratively with an external partner to outsource Medical Information provision.

Bring your questions, share your experience with us and support the session chairs to make the most of our brilliant speakers.

If you read this after the event, please reach out to me, Monica or our speakers, with any questions. If you want to discuss a change project in your company, I am always happy to discuss.

Innovating Medical Information – Putting Theory into Practice

My co-chair Peter Brodbin, Pfizer and I will be running this session on putting theory into practice. Covering the creation of an MI service from scratch to the progress of Infographics in MI. The session will cover some fascinating topics that are applicable to all of us and the way we are innovating our services.

We have 4 fantastic speakers: Andy Edward Mackay, MS, who will share key considerations in the genesis of a Medical Information Department, he joins us from Idorsia. Gaurav Kumar from UCB, who will share practical advice on implementing IT systems, do’s and don’ts, Celia Wilson, who will talk about infographics and Maria Delgado Catrain from Meisys, who will talk about The importance of the correct usage of Customer Relationship Management for Medical Inquiries traceability.

Join us on October 5th, 2022, from 11:15 – 12.30 CET. If you read this after the event, please reach out to me if you have any questions. I can put you in touch with the speakers, or answer any questions you have on innovating Medical Information across the board.

Show and Tell – Secrets to Engaging Communication

On a recent bicycle trip in France, I asked a pedestrian for directions. We ended up having a lovely conversation, at the end of which she asked me “Why is your French so good, do you speak it at home? Did you grow up speaking it?” I said “No, I lived in Paris for a year, and I speak it regularly, but it’s not a language I spoke at home”. She continued to marvel. It was gratifying. My French today is apparently passable. More importantly I feel comfortable speaking it, despite knowing it will never be perfect. However, back when I was at school I felt differently.

Once our French teacher gave us an assignment. We were to give a 20-minute presentation in French on a topic of our choice. After much consideration I came up with a plan, which would fit the assignment, but which would minimize actually speaking French.

My presentation focused on cake decorating. I brought all the ingredients with me. Then for twenty minutes I proceeded to hold up various pieces of equipment and ingredients saying, “Now you take this” accompanied by a demo of the action and the comment “To do this”. Between cutting the layers, assembling the cake, icing it and piping decorations I suspect I didn’t use more than a dozen words to give my presentation which was padded with lots of pointing. At the end of my presentation the class got to eat the cake.

This story came to me recently when thinking about effective communication and managing change across companies. If you can show what you are trying to achieve, if you can share your excitement for the project, if they can witness it as it takes shape when you talk design and if they know they will partake in the fruits of the project’s outcome, you are more likely to have supportive stakeholders.

Don’t only tell people that your project will be good for them, show them. And, before you start, make sure you know what key selling points for your project will be for them. You can use demos, do role play etc. Depending on the type of project you are thinking of there are many creative ways of showing what you want to do.

Secrets Beyond the Tech for Selecting an IT Systems Service Provider

Last week I took part in a meeting with IT service providers. Together with my fellow board members for the charity the Virtual Doctors, we chatted with various potential partners from around the world. We met a stellar group of potential partners. I have been involved in RFPs for many years but I have rarely experienced such an inspiring day of presentations. Selecting an IT systems service partner is not easy. Obviously, the system itself needs to be fit for purpose, but in order to ensure a good fit, you need to go beyond the tech.

Here are things I’d recommend you consider when making your selection:

  • Experience, reputation and longevity of your potential partner in your field
  • Size relative to your company’s size
  • Client base: if the provider works mainly with huge corporations and your project is small you may not be a priority for them
  • Key employee turnover, which will tell you whether the person you are doing business with is likely to be around for the length of the project

Last but not least, do they speak your language, not necessarily literally, but in general. Is the chemistry between you good? Working on IT projects can be challenging, working with a service provider who understands your needs, will make it so much easier. If you are considering selecting a service provider for IT projects and need support on any aspect of the selection, I’d be happy to share other critical success factors, I’d recommend you consider, with you.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Bankim Desai on Unsplash

What great leaders and the Queen have in common

In the past week thousands queued in line waiting to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin as it lay in state. Today a nation bids farewell as the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch is held in London. Queen Elizabeth II reigned for 70 years. Reflecting with a British friend on why republicans and royalists alike revered her, and what it is about her that inspired almost a million people to queue to pay their respects, lays the foundation for today’s blog.

Today’s topics:

– What great leaders and the Queen have in common
– Improve your job satisfaction – a self-coaching exercise
– Interpreting and integrating feedback at work
– Perception is reality – or is it?

What Great Leaders and the Queen have in Common

In a recent discussion with a British friend, I expressed my fascination that almost a million people had queued to see the Queen’s coffin lying in state. The fact that a whole nation and many beyond Britain’s borders felt such a strong connection to someone who they had never met. We reflected on what had made her so popular. The list we came up with included the following:

  • Dedicated to her role
  • Carefully curated public persona
  • Professional – absolute control of herself in public
  • Scandal-free
  • Gracious in all interactions
  • Longevity in role – she and her title were one

As we discussed this, my friend, who trains young teachers, told me she starts her first class with her students with this question “What did you really like about school and what did you hate, what did your worst teachers do and what did your best teachers do?” Once the students have answered this question, she says “Now tell me what type of teacher you want to be.”

My friend said that invariably the most popular teachers had common traits. Students said they most appreciated teachers who:

  • Were consistent and calm
  • Didn’t lose their tempers
  • Didn’t make public judgements
  • Were able to rise above situations

Consistently students said the teachers they liked best were those who stayed in their role, who didn’t confide in their students, who kept their public and private personas separate. Much like the Queen.

This is an exercise that is worth doing, whatever job you are in. So, now I ask you: “What did your best managers do? What did your worst managers do?” And even more importantly “What type of leader are you at the moment? And what type of leader do you want to be?”

Please share your responses with me; I am very interested to know what your thoughts are on this.

Improve Your job Satisfaction – A Self-Coaching Exercise

Most people I coach, most teams I work with, work in science related fields. Asked about themselves, their jobs, their work and home lives, they have nice, consistent logical responses, which have been shaped over a lifetime.

For this reason, I like to take questions away from the cerebral. I ask coachees to draw for me. As an example, a coachee once told me that her job is complex, and that most of the people she works with are not clear on what it is she actually does.

I asked her to draw me a picture. The drawing she made had many different teams, company departments, geographical areas, senior leadership teams etc. all connected with lines. The image ended up looking like a spider’s web of interdependencies. Hard for my coachee to keep track of, hard for me to understand. Her drawing illustrated why her business colleagues found it hard to understand her role.

Another example is from a conference I attended where we each drew our current work roles.

One image was so powerful it has stayed with me. A young professional in her early thirties had achieved rapid progression in her organisation. Telling us about it, she seemed astonished by her achievements. In her drawing she depicted herself sitting on a tree branch, high above the ground. It was clear that she had scaled the tree. The tree she had drawn had only a single branch, which was very high up, and no roots. A single huge thundercloud, in an otherwise clear sky, emanated bolts of lightning snaking down towards the branch she was seated on.

The way the tree was drawn, the absence of an easy ascent, the absence of roots, the threat of the branch being struck by lightning, this young professional was able to communicate her struggle in an image in a way she would never have been able to in words.

While ideally I would recommend doing this exercise with an executive coach, you can also benefit from doing it alone, and assessing it with your partner, a trusted co-worker or a friend. If you want to try this exercise yourself, here is how you would go about it:

Think about the different aspects of your job, the teams you work with, the roles you play, the people you report to. Draw yourself in your role. Draw a figure representing you in each role you play. There is no right or wrong way to draw this. Follow your instincts. Use colour, shading, add as much detail as you want but try to avoid using text. Use your imagination. Ideally do another drawing for your home life.

Remember you are your most important instrument. Understanding yourself, how you show up, why you show up the way you do, and knowing how to get the best out of yourself, while staying true to who you are, is I believe the key to happiness in all areas of life. Many people invest in holidays, training courses, new cars, new experiences, in the hope that these will enhance their life, instead of investing in the one area that will definitely enhance their lives, in themselves.

If you do this exercise, I would love to see your drawing. I will take 15 minutes to discuss these drawings with each of the first 10 people who send me a photograph of their drawing!

Interpreting and Integrating Feedback at Work

Years ago, I went from a customer facing role to an internal role working with internal teams. A commercial colleague came into my office and said to me “Congratulations, you must be so thrilled to no longer be working with customers”. I was taken aback, imagining that his perception of me, was that I disliked working with our clients. Before reacting, I remembered something a coach once said to me “People’s feedback often tells you more about them, than it does about you”. I asked my colleague “How about you, do you enjoy working with clients?” He looked at me aghast and said “No, truly dislike it, the longer I have been doing it, the more I dislike it. I am envious of you being able to change your role.”

Key insights from this interaction for me, remain, to this day; 1) you never know what someone else is thinking, it is best not to try to guess 2) people’s comments about you often tell you more about them than they do about you.

Feedback is always somebody’s perception, a snapshot of a moment in time. You are not somebody else’s feedback. It is worth taking things on board, considering whether you have been told the same thing more than once by different people, and whether you also recognize yourself in the information you are being given. At that point you can take the decision to integrate the feedback and to adapt how you engage for example – or not.

Perception is Reality – or is it?

At work we usually remain in one function for a longer period of time, so it is sometimes not easy to see a project we are championing from someone else’s perspective. When we are static, it is very easy to get wedded to a certain view of the world.

As many of you know I enjoy spending time on my bicycle. On a recent weekend I was slightly annoyed by the cars who blocked my path and the pedestrians who threw themselves in front of my bicycle without looking left nor right.

Later that day I was in my car, and amused myself, by discovering how irritated I was by the bicycles, who didn’t seem to care about any road signs, and the pedestrians, who threw themselves in front of my car with an apparent death wish and no zebra crossing in sight.

Later again, I was crossing the road with a friend, who is not very mobile. We picked a spot with no zebra crossing, as the closest one was a long walk for someone with mobility issues. Again, I found myself impatient with automobile drivers, who wouldn’t let us cross.

Depending on whether I was on a bicycle, in a car, or accompanying a pedestrian with mobility issues my assessment of a situation was dramatically different.

One individual, three comparable situations, three disparate perceptions. A great reminder of how a project is likely to be assessed very differently by different stakeholders in a company.

Worth reflecting on when you are presenting your next project.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Ella Ivanescu on Unsplash

How to lead in times of crisis, remote working

One of the only constants in life is change. One of the good changes is that physical meetings are back. In a month I hope to see many of you at this year’s DIA Medical Information and Communications conference in Barcelona where I will be co-chairing the opening sessions on change management in practice and innovating medical information.

Today’s newsletter topics:
– Change management learnings from how governments handle COVID and the energy crisis
– Why remote working is here to stay
– How to lead in times of crisis
– The innovation challenge

Change Management Learnings from how Governments Handle COVID and the Energy Crisis

Although we know that everything changes, the seasons, our life stages, the political landscape etc., we tend to stick with what we know. What is known feels safe. Even if it is not. Consequently, individuals managing change programs are often challenged with the sentence, “We have been doing it this way for years, and it has worked”. My response to this used to be, “We used to use a horse and cart, we used to wash clothes by hand etc. but none of us want to go back to the old way of doing things”. Perhaps in the face of the energy crisis in Europe I will need to re-evaluate this opinion.

Since 2020 we have been exposed to many changes that we have had no control over. How we interact socially, where we work, whether we can leave our homes to exercise, access restaurants etc. Just as we had grown accustomed to the ever-shifting landscape of COVID management strategies we are exposed to new changes. News coverage of COVID infection rates has been replaced by stories on global warming, and recommendations on how to reduce energy consumption and stay warm.

According to the newspaper, the NZZ on Sunday, Simonetta Sommaruga, the Head of the Swiss Federal Department of Transport, Communications and Energy recommends wearing woollen socks to bed, stocking up on jumpers and spending time cuddling your loved ones. Perhaps with time, the clock will be turned back further, and we will start sharing our living space with livestock as we once did.

For me there are three major insights for change leaders from how governments managed the pandemic and are now managing the energy crisis.

Insight 1: Strive for one truth: During the pandemic, political considerations influenced government pandemic guidelines more than science did. Consequently, there were multiple truths. Multiple truths lead to confusion and highlight a lack of leadership.

This leads to my first insight: Consistent messaging and clarity of objective is key for transformation programme success. When you are running a change programme, ensure you have a clear business objective that is driving the goals of the programme globally. Communicate this consistently to all stakeholders.

Insight 2; Call a spade a spade: During the pandemic it would have been relatively simple to apply a rigorous scientific framework to help understand the virus. This was not done. Again, this led to mistrust and the perception that the absence of a rigorous scientific framework was positive proof that governments were trying to hide relevant data regarding the benefit/risk of mRNA vaccinations. I believe that the reason data was not collected was, sadly, a result of a lack of coordination, forward thinking, and competent planning, not a result of stealth. As the necessity to prospectively collect data is obvious to anyone who is medically or scientifically trained, I don’t however, believe governments can be pardoned for this failing.

This leads to my second insight: Don’t whitewash. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes critical opportunities are missed. Perhaps the environment changed, perhaps something critical was not factored in, either way, be transparent when things go wrong. A key performance indicator for large transformation efforts is the trust teams place in the leaders. If there is no trust projects tend to fail.

Insight 3: Envision multiple scenarios and have back-up plans: Like most European countries, Switzerland generates some of the energy it needs and imports the rest. A number of years ago the decision was taken to phase out nuclear power and to replace it with renewable energy sources, while continuing to import energy, mainly from France and as a result, mainly nuclear. Considering the political stability in Europe in the last decades this seemed reasonable. However, the war in the Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia linked to that war, means energy is suddenly scarce. The Swiss government’s B plan is to recommend we reduce the energy we consume, wear warm socks and cuddle more.

This leads to my third insight: Plan ahead using the data you have, envision multiple potential scenarios, have B plans in place for all of them, that way, if the environment you are in changes, you have more to offer than the recommendation to wear woolly socks.

In addition, whether living through changes imposed upon us during a pandemic or managing the anxiety that accompanies reorganisations at work, the Chinese proverb, “When the wind blows, some build walls, while others build windmills” serves well. Fighting change is much harder than finding a way to benefit from it, to live with it, to grow in it.

I’ll be exploring change management in more depth at the upcoming DIA Medical Information and Communications meeting in Barcelona, where I will be co-chairing a session on the practice of change management with Monica Rojo-Abril, Medical Information Officer at Grünenthal. I hope to see you there.

Why Remote Working is Here to Stay

The pandemic taught us how much is possible when we have no choice. Years ago, I remember finding a memo that had been printed out, I assume, on the wrong printer. The memo said, “We absolutely cannot let our staff work from home, because we won’t be able to ensure they are doing any work”. The pandemic demonstrated that this was wrong. We used to think that conferences and meetings could not effectively be held remotely. During the pandemic we learned that this was wrong too. While companies are trying to get employees back into the office, I suspect that as prices for electricity and fuel increase dramatically, countries ration energy use and the rising cost of living impacts many people, companies will need to continue to support remote working.

How to Lead in Times of Crisis

According to an article on forbes.com there are some key guidelines to being effective as a leader during a crisis. I summarize the key points below, with some considerations added:

  1. Think first: take the time to reflect on a position before providing direction.
  2. Collaborate with your teams to identify different options: the more minds you apply to a problem, the better your solution will be.
  3. Act decisively: discuss all options, but remember you are accountable for the decisions you take. When you have decided on the course of action, share the decision with your teams and act rapidly.
  4. Remain positive without sugar-coating – be honest, be frank. Talk about what you can do, not what has been lost. Communicate that you are confident you will weather the storm together.
  5. Be humble and courageous: Crisis situations, as witnessed during the pandemic, require fast decisions, based on the data that is available to you at the time. When you make a mistake, own it, ideally before everyone has heard about it. Compromise on plans not principles.

You can read the full article here

The Innovation Challenge

Real innovation is hard. Many years ago, I was working on a research project. As we wrote the publication and submitted it for review, my manager said “Isabelle, nobody has ever published on this before, what happens if we are wrong?”. I answered, “That’s the whole point of research, you do the experiments in triplicate, you check your data, and then you put it out into the world for others to build on, or to refute”. I was excited because I had discovered something new and potentially ground-breaking, and I couldn’t wait to find out whether or not I was right. My manager was mainly concerned that he might look foolish.

Innovation is much easier to achieve when:

  • you have little to lose;
  • you are in a flexible environment;
  • business is going well; and
  • the political environment is stable.

With true innovation, I mean radically doing things differently to how they have been done in the past.

The pharmaceutical industry is not famous for rapidly adopting new solutions to old problems, even when those new solutions make a lot of sense. I am thinking about structured data bases across an entire company as an example here.

Given that fostering innovative research is hard in huge global pharma companies, pharma giants in recent years have started to expand their portfolio by purchasing innovative start-ups, or by separating out their R&D unit to perform early-stage research with limited influence from the commercial business on early R&D decisions.

In the current environment I think it is realistic to expect more barriers to innovation, as budgets are restricted, workforces are reorganized and companies stick to the tried and true in an effort to defend rather than to expand. However, just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it cannot be done. How you pitch your innovative project is key, especially now.

I’ll be discussing how to innovate medical information at the DIA meeting in Barcelona., where I will co-chair a session with Peter Brodbin, Director of Medical Information Effectiveness, Pfizer. You can find the meeting agenda here.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Ella Ivanescu on Unsplash