Author Archives: Isabelle Widmer

Getting From Metrics to Insights in Pharma, Why a Website Will Never Replace you Where it Counts

Recently I’ve been thinking about customer experience. All my memories of the times it’s been great are related to the individuals representing the brand, not the brand itself. After all, if I buy a premium product, I expect it to work. It’s the extra human factor that adds joy. Last week I experienced some incredible customer service and it made me think again about the value of human communication and connection for business.

Today’s topics:

– Make sure the great awakening is not a rude awakening
– Why a website will never replace you where it counts
– The beauty of an open mind – experience versus expectation at an NHS A&E service
– Getting from metrics to insights in pharma

Make Sure the Great Awakening is not a Rude Awakening

You need good products, but you are nothing without good employees. A Swiss Key Opinion Leader once said to me, “I won’t remember the company you work for, but, if I enjoy working with you, I will work with you, regardless of your employer.” The absence of talent has been a topic for years. More recently with the great resignation/great awakening, the subject of keeping talent has come into sharp focus. Finding talent is time-consuming, nerve-wracking, frustrating and expensive.

So how can you ensure that your employee’s great awakening is not a rude awakening for you? Check in regularly. Take feedback seriously. Act upon things that you can change and be transparent about the things you cannot. Keep your word and if you cannot, communicate early. Manage expectations. People leave managers, not companies; they leave situations they have tried to change, but have not been able to. If you have a trusting, open, transparent relationship, your employees are unlikely to be tempted to move. We are all evolving and improving all the time. Or should be.

Accept that great managers are made, not born, although undoubtedly some are more talented at managing than others. Great leaders need nurturing and difficult situations are rarely the fault of only one party. Sometimes when situations are hard, you might hope that a team member will move on, but there is no guarantee that the person you replace them with will be a perfect fit. However, people do leave, and when that happens, use leaving interviews as an opportunity to learn more about the ‘why’ so you can improve your organisation.

Why a Website Will Never Replace you Where it Counts

When selecting a hotel, a restaurant or the garden of a stately home to visit, I habitually check online ratings. Over time, I have come to the conclusion that the ratings often tell me more about the rater than about the establishment being assessed. Then, last week as I wandered around Hidcote gardens, taking photographs and ignoring my low battery warning, my mobile phone’s battery died.

The Cotswolds are hard to navigate without Google Maps and at 5pm I had not booked a hotel for the night. I asked an employee of the gardens for directions to a nearby village. She reeled off a long complicated set of instructions, then, seeing my confusion, she said kindly: “Oh, I pass through it on my drive home so just follow me.” I ended up following her to my destination. When I got there, I stopped a couple of people on the street asking for hotel recommendations. Most were tourists and couldn’t help. But then the next person I talked to said “I am a tour guide”. She recommended a hotel in the next village, so I drove there and booked the last room they had available. The room was lovely, the food excellent and the employees extremely customer focused.

My hotel selection was less confusing than going online, faster – and the result was a better fit than many choices I have made on online portals. Years ago, in a job interview, I was asked, “As a doctor, what would you want from a pharma company, if you contacted us?” My response? “The right answer, at the time I am asking it, from a competent individual, or a great website.” After years of online chats, online searching and comparing options, I have come to the conclusion that for most of my needs, talking to a person is usually faster and more tailored.

At every conference I attend, a variation of the following question comes up: “Will AI replace me in the near future?” The answer is apparent in what is going on currently. Companies are reducing their field force, but they are expanding online consultation services in every field. Websites are great for simple answers, but, to date, in my experience, nothing beats a human for a fast and tailored experience.

The Beauty of an Open Mind – Experience Versus Expectation at an NHS A&E Service

Last week I met a number of NHS employees. They lamented the way the system works, its inefficiencies, and told me how they would welcome a transformation consultant coming to work with them, to help improve processes and efficiency. I also met a number of NHS patients, who told me how long they had to wait to be seen, the general inefficiency of the system, and that NHS doctors are trained to not treat, if possible, to save money.

Based on all the stories I was glad I didn’t need to depend on the NHS. Then, after a horse ride, I twisted my ankle, very badly. After four days of hobbling around I decided I might need an X-ray after all.

The North Cotswolds hospital was bright and clean. I was asked for my NHS number. I said I live abroad. They said never mind and wrote down my last UK address. The doctor saw me after 45 minutes and sent me for an X-ray. The whole experience took under 3 hours, which is comparable to Switzerland. I was impressed. Fast, friendly, competent. Not at all what I was expecting. I offered to pay for the service but I was told not to worry. The staff were courteous, professional, caring, and the hospital was excellent. The experience reminded me how important it is to keep an open mind in every situation.

Getting From Metrics to Insights in Pharma

Metrics are easy. Metrics are the stuff of KPIs. How many doctors and patients called? Call duration? Key topics? Materials used? How satisfied were customers? How long does it take for a service provider to pick up a phone? These numbers are used to charge a client, or to adapt the service. For example, repeat questions that are not in the prescribing information, might merely make you write a standard response document. A classic metrics-driven approach.

An insights driven approach would be to ask why? Why are doctors asking this now? A classic situation might be that a competitor has launched a product and doctors are assessing which product they want to use. Understanding the context of the question could dramatically change how you approach the situation. You might still write a standard response document, however, you might also identify that a multi-team, international approach could be beneficial.

Depending on the importance of the question, the lifecycle of the product, etc., various ways of addressing the topic beyond a standard response document might become apparent. You might write a publication or share data at an educational event. Or you might run an advisory board or liaise with your regulatory team, to assess the feasibility of adapting the PI.

Insights are considered to be hard to attain, although, insights are where the fun is at. While life science companies have a lot of data, they don’t regularly check the data in order to make decisions. While it’s not easy to change a company’s data practice I have three tips that will help you move beyond mere metrics to insights:

  1. Share knowledge: understand your market and what activities are ongoing with your customers that are led by other teams. Be connected and curious. Look beyond the ‘what’ to the ‘why’. Have regular cross-functional meetings to share key insights across teams.
  2. Single centre of truth: think beyond metrics, consider all the unstructured data that your company has, and think about how this can be made accessible for learning. Work towards having a single centre of truth: a central repository, or data lake, with all mixed, structured and unstructured data, word, pdf, images as well as internal financial or logistics data so that you can mine data and perform topic clustering of information, assess the sentiment being expressed across different data sources and so see what is emerging.
  3. Harmonise what you share: a single source of truth. If you can harmonise the key components of the scientific content you share, you will find identifying trends in new questions coming in will be easier.

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

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Pascal Swier on Unsplash

Fun Theory – or How to Trick Yourself into Better Habits

Thanks to the pandemic, I developed an exercise habit. I cycle most days. The reason I go out is as much for my soul as it is for my body. Rain or shine, every day nature has new surprises in store for me and I arrive home re-energised. Balance is the key to a happy life, I find, although it doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to work hard at it. However, it is important. So, in today’s blog I share my thoughts on how to introduce balance into your activities to improve performance, communication and job satisfaction. In addition, an interesting report on a poster presentation at MASC regarding Medical Information use by patients and caregivers.

Today’s topics:

– Fun theory – or how to trick yourself into better habits
– The art of communication – silence is active
– Knowing when it’s time to change jobs
– The value and impact of medical information acquired by patients and caregivers

Fun Theory – or How to Trick Yourself Into Better Habits

There is an initiative, supported by Volkswagen, called the Fun Theory. The idea is simple: people are most likely to change their behaviour for the better if something is fun. The Fun Factory team transformed stairs located next to escalators at Swedish metro station Odenplan into a functioning piano to see if, by making stair climbing entertaining, more people would be tempted to take the stairs. The idea worked. Once the stairs were musical, 66% more people than before chose to use them.

This example may not obviously translate to the working world, but I have a personal example that does. As a medical student I worked for a Medical Diagnostic Imaging Centre. I was paid by the hour to type up medical reports. I quickly got bored. To challenge myself, I started timing my performance. Every hour I would see if I could beat my previous best total. By turning the job into a game it was suddenly much more fun. I concede that my approach of turning the job into a competition with myself won’t work for everyone, but if you can find a way to make your challenge, at work or at home, more rewarding for you and your team, the rewards can be immense. When we have a task that is hard to do in some way, the temptation to do it fast is always there. But when things are fun, like going biking to observe nature, typing faster to hit a target or jumping up and down on stairs to make music, it’s easy to perform consistently, and time spent doing these things well doesn’t feel like a chore. And with consistency comes great progress.

The Art of Communication – Silence is Active

We value silence for introspection, when we meditate and when we pray, but we rarely think of silence in the context of communication. I’ve had some wonderful conversations on silence in communication recently and am sharing insights that I believe have great value.

At a party, a friend was dispensing dating advice. Her key recommendation: “Don’t talk about yourself too much.” She shared her approach as a younger woman: “When on dates, I wanted to know all about them. There was nothing new I could learn from listening to me. And it wasn’t a job interview, I just wanted to find out everything I could so I could decide if I wanted to see the person again.” In another conversation, a fellow coach said to me, “It is always interesting to see what happens in silence,” referring to his experience with a very loquacious individual who suddenly fell silent during a session. He told me that he held the silence as a tool, enabling his coachee to experience the power of being in a coaching interaction in silence, despite the temptation to ask a follow-up question. Another friend said to me: “Silence is active.” During a training course on intercultural communication I remember a US team colleague saying, “When there is silence, I like to jump in, so that all the time is being used efficiently.” However, the point my friend was making was this: that silence is not a passive state at all. In silence we process, try out new ideas, read a room. We communicate in different ways. In a group setting, when silence is not possible, I believe innovation is at risk.

So in your next meeting consider using silence to learn more about the person you are talking to, to let a mentee find their voice or to give a group space to create new ideas.

Knowing When it’s Time to Change Jobs

Many years ago, I was invited to dinner by a friend who works in HR. She is enthusiastic, engaged and cares deeply about her role and the individuals she works with and whose development she supports. Her passion is palpable in everything she says. Her guests were also all predominantly HR experts. HR, not being an area where I have much practical knowledge, I cast around for a good conversation topic. I recalled another friend of mine who also works in HR who told me how hard it was for her to make employees redundant during recurring reorganisations. I remembered how it felt when I experienced a reorganisation: my simultaneous feelings of relief but also guilt, that I still had a job, while others didn’t. I was certain I had found a good topic for a longer chat. I said to the HR expert sitting next to me: “I cannot imagine working in HR, I imagine it is full of challenging moments, when you have to make someone redundant, for example?” Her response ended the conversation abruptly and has stayed with me for years. She replied: “You know, you might be surprised how many of us just don’t care.” I remember when I was a doctor how sometimes I was so exhausted that I also found it hard to care as much as I felt I should have. Perhaps, this is what she meant: she was too exhausted to care. I hope so. However, whatever the reason, when you get to the point that you don’t care anymore about your job and you have lost sight of what it is that attracted you to it in the first place, it’s time for something new.

The Value and Impact of Medical Information Acquired by Patients and Caregivers

A poster presented at MASC 2022 by first author Rena Rai PharmD, Medical Information and Executive Leadership Fellow at phactMI (last author Evelyn R. Hermes DeSantis) focused on the value and impact of Medical Information acquired by patients and caregivers. 1000 non-healthcare professionals who had searched for medical information in the previous 12 months were surveyed by an independent market research organisation. Participants included 680 patients (68%), 225 (23%) caregivers and 95 (10%) who identified as both patients and caregivers. Age groups: 55% of patients were 60 years or older, 15% of caregivers were 60 or older and 28% of patients/caregivers were 60 years or older. The survey assessed what resources were used to find medical information, including company websites, professional websites, patient leaflets and online search engines, etc. In addition, the survey captured search behaviour including number of searches and when searches were performed. Searches were more frequent just prior to receiving a prescription compared to other timepoints, younger individuals were more likely to search out information and the caregiver and caregiver/patient group reported higher frequencies of searching compared to patients. Resource value and resource trustworthiness were also assessed as well as how the information that the individuals found was used. In the discussion the authors noted that over 50% of patients and caregivers rated the sources they used to access information (including HCP, med websites, pharma company websites etc.) as having extreme or good value and trust. The information that was acquired was used most frequently for HCP discussions and supported confidence in healthcare decision-making. The authors concluded that by understanding how resources are used and to what end, medical information providers can develop higher value resources to better meet the needs of patients, patient/caregiver and caregivers.

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

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Leadership: Don’t Tell Your Teams You’ll Let Them Fly, Then Clip Their Wings

How fast things change. Last April, I spent a month in England. This entailed ten days of self-isolation, four mandatory PCR tests and daily phone calls from a UK government agency monitoring my adherence to the self-isolation rules. Covid vaccines only started being rolled out for my age group in May and that is when I flew back to Switzerland.

Access to public life in Switzerland was only possible with a Covid certificate. Now planes are back in the skies, masks are rarely seen, nobody wants to see my certificate and most people I know have had the virus, with the exception of my entire family and my closest friends. One might be tempted to think Covid is a thing of the past, however some changes will likely stay with us for much longer. That is what this newsletter will focus on.

Today’s topics:

– Has the pandemic hastened the end of the field rep?
– A new operating model for pharma: post-pandemic priorities
– Why the future of customer engagement is a hybrid model
– Leadership: don’t tell your teams you’ll let them fly, then clip their wings

Has the Pandemic Hastened the End of the Field Rep?

The pandemic has changed the way we work. From one day to the next, face-to-face meetings were impossible, all conferences were virtual and working from home was mandatory. While companies are making tentative efforts to have employees back in the office, the learnings of the pandemic are here to stay. Virtual engagement has proved effective and is impacting the face of pharma operations. For example, Pfizer reduced its US sales staff based on expectations that HCPs will want fewer face-to-face interactions with salespeople after the pandemic. According to the CNBC article, the company said in a statement: “We are evolving into a more focused and innovative biopharma company, and evolving the way we engage with healthcare professionals in an increasingly digital world.” The CNBC article quotes Pfizer as saying: “There will be some changes to our workforce to ensure we have the right expertise and resources in place to meet our evolving needs.” This change has been driven by the expectation that HCPs prefer virtual formats. Beyond physician preference the change also makes sense from an old-fashioned resource management perspective.

According to a survey published Jan 2018 in Forbes, almost 2/3 of pharma sales reps time pre-pandemic was spent on non-revenue generating activities. When I was a medical manager in 2006, I went out with a sales rep. I remember spending a lot of time in his car and in cafes. I also remember that meetings were planned months in advance. Today, we are used to immediate access, doctors are increasingly time poor, meetings are moved with nonchalance last minute on WhatsApp and so the old operating model seems increasingly anachronistic.

Moving physical meetings to virtual has obvious benefits; a single sales rep can engage with many more physicians than otherwise possible, physicians can identify topics they are interested in at short notice, enabling companies to tailor meetings and content to an individual HCPs needs. No more: “I will contact someone at HQ and get back to you.” Instead, HCPs have direct access to the content they want, when they want it, in its entirety.

A New Operating Model for Pharma: Post-pandemic Priorities

A survey performed by McKinsey in December 2021 focused on assessing how the pandemic has influenced pharma operating models and priorities. Of particular interest, participants were asked to review a list of twenty different organisational initiatives and assess them by current level of implementation within the company as well as their perceived value. Initiatives were allocated to one of three groups: customer engagement, agile methodologies and operational structure.

The initiative that was ranked highest overall, both by perceived net value and level of current implementation was, unsurprisingly, in the digital space, in the customer engagement group of activities: raise digital and analytics capabilities company-wide. The most important initiative in the agile methodologies sector was: deploy agile ways of working more broadly, to accelerate clinical trials, launches, content development etc. And regarding the operational structure, the survey results indicate that companies are, once again, or still, focused on realigning team structures around common deliverables/end products and working cross-functionally. The second organisational focus area is the significant reduction of traditional field force in favour of other roles. You can find the full survey results here.

Why the Future of Customer Engagement is a Hybrid Model

Many companies are significantly reducing the traditional field force in favour of other roles, according to a survey by McKinsey. According to a CNBC article on Pfizer’s field force reduction in the US, a key driver of this change is the belief that in the future, healthcare professionals will prefer more than 50% of their interactions with pharma companies to be remote. This may be true, however, the shift to virtual is necessary for other reasons too, because, regardless of HCP engagement preference, absent the implementation of new operating models, pharma companies will struggle to engage widely with key new markets. The rapidly ageing European and US populations, where the classic pharma operating models have evolved, make up only 9.6% and 4.7% of the world’s population respectively. In contrast, 60% of the world’s population is in Asia and 17.2% is in Africa (source worldometer). There are millions of HCPs and patients spread across immense territories. For example, in 2020 in China there were 3.87 million HCPs and 35,394 hospitals (source Statista), and the country covers nine time zones. Even if most key HCPs are concentrated in the big cities, effectively engaging them using MSLs and field reps would require huge teams who would have to navigate immense territories. Consequently, I believe that the only way to reach customers in these markets will be through the implementation of hybrid operating models: combining virtual engagement on demand, with targeted face-to-face engagement for specific topics and specific customers, and a broad range of digital self-service offerings.

Leadership: Don’t tell your Teams you’ll let them Fly, then Clip their Wings

Agility is important. Being able to prioritise is important. Independent thinking, creative approaches to problem solving, and self-determination, are all very important. Companies have realised that people who are free to innovate, are people who are engaged. However, putting it into practice is often not as easy as it sounds. A colleague mentioned that resources in her company had been reallocated so that individuals no longer work directly with a specific team, instead providing pooled support across product teams. This significantly complicates the working process as emails come into a group email address and are worked on by whoever picks them up. Despite low engagement with the change, the team took comfort in the fact that they had been given the freedom to outline their standard operating procedures and how they want to work, which softened the impact somewhat. The reality of the situation is, however, that to date, not a single proposal the team has made on how to optimise the way they work, has been accepted by their management. This is impacting morale and will likely lead to low performance in the long run.

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

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

How To Make Digital Scientific Content More Accessible, A Medical Information Call Center Experience

I have just “got back” from a virtual Medical Affairs and Scientific Communications (MASC) meeting, held on 21st-23rd March in Orlando, Florida. While I didn’t miss the travel experience – planes, masks, navigating gargantuan US airports trying to find my rental car, and jet lag – I did miss seeing everyone after a two-year hiatus.

However, I experienced a well-run hybrid meeting and heard some interesting presentations. I will share some learnings from the conference, as always, along with my own thoughts.

Today’s topics:

– Lessons from horseracing – focus on the finish line
– Digital innovation – accessibility of scientific content
– Effective delegation means letting go
– Can we celebrate both process and customer centricity? A medical information call centre experience

Last but not least this year’s European Medical Information and Communications Conference will be held in Sevilla on the 5th-6th October 2022. The call for abstracts just went out. If you have a topic you want to submit please get in touch.

Lessons From Horseracing – Focus On The Finish Line

Humans, like horses, are social animals. Running with the herd feels safe, and lulls us into thinking we are on the right track. And while we might be, we are unlikely to be charting new territory. So while understanding how companies approach their customers is important, understanding your company and your environment and what your customers want, is more likely to put you ahead of the field.

Three things we can learn from horseracing.

First: Before every race, a jockey assesses the competition. That is: who he will be competing against in that race, on that day. He doesn’t compare his novice racehorse to a Grand National champion.

Second: On the day of the race, the jockey assesses the racecourse and the vicinity. Is the ground muddy and slippery, or dry and very hard? Is there anything in the vicinity of the course that could spook his horse, such as flags that might wave in the wind, for example?

Third: A jockey understands his mount. He knows how his horse performs in mud, where to place his horse relative to the field to get top performance, when to push, when to fall back. In short, he knows, how to ride to win.

Translated to business, this means: know your company, understand your environment, know your competition and benchmark wisely. Don’t assume a big company is doing a better job than you in a certain area because they are bigger. Remember, what works for global giants like Roche, Novartis or Pfizer, is unlikely to be a good fit for a biotech company with a small footprint, who is only just starting to engage HCPs. While learning from others is great, learning from yourself also has value. At MASC a presenter said, “94% of the industry is operating contact centres for customers for 12 hours a day, 8am to 8pm, but most of these companies don’t assess their customer contact data to understand whether this makes sense.”

There is safety in doing what everyone else does, but that doesn’t mean it is right for you.

Remember, if the riders in the image focused on each other rather than on the finish line, they would all just crash into one another, but nobody would finish the race.

Digital Innovation – Accessibility Of Scientific Content

During MASC, Marie-Ange Noue from EMD Serono led a session on digital innovation in the communication of scientific content. Speaker, Joanna Rizos, Associate Director Med Affairs, Eli Lilly Canada shared Lilly Canada’s efforts to make medical online content more accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities. Eli Lilly is a member of the valuable 500, a global collective of companies who are innovating for disability inclusion. In addition, in 2021 when Joanna’s team was getting ready to launch their Med Info website they learned that the website and associated content needed to meet accessibility standards as outlined in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which adopts a stepwise approach to entrench accessibility in all domains by 2025. According to Joanna’s presentation, 1.3 billion people worldwide have a disability, 253 million people of these are visually impaired, and 80% of disabilities are non-visible. According to the social model of disability, disabilities are not caused by an impairment alone but by the barriers put up in society.

One of the most common challenges faced by users with access needs is that websites are too crowded. Additional considerations for accessibility of content include website navigation, the visuals, the links, and calls to action in the content. Technical standards for websites are outlined in the WWW consortium, while accessibility standards can be found in the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.0).

Taking these guidelines into account the Lilly team focused on clean layouts, easy to read text fonts and good contrast. Lilly’s digital team focused on technical requirements, while the Medical Information team concentrated on content including medical letters, videos, FAQs and visuals. Screen readers were employed to make text more accessible, however, 25% of Lilly’s content comprised graphs, images and videos. One WCAG stipulation for content accessibility is that websites offer text alternatives for featured images.

The Lilly team addressed this by adding subtitles and captions to video content and alt text to all images to provide access to screen readers. Lilly employees were engaged as internal experts to assess the content for accessibility. Following these activities, the Lilly team has gone on to provide accessibility training across Lilly med info. Expert users have been brought in to share the user experience, alerting the team to the experience and how the content and its presentation impacts different user groups.

While this topic is very much in focus at Lilly, a poll of the audience at MASC to assess whether other companies are taking steps to make online medical content more accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities (accommodation for blindness, low vision, deafness, hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and combinations of these) showed that other attendees are either not working on this topic currently or are not aware of ongoing efforts at their companies. Responses to the question, “Is this currently in focus at your company?” were: Yes (5%), No (44%), Not sure (50%) 38 votes.

Effective Delegation Means Letting Go

One of my most beloved managers and now a dear friend once asked me to write a document. She gave me carte blanche. I wrote the document. I handed it in. When I got it back, it was entirely rewritten. We had a frank conversation. I said I’d always deliver projects to her specifications if they are provided. However if I am given the freedom to work according to my own direction and this work is then rewritten, that is something I find upsetting. Thanks to a trusting relationship and the willingness to find a path that suited both our personalities and preferences, we found an approach that worked for both of us. Like all skills, delegation is not a given; it takes practice, the courage to communicate when things are challenging, and it isn’t always easy – as I learned when I founded my own company.

My mentor, Traugott, who was 88 when he started mentoring me, had grown a family company from 50 to 600 people in the course of his career. Sadly, he is gone, but his company lives on as his work legacy. And his memory and wise words are always with me. He told me to focus on my core strengths and delegate everything else. I follow his advice and am grateful to be surrounded by talented people who do the things well that I can’t or don’t like to do: Jane and Belinda handle admin, Barry does the website, Christian manages finances, Datarun manages all my IT activities and Mark does design. Delegating has, for me too, been a path of growth. Initially, when discussing my website with Mark, I had so many ideas. I would send him screenshots and photographs, I was enthusiastic. And as it is my company I was very involved. But in working with him, and through his gentle feedback, I came to understand that my job is the vision and his job is the visuals. So I let him get on with it, and I am very happy with the result.

What I have learned over the years. Effective delegation depends on four things: 1) Identifying an individual you trust to handle the project 2) Clearly communicating your expectations regarding the outcome 3) Accepting that no two people will perform tasks identically and if what is delivered is of high quality but different to how you would have approached it, then that is fine too 4) Managing your anxiety about the outcome and any linked urge to micromanage your team.

Can We Celebrate Both Process And Customer Centricity? A Medical Information Call Centre Experience

What processes do your Medical Information teams follow when a call comes in that is not related to medical information. Let’s say, it’s the plumber calling to speak to your company’s maintenance team. Is your team empowered to reroute that call to the correct individual in the company? I recently called a company looking to speak with someone. I was erroneously connected to someone in security on my first try, who recommended I call back and press 0 to reach an operator. This put me through to Medical Information, for some bizarre reason. I highlighted that my call had reached them in error and asked if there was a switchboard they could transfer me back to. I was informed that it is not possible to transfer any calls from the Medical Information team. The gentleman was charming, friendly and courteous; he logged my call, said he would send it on internally, and that I would be contacted by email. Processes describing how to handle Med Info enquiries are important, processes describing how to handle non-medical information enquiries that reach your Medical Information team are also important. Documenting all calls, ensuring call logs match system logs, is great, and noting calls that come in to Med Info by mistake is also useful from an audit perspective. However, from a customer’s point of view, having provided all necessary details to the Medical Information expert, I would have welcomed a transfer to the central switchboard, followed ideally by being connected to the individual I was seeking to speak to.

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

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Taylor Sondgeroth Unsplash

Let Them Eat Oranges: Or You May Have No Control, But You Always Have A Choice

March is the colour of daffodils and Seville oranges. The latter are almost impossible to track down where I live but abundant in Israel, where I was a week ago. The trees by the roadsides were full of oranges and I was tempted to buy another suitcase just to bring some home.

Knowing what you need, and more importantly how to find it, can be important in the kitchen but it is critical in the workplace. It is also something that most professionals struggle with from time to time in their jobs. While the technical aspects of a job rarely pose a problem, being happy while experiencing difficult interpersonal interactions, dysfunctional team dynamics, or when not feeling valued, can be strenuous. Having some tools to address these situations and the route we can take to alleviate them can be incredibly useful.

Today’s topics: 

– Let them eat oranges: or you may have no control, but you always have a choice

– Working in teams: do you know what role(s) you take? 

– Leadership:  never judge in isolation

– The no jerk rule: or cab drivers, donkeys and how to hire candidates

Let Them Eat Oranges – Or You May Have No Control, But You Always Have A Choice

On my recent trip to Israel, I was struck by the abundance of Seville oranges. They are hard to come by where I live. However, despite being sorely tempted, I had to accept that taking some home was not practical. My dad picking me up at the airport on my return was amazed when he saw me: “You only have one suitcase?” His comment alludes to the fact that if I find something I cannot get at home, I will find a way to bring it back with me. In the past this has included plants such as mini leaf basil and sawtooth coriander, as well as chilli plant seeds and mauby bark. If need be, I buy extra luggage. However, I left the oranges in Israel, and brought back only fresh pita bread, herbs, spices and halva. You might well ask what my willingness to transport exotic groceries around the world has to do with business, but there is in fact a link. I flew to Israel to participate in a workshop with a group of coaches I am part of. During our conversations we discussed how individuals engage in teams, risk taking, and personality types. Unsurprisingly, entrepreneurial types are generally optimistic and will find solutions rather than dwelling on any problems. Hence, if there are no oranges where I am, I bring them back from elsewhere. It does mean that I often end up with a lot of luggage, but for me it is worth it. The reason this is business relevant is that this mindset applies to any area in life, including business. If a resource you value is scarce in your current environment, be it oranges, recognition, opportunities for promotion, etc, you have options. You can accept the scarcity, you can attempt to compensate for it in another area of your life, or you can move to an environment where the resource you desire is plentiful. Remember, you may not have control over a situation but you always have a choice.

Working In Teams: Do You Know What Role(s) You Take?

Team dynamics are fascinating. There are many parameters that influence how a team evolves and functions: culture, diversity, personalities, availability of resources, the business environment, etc. In today’s business culture, most individuals are part of a home team, with a specific function, as well as members of project teams that are formed and disbanded frequently. In order to be successful and happy in an organisation, it helps to think about how teams function and how we function in teams.

For example, when you think about the teams you work in, how aware are you of the role each team member plays? Not the title that you hold, but the role. What roles do the team members you know well typically take? How aware are you of the roles you typically take or are allocated? Are you able to accept these roles or decline them, consciously and graciously? Are you the leader, the follower, the mediator, the smoother of ruffled feathers, the challenger, the subject matter expert, the big-picture thinker, the troubleshooter? Do you always or often have the same role? Do you sometimes resent that role, or get irritated that nobody else takes it? Is it one you know from your private life, or your childhood? Do you have the flexibility to take on different roles? Are you willing to let someone else take the role you usually take? Might that ability be useful?

I would like to share a personal example. In the past, when my mother needed a solution to an issue, she would contact my siblings and myself. Often, I would provide an immediate solution. Then I would be annoyed that nobody else had addressed her request. When I asked my mother about this she said, “Well, yes, you do it so fast nobody else has a chance to even start trying to solve it. And of course as we are so used to you doing it, and we know you will do it well, I think we all just tend to wait.” Once I was conscious of the fact that I liked being the problem solver, and that it was a source of personal pleasure to be able to provide an immediate response, I was no longer irritated but accepted that when I take a step back, I give others the opportunity to step up. But first I had to realise what I was doing. It’s worth thinking about. Naturally, when you have taken a role for a long time and you decide not to fulfil it any longer, that may be a source of some friction for a while, but it is something worth experimenting with.

Leadership: Never Judge In Isolation

When projects are running well, teams are typically functional. However, when pressure on the group increases, tension mounts. And when individuals are under pressure, difficult behaviours often become more visible. In these types of situations, such as a team under pressure or one individual behaving in a challenging way, it is tempting to make that individual a scapegoat because it is easier to blame a dysfunctional team on the behaviour of one person instead of looking further afield for a root cause. However, as with any problem, when solving individual and team-related challenges, it is risky to look at things in isolation.

For example, the photograph above was taken in Tel Aviv. You see a young woman, dressed in white, apparently heading out into the waves under an evening sky. Many interpretations are possible. However, what you cannot see is as important as what you can. What you cannot see is the posse of photographers on the beach. The event was a photoshoot.

The image illustrates that, while tempting, it can be misleading to judge a situation or an individual in isolation. If you have a team that is dysfunctional, or an individual who is exhibiting undesirable behaviours, it is a good idea to assess the situation in context and ask some questions. Are roles, responsibilities and expectations clear? Are individuals empowered to perform their jobs, and is their sphere of influence clear? Are hierarchies and reporting structures clearly communicated and is it possible to function within them? For example, someone working in a local role, who reports directly to their local GM but also has a dotted line reporting relationship to a global or regional function, may struggle to meet disparate expectations. Often, when a team is under strain, individuals will react in different ways, depending on their personality. Some may withdraw, some may do the bare minimum, others may take on more work than they can handle and become resentful. In this situation, it can be tempting to lay the blame of the dysfunction at the feet of a single team member. However, if there is in fact a systemic issue causing strain on a team, then removing one individual will not offer resolution. More likely than not, once that person is gone, another team member will take their place. In conclusion: interpreting an image, a perception, a behaviour, in isolation is always dangerous and will in most cases, not solve your problem.

The No Jerk Rule: Or Cab Drivers, Donkeys And How To Hire Candidates

Recently I took a cab. The cabbie was agitated because of an experience with a previous customer. Apparently, the customer got in and before even settling into her seat, she said, “Why are we still standing here? Why aren’t you driving yet?” The driver replied that he was programming his GPS. He said to me, “It felt dehumanising, as though I was a donkey, and the passenger was cracking the whip. I also felt as though she thought I was trying to cheat her into paying more for her ride because I was slow off the mark.” He asked the customer to leave his cab. Later in the week in a discussion on hiring great candidates someone said, “We have a no jerk rule in my company, we only hire candidates with nice personalities, who are also talented and competent. Being brilliant is not enough.” When asked how you can ascertain this in an interview, the answer was, “It isn’t easy because an interview is such an artificial environment; however, you can observe how they treat the front desk staff, the admins, or waiting staff in restaurants.” Or, I thought as I listened, cab drivers. The old saying goes: ‘You cannot not communicate’. Every action, every gesture, every word, every silence, communicates who you are and what you stand for. When interviewing candidates, it is worth being aware of all the small ways in which they tell you who they are. Likewise, when you are interviewing a potential employer, take what is said and what is unsaid into account when making your decision, not only the final offer, if you receive one.

I hope, as ever, that my blog provides you with some useful insights. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And of course, if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching, perhaps the piece on roles and responsibilities has made you think and could help you achieve that next level. Do reach out and we can arrange to chat.

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo of tree by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

Leadership: You Get What You Ask For

Sunshine, blue skies and the first colourful flowers are providing me with happiness this week. And I have just finished planning a business trip to Israel. The last time I was there was on my gap year, before I started medical school. I met an Israeli family at a bus stop and ended up living with them for a couple of weeks, learning how to make lachuach – a type of Yemeni bread. We have not been in contact since that gap year. However when I emailed them last week, they phoned me back within an hour. I am very excited to be meeting up with them and their grandchildren next week. In these dark times, I treasure the connections I have with people from all over the world – people of different nationalities, religions, cultures, backgrounds and outlook on life. The warmth I share with them, the relationships that may lie dormant for decades but are easily revived, cheer me and sustain me. 

Today’s topics: 

– Leadership: you get what you ask for

– Your energy: invest it wisely

– How to get project funding  

– Communication: culture, context and interpretation

Leadership: You Get What You Ask For

A senior director I once knew had the habit of roaming the halls of the company, quizzing employees on the clinical trial results of the products they worked on. Whenever I was quizzed, I would provide the numbers, when I knew them, but when I didn’t, I’d reply: “The data is within this range, however I don’t know the exact results to the week and day for this specific trial”. I was told to do better and to emulate a colleague who always knew all the answers. I asked my colleague for her secret. Her response was, “There is no secret. There are so many similar trials it’s not possible to know all the results off by heart.” I said, “But you always provide the correct answer.” My colleague replied: “Ah, actually, no, the data is always within a certain range. I give him a number within that range. He doesn’t check. And there is no way for him to know the correct answer either. So, he believes me. It keeps him happy.” Unlike my smart colleague, who had done a risk benefit assessment on the best approach, I had been using flash cards in a desperate bid to keep the numbers in my mind.  What can we learn from this tale? As a leader: if you lead through fear, you will be told what you want to hear, not necessarily the truth. As an employee: when comparing your performance to someone else’s, which is generally a bad idea, make sure you understand what you are comparing yourself to. Set goals for yourself remembering that there may be more going on under the surface than you realise. 

Your Energy: Invest it Wisely

As a teenager I spent time with a family in Israel. I would play with the baby. I would swing him around and around in the garden, tell him stories and spend hours in the hot Israeli sunshine, shaping Plasticine dinosaurs.  He loved dinosaurs. I loved the creativity of making miniature creatures in all the colours of the rainbow. I remember the joy I felt when I showed him my creations. His reaction? He raised his fist, squashing the dinosaurs into a single lump of mud-coloured Plasticine. The value I placed on my creations was not the value he, as a baby, placed on them. The lesson here is: invest your energy wisely, enjoy your creations and don’t be too tied to them or upset if others don’t value them as you do. 

How to Get Project Funding

Getting the budget you desire in order to implement the project you feel your company needs is hard unless you are in a commercial function, the project has an obvious financial ROI, or you are managing a huge transformation. The fact is that the activity you treasure most in your role, such as interacting with patients, is not necessarily the activity that is going to get you budget approval for the project. Budget access is typically simple in only three situations: when a huge transformation is mandated by a senior leader, when the ROI can be easily calculated or when you are addressing inspection results. 

So, what does this mean for everyone else? When you next need to gain senior stakeholder buy-in for a project, try to frame the project benefits in the context of key focus areas for the company overall, such as customer access, market insights, an effective product launch or patient safety. For example, if a new product is to be launched in 2025, identify how your project might support that launch to make use of the product safer, customers’ understanding of the product better or improve the content of educational materials for customers. 

To do this, it can be a good idea to interview senior leaders to identify where they are focusing overall company efforts, business opportunities and threats, the markets, and customer groups that are in focus, as well as new access channels and what projects are ongoing in other departments. Aim to understand company goals, short, medium and long term

If your project can help to solve your manager’s burning issues, you are a huge step closer to getting budget approval.

Communication: Culture, Context and Interpretation

I have been thinking recently about how communication is interpreted in context. For example, as a teenager my school made me take part in a parade. Permitted, at least, to pick the group I would walk in front of, I picked the flower children – in my mind they were a group of hippies. Instead, to my horror, I found myself leading a group of small children dressed as flowers out of the school gates and through the village.

And only last year in England, a young woman was killed by a police officer. She got into his car, trusting him because he was a police officer. Here is another example: LinkedIn is full of reports on how the platform has mutated from a professional networking tool to a type of “Amazon of human interaction” where users pursue romance, finance scams or political agendas and sometimes work-related activities. 

To facilitate life, we tend to interpret interactions within the official context in which they take place or, as in the first example, based on the culture in which we were raised – in my case, initially the UK. The risk is that we discount our instincts about situations we may find ourselves in, instead trusting the context we are in and what our frontal cortex is telling us. Unfortunately, it seems that more vigilance is required in navigating the modern world. 

I hope, as ever, that my article provides you with some useful insights. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And of course, if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, do reach out and we can arrange to chat.

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The Hurrier I Go the Behinder I Get – the March Hare on Projects

Almost two months down, ten months to go. The sun is shining, the air is bright and the buds on the trees are starting to unfurl. It feels like spring is on its way. Recently on a walk through the city, the street musicians were back, people were out in droves and for the first time, in what seems like forever, there was happiness and light in the air. It felt as though people have finally stopped holding their breath as they wait for more bad COVID news, and have started to dare to hope for the end of the pandemic restrictions and, indeed, of the pandemic itself. People have started to live again. I felt a glorious rekindling of hope.

Today’s topics:

– The hurrier I go the behinder I get – the March Hare on projects
– Rising to the challenge – on how to think differently about your team
– Change comes from the inside – on why to say no if someone asks you to just tell them what to do
– Patients, pills and monitoring compliance

The Hurrier I Go the Behinder I Get – the March Hare on Projects 

It is almost March, which means there are only 10 months left for project delivery in 2022 and, as I adore Alice in Wonderland, the March Hare’s “the hurrier I go the behinder I get ” is fitting. Most projects are evaluated, discussed, budgeted and contracted, often for months, before approval. However, delivery timelines are rarely moved back. Teams work under pressure, tempted to cut corners. Delivering a good outcome in this situation is hard. I’d argue that if a project will enhance your service, increase customer satisfaction, offer a competitive advantage and improve market insights, or other equally important KPIs, then the longer you wait the more ground you lose. So, if you are sitting on a project, don’t wait until Easter for it to hatch, best get cracking! If in doubt, do a baseline assessment of the KPIs. If you need help with that, I am happy to have an informal chat.

Rising to the Challenge – Moving from a Mindset of Poverty to one of Abundance

I read cookbooks to relax. Currently, I am reading about bread ingredients: yeast, flour, salt, water sometimes oil, plus seeds, spices etc. I am captivated by the thought that just by being handled differently these humble ingredients can be made into a huge variety of exciting breads: leavened and unleavened, fermented, sweet, enriched, festive. What if we were similarly open-minded about the individuals we work with? What if we remember that in the right environment, with the right leadership we can coax the most amazing results from the same stable team? What if instead of having a mindset of poverty: this is all I have to work with. We had a mindset of abundance: this is the team I have to work with, these are the individuals, let’s see what marvels we can create together. Often, we are limited not by reality but by our inability to see what is possible.

Change Comes from the Inside – on Why to Say No if Someone Asks you to Just Tell Them What to Do

A coachee once said to me “Isabelle, this is my situation, can’t you just tell me what to do? ” The answer is, of course, no. Not if you want a sustainable outcome, not if you want a real change. Often individuals are told that they need to change. For example, a manager once told me, that my presentation skills in German needed work. I asked for pointers. Her response? “No, I am not qualified to give you any, I am not a presentation expert ”. In general, I’d recommend having something to illustrate your feedback when telling an employee they need to change – but I digress.
However, in that instance, I knew what the issue was. I came to German later in life and presenting in it never feels totally natural. It’s like wearing a pair of very tight Latex trousers (or any Latex trousers really) and we never really hit it off. The solution then was easy. I knew my key driver for the discomfort: I prefer multicultural, international work environments and English is my comfy, Wellington boot language. Hence, today I mostly work in English.
The moral of the story? While you can tell someone they need to change a behaviour, unless they understand what drives it, it’s impossible to influence. And unless there is a benefit to them in changing a behaviour, it is hard to address. Different situations call for different solutions, and each solution is unique to the individual because change comes from the inside.
If you tell someone how and what to change, but don’t help them understand what drives them, it is like painting the door of a rusty fridge. It looks good for a bit until the rust breaks through. As soon as something stressful happens, if you address only the conscious behaviour, your coachee, even with the best intentions, will revert to type.

Patients, Pills and Monitoring Compliance

Patients, we are told, are not compliant. They don’t understand why to take a medication as prescribed. Or they simply forget. Or they have other reasons for “not doing as they have been told”. Enter digital solutions: the pill box that chimes, the app that pings at you, the pill that is digitally enhanced so the hospital can track whether you took it or not. At some point it is likely that payors will mandate the use of digital compliance checks for certain products as a condition of paying for them. Once again, we are fixing a systemic error by treating a symptom, when what we should be asking is, “why are some patients not compliant? ” The reasons vary, for example, a patient on statins told me, “Oh, I only take it every other day so that my body can recover from the toxicity ”. It seems reasonable to postulate that many patients are not compliant because they do not understand how the medicine they are taking works, or the impact of the illness that is being treated, if left untreated.

We know that doctors have less time than ever to talk to patients. In many health systems, doctors who treat multimorbid patients are penalised for “just talking”. Multimorbid patients are often older and have complex treatment schedules. So, I believe, another systemic error is being blamed on the weakest link. The solution to the compliance problem is not to monitor compliance digitally under the header of “we are naturally doing this for the patient ”, it is to address the underlying issues.

Questions we could ask to better address challenges with compliance: can we link compliance to the time a patient spends talking to the doctor when the medicine is first prescribed? Is compliance worse in health systems that reward doctors for “doing things to patients” rather than speaking to them? How different is compliance between patient populations? Data suggests compliance is a bigger challenge in conditions where a patient feels fine without the medicine, and worse when on it. Is that generally true? Could we stratify compliance by the treating physician? Is it unreasonable to expect that the HCP is also a variable that could be looked at in patient compliance? I think not. 

In conclusion, technology is never the solution; it is only something we can use to support what we do. As always, it is harder to address the root cause, but if you merely treat the symptoms without a diagnosis, you cannot solve the issue. Sadly, fast and easy is hardly ever the way to go.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And of course, if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, do reach out and we can arrange to chat.
Very best wishes
Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Elisa Stone on Unsplash

Lonely Biryani and the Siren Song of the Pandemic

The year is off to a dynamic start. The weather is chilly, but I am back on my bike cycling through an awakening world full of the scents and promise of spring. As a data lover I frequently check my Garmin to see how I am doing and how my performance is improving, or not, as the case may be. Currently 80% of other users run further than me and 60% cycle faster. My area of triumph is not exercise related, but I am undisputedly good at it: I currently log more sleep hours than 80% of other users!

Today’s topics:

– Lonely biryani and the siren song of the pandemic
– Strengths and weaknesses versus strengths and a growth mindset
– The sacrificial lamb and a blaming culture
– 10 tips to help you ensure your projects never fail again

Lonely Biryani and the Siren Song of the Pandemic

Last week an Indian friend suggested we make Biryani together. He provided the recipe. I shopped, bought flowers and invited another friend. I was surprised at how excited I was to have guests beyond my regular pandemic bubble. The next morning I received a call: “I have a sore throat, a runny nose and a cough but I tested myself for COVID and I’m negative. I’m still happy to come. Shall I?” I replied: “Yes”. Then I thought about those COVID19 self-tests and how they lack sensitivity, of the likelihood of Omicron versus Delta, my aged parents and the fact that I’d avoided infection so far, so why risk it now? I cancelled. That evening my friend called to say his wife had tested positive. It is amazing how resource-intense engaging with COVID is. I realise it’s probably why I need more sleep. I have decided to celebrate what I do, not focus on what I don’t do. To practice self-compassion. And, every day, to do something that makes me happy. Why not join me?

Strengths and Weaknesses versus Strengths and a Growth Mindset

I once interviewed a candidate for a job with whom I had worked in the past. I don’t recall what she said her strengths were. But regarding her weaknesses, she said candidly “You know, overall, I think I’m just a great person”. I was impressed by her confidence. I also started thinking about the value of this question. Every candidate prepares for strengths and weaknesses. The internet is full of lists. No candidate is perfect, no manager, nor team nor company is perfect. We are all growing – hopefully, every day. Each candidate brings a unique blend of personality, ability, culture and knowledge to a company. Each company provides a different microcosm. When we accept that and are honest with one another, that’s when the magic happens. So, I suggest the question needs an overhaul.

For strengths, I’d propose: “What are your strengths, how did they help you get where you are today? How are they relevant for this position? Do they sometimes trip you up?” The second question could be: “Where do you want to grow; are there areas in this job that you think would help you grow? Are there any specific things you want to try/learn?” We might even ask: “Are there areas you once identified you want to develop in, and do you feel you have worked through them successfully? If so, can you tell me more?” Even an outside work example could be illuminating.

What is interesting is not a list of someone’s weaknesses, but whether they are open to evolving and have the desire and ability to grow. The company has to offer a growth-focused environment. After all, if a candidate cannot grow in a job, they are more likely to move on.

The Sacrificial Lamb and a Blaming Culture

A man lived at Chicago’s airport for three months because he was afraid to go home due to fear of COVID, according to a Guardian article. The judge presiding over the case said, “You’re telling me that an unauthorised, non-employee individual was allegedly living within a secure part of the O’Hare Airport terminal from 10 October 2020, to 16 January 2021, and was not detected?” “The court finds these facts and circumstances quite shocking for the alleged period of time that this occurred,” said Ortiz. “Being in a secured part of the airport under a fake ID badge allegedly, based upon the need for airports to be absolutely secure so that people feel safe to travel, I do find those alleged actions do make him a danger to the community.”

I am fascinated. The system failed, yet an individual is held responsible. Sacrificing one person is much easier than fixing a system. Even if, as in this case, it is blatantly obvious. Sadly, as it is the easy option, this often happens. The temptation is there in teams, when someone speaks an uncomfortable truth, or in companies, when someone reports a problematic leader and is sanctioned for it. When a problem is solved in this superficial way and the real problem is not addressed, the system continues to malfunction. Companies end up losing valuable resources and people learn and stop speaking up. Fixing the root cause is never easy, but then neither are most things that are worth doing.

10 Tips To Help you Ensure your Projects Never Fail Again

  1. Don’t start until you understand what the business imperative is for the project The following, though used often, are not business imperatives
    • other companies are doing it
    • we think our customers expect it
    • we would look more professional
  2. Define what success is before you start; agree how you will measure it by common consensus
  3. Ensure Roles and Responsibilities and goals are clear
  4. Engage the business, IT and any other key stakeholders in overall strategy and planning
  5. Identify any project risks and how you will address them
  6. Manage stakeholder expectations at all levels by frequently engaging with them
  7. Plan projects and timelines involving the leaders for each stakeholder group involved in delivering to the timelines
  8. Plan realistically, remember: holidays, weekends, people have lives, they get ill, they leave…
  9. Be flexible, don’t get stuck on timelines and deadlines. When things change, they change. Talk to your senior stakeholders and negotiate new, realistic deliverables and deadlines
  10. Know where your responsibilities start and end

Number 10 is the hardest for new project managers, yet it is key to maintaining health and sanity. Whenever you get frazzled and worried that you cannot deliver because milestones are not being met, ask yourself: is this my responsibility or not?

If you are facing a complex challenge and would like a sounding board or you’d like some help to implement a project globally, or you want to discuss executive coaching, or a career move, then please feel free to reach out for an informal and confidential chat.

I look forward to hearing from you, all the best.


Photo by Neil Mark Thomas on Unsplash

I Speak With a Loud Voice Because I Have Testosterone

I hope 2022 started well for you. I feel content, the way that a greyhound chasing a rabbit round a track is content. The sun is shining. The world has tumbled down the rabbit hole of holiday stupor and out into the open. It’s a new year, new projects, new friends, new adventures and the same old pandemic. 

Today’s topics: 

– I speak with a loud voice because I have testosterone – or what do you want to be remembered for?

– How to work internationally – golden rules

– Documents without borders – tips on collaborative co-authoring

– Data, case studies, opinions and the pandemic

I Speak With a Loud Voice Because I Have Testosterone – Or What Do You Want to be Remembered For?

I once worked in an open space office. A senior leader also worked in this space. He was known for throwing pencils, slamming his fist on tables, and communicating with a powerful voice when upset. When a colleague asked him if he could lower his voice when speaking in the open space, he said “No, I am a man, I have testosterone, this is my voice.” This happened more than ten years ago. I am sure he has forgotten. But I have not, and his answer still fascinates me. While his career has gone from strength to strength, I am confident that for most people this type of behaviour is career limiting. The pharmasphere is a small pond. Your reputation will precede you. Don’t let anger guide your responses, it is never worth it. Before you act, ask yourself “What do I want to be remembered for?”

Golden Rules For Working Internationally – Do As You Would Be Done By

When working internationally respect people’s time and their time zones. Avoid scheduling recurring meetings in the evenings or late on Friday afternoon, especially, if the time you pick is in the morning for you.  Aim for either all virtual or all face-to-face meetings, unless you are supported by great technology. Implement ground rules on speaking to ensure everyone is heard. Remember not everyone speaks English all the time, so speak slowly and clearly. Be comfortable with silence. When requesting feedback on a conference call consider setting a sixty second timer, then waiting.  Sometimes people need to build the courage to speak.  Be patient. I once waited 45 seconds until the first person spoke in a conference call. Different cultures have a different tolerance for silence.

Be slow to anger. Remember communication styles vary widely by culture and language spoken. What may be polite in one language may seem offensive when expressed in another.  If you are upset by an interaction, start by assuming that it was a misunderstanding. When you have a conflict try to clear it up in person, ideally in a one-on-one call, Zoom, Teams, the phone. Avoid email.  Have I missed any golden rules? What are your golden rules for effective international working? Please share them with me!

Documents Without Borders – Tips on Collaborative Co-Authoring

Use a shared space, if you don’t have a document management system, at least put documents on SharePoint or similar so all edits are done in one location to facilitate version control.  Encourage everyone to edit the document in that location. Agree on any templates you will use before you start writing the document. Avoid sending documents back and forth in Outlook because consolidating comments and versions is terribly challenging if you do. When co-authoring a document, ensure that the proofing language is set to the language the document is being written in. Also, make sure that the language for the review section matches the proofing language. These two language changes are made in different locations in Word. Be clear on timelines and responsibilities when co-authoring. And finally, when you move to the review phase, be clear both on timelines, and on what you want each reviewer to focus on. Also provide guidelines on how reviewers should provide comments, for example, concise, actionable etc.

Data and the Pandemic

Medical Affairs teams are used to supporting customers who struggle to keep up with the tsunami of scientific data. COVID 19 lets us experience this ourselves. I wade through videos, news clips, newspaper articles and scientific articles in an attempt to reach an educated, balanced opinion on the current approach to the pandemic worldwide. I’d also like to understand the Swiss National Health Authorities recommendations. The data in mainstream media generally focuses on positive tests, patients in hospital, ICU status and deaths. However, the data I would like to read about, and hear discussed includes the following:

  • Why did people get tested. Did they have symptoms, exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID 19 or were there other reasons? 
  • Number of daily tests, evolution of tests numbers over the past two years. Evolution of positive test percentages over the past two years.  
  • Where individuals tested positive, I’d like to know:
    • How many were symptomatic upon presentation? How many of the initially asymptomatic subsequently developed symptoms? What were they and how were they treated?
    • How did the symptoms differ between the vaccinated and non-vaccinated?
    • Percentage of Omicron/Delta?
    • Vaccination status of all those tested to understand the percentage of break-through infections which could help guide the future approach
  • Herd immunity status for the unvaccinated population by performing free antibody tests for all unvaccinated individuals on a voluntary basis
  • Benefit risk of vaccination for children of different age groups

Some of this data is available on government websites, if you know where to look. However, it is just the “bare-bone data” without discussions of what it means. As a physician I don’t find test results interesting. What I do find interesting is what a positive test means. A positive test is not automatically a COVID 19 case, although newspapers tend to use the terms interchangeably. Instead of focusing on reducing the number of positive tests, we should be focusing on reducing the burden of disease. I believe systematically capturing the answers to some of the above questions and discussing them, and sharing those discussions broadly, could help to increase understanding and trust in society and help us to finetune the response to the pandemic. The data should be easy to gather. I struggle to understand why we are not gathering it more systematically. 

If you are facing a complex challenge and would like a sounding board or you’d like some help to implement a project globally, or you want to discuss executive coaching, or a career move, then please feel free to reach out for an informal and confidential chat. 

I look forward to hearing from you, all the best.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Today I Threw my Christmas Tree out of an Upstairs Window

Happy New Year. May the sun light your path, the winds fill your sails, the rains water your garden and good surprises abound. I also hope that poetry accompanies you as we emerge from the greys of winter into the hopeful green of spring, the yellows of summer and the ochres of autumn. Another cycle begins. And that there will be 4 seasons is about all that we can be sure of at the moment.

I, for one, could sorely do with some poetry in my life as I read newspaper coverage on Sudan, Taiwan, the Ukraine, the UK, Poland, the Netherlands, Afghanistan, Syria, and the pandemic, just to pick a couple of topics, at random, that stayed with me today.

Today’s topics focus on how to have a spectacular 2022:

– Improvise – Or Today I threw my Christmas Tree out of an Upstairs Window
– Embrace Passion and How to Lead Passionate Teams
– Be Courageous and Lead with Integrity
– Keep on Growing

Traditionally, there are four topics, but today I gift you a bonus to start the year off with. Something we often forget to do as we are all busy. 

– Don’t Forget to Stop and Smell the Roses

Improvise – or Today I Threw my Christmas Tree out of an Upstairs Window

Last year, the thought of a brightly lit tree, candles, lights in the window and the spirit of a celebration made me buy my first ever Christmas tree. Coming home to a lit tree and decorations made me feel warm and happy and added some sorely needed brightness to a world that is currently not particularly bright. Today, I took down the decorations. I thanked the tree. And then I realised, that when I brought it home it was covered in netting, which made it fit easily through doorways. Today it was dry, not covered in netting and had to be dragged through doorways. After much deliberation, I decided the best way to get the tree out of the house with minimum needles shed, was to throw it out of an upstairs window. It worked beautifully. Not, perhaps, the most conventional way of removing a tree from the house. Certainly not the most elegant solution, but it solved my challenge, fast, and most importantly with minimal cleaning. Sometimes it is tempting to get stuck on finding a perfect solution to tasks we face. Often that means we don’t get started. Frequently an adequate solution to even complex problems can be as simple as throwing a tree out of a window.

Embrace Passion and How to Lead Passionate Teams

Passion leads people to speak up, suggest changes, challenge the status quo and pursue alternative avenues. Passion drives employees to strive for excellence in all aspects of the business they are involved in. Passionate people are fiercely alive and sometimes that means they appear to be challenging authority. And sometimes they are. But more often they are just invested in a certain outcome. None of us fights for things we don’t care about. Passion is many things, but it is never tranquil.

When I work with companies on transformation programmes, I am happiest when I meet vocal employees with deeply held beliefs. They have views on what works and what doesn’t, and they are willing to share. What people believe, is less important to me than that they care so much that they bring that energy into the project, because when people are engaged anything is possible and ultimately it is your employees’ passion that will deliver stellar transformations.

Admittedly, leading a team of independent thinkers, who are unafraid to bring up new ideas, requires confident leadership. One key element to successfully leading passionate teams, is to recognise that questions regarding projects are not automatically challenges to your authority. A second, is to recognise, that by silencing passionate people, you drive the energy underground, where instead of being available for your project goals, it has the potential to run unchecked and derail your transformation efforts.

If you take those two points to heart, I don’t believe you can lose. After all, why would you hire the best and brightest, and then not make the most of their skills?

Be Courageous and Lead with Integrity

Actions speak louder than words. Your teams have a good idea of who you are, what you do and what you stand for. If you want to move mountains in your business, you need your employees to act with courage and conviction. In order to do that, they need to know, that they can count on your support.

As an employee, I was tasked with running many transformation programmes. This is actually quite hard to do well as an employee. Unlike a consultant, an employee is in competition with peers for bonuses, promotions and visibility, all things people get very passionate about, and which can take the focus off the project at hand. My projects ran best when I knew that I could trust my managers to support the actions we had agreed, when I knew that I could count on them. Without question.

What happened in Afghanistan reminded me of this. Many locals risked life, livelihood, and a future to work with foreign powers, in the hope that they could change their country for the better. These people trusted the promises, that when the time came, they would be taken care of. What happened instead, was a haphazard, badly executed retreat, with many left behind to face their fate at the hands of the Taliban. Promises and people forgotten. If you send your team out to battle courageously but you don’t have their back, they will not forget. This will make future endeavours much harder. If you do not honour your word, your word has no value.

Keep on Growing

One of my friends has a son. He likes to climb. He has been climbing the same fountain since he was a little boy. Recently, he said to his mum “Mum, the fountain seems so much smaller, has the city removed some of it?” Marianne, his mum, answered “No, you have grown, so climbing the fountain no longer poses a big challenge.” Most of us are fully grown on the outside, but the beauty is, we can choose to continue growing on the inside.

In summary, if you lead with passion, courage and integrity as well as the humility to admit to yourself and others when you didn’t quite manage it, you will inspire your peers and reports to do the same. Actions speak louder than words. And people remember actions: case in point, Boris Johnson.

Beyond being open to passion, courage and improvisation, in my daily life, I am also going to try to make a point of celebrating the small joys of everyday life. Which brings me to the bonus topic:

Don’t Forget to Stop and Smell the Roses

In the current climate it’s easy to focus on the many restrictions we currently face. However, in order to make 2022 the best I can for myself, I am going to make a point of celebrating all the good things that happen. I will attempt to pause, when one thing has come to an end, acknowledge and enjoy it, before heading off at full speed into the next adventure. I also hope to create joyful moments where I can, for myself, my family, my clients and my friends, because time is fleeting and there can never be too much happiness in the world.

If you are facing a complex challenge and would like a sounding board or you’d like some help to implement globally, contact me for a chat.

Wishing you all the very best for 2022.

Image Credit: Photo by Artturi Jalli on Unsplash