Increase your reach to add value

Only two months to the end of the year, even less if I count the holidays, reminding me of many other recurring events that also regularly take me by surprise. Hoping your year has gone well so far and you have satisfying plans for the winter months ahead.

Today I am sharing some ideas that were sparked by recent trips.

Today’s blog topics:

-Don’t let cultural differences derail your transformation efforts
-How to increase your reach, grow your influence and add value
-How to pick the right partner for your Medical Information system needs
-Leadership: have you ever been told you need to be more vocal to get promoted?

Don’t let cultural differences derail your transformation effort

On a recent business trip, I came across a building site. I noticed the gravel strewn across the road, the haphazardly placed road signs, a general air of creativity around the site and remembered another building site I had photographed some weeks prior, which looked like a Lego set. No mess, no dust, no gravel, all sharp edges and incredible tidiness.

The two pictures above illustrate a truth that is easily forgotten, different countries apply different standards. And while as in the above example either approach is valid, people from one country may view another country’s approach as subpar or overly meticulous.

This is why if you plan to implement changes across territories you need to involve all stakeholders. Before you start you should agree on the issue at hand, its relevance and business impact. You should also agree on how addressing the issue will improve your business, what the financial impact of doing nothing is, and what the financial upside might be. Lastly, don’t neglect to consider local differences in how things are done and agree on how much flexibility there is for local implementation.

Be clear on how you will measure success. Using the building site example, ask how much it matters, that they look different, that the approach is different, or is it more important that the end product is delivered to specification, on budget and on time to a predefined standard?

In general, strive for as much harmonisation as possible to improve efficiency and effectiveness, while leaving some room for local adaptation if needed.

Key takeaway: Global transformation programmes don’t work when one location dictates to another.  A truly functional solution is only ever found when working together across teams and countries. 

How to increase your reach, grow your influence and add value

Over the years I have asked many individuals in Medical Information how they expand their influence, communicate their value and measure value add in their organisations. Overall, three recommendations emerged: “know your stakeholders so you know where to add value, validate your findings and communicate your activities”. Communication, after all, is a two-way street.

I have heard many concrete ideas over the years, both in stakeholder interviews and during European DIA Medical Information meetings. It seemed time to share a selection of them with you here:

  • Sharing tailored data and analytics: Georgios Koumakis, then Medical Manager in Roche Greece, shared how he identified which data and analytics his key stakeholders were interested in. He sent regular tailored data sets to each stakeholder group, including a short one pager to his local general manager.
  • Supporting product improvement: Lucia Fantini, at the time European Operations Manager for Lilly, shared her vision of a Medical Information golden circle of knowledge and how the Medical Information team analysed data and picked up signals from patient enquiries leading to device adaptations and a label change.
  • Engaging with cross-functional teams on strategy: in one interview a global medical affairs director once said “questioning the relevance of Medical Information services is like questioning the relevance of an organ” saying that consequently he ensures that the Medical Information function is represented in relevant leadership teams.
  • Networking and communicating: Most interview partners talked about the importance of great networking, some ideas included getting to know your audit team well, so that they can support your activities, visiting affiliate Medical Information members on site to strengthen relationships, and finally presenting at Medical Affairs and Commercial team off-site meetings to ensure key stakeholders understand what Medical Information teams do and how to partner with the function.

Another great idea was presented at the recent DIA meeting in Brussels in September 2023 by Andy Mackay, Director and Global Medical Information lead, at Idorsia. Andy gave a talk on “The Creation of an Interactive Online Learning Module to Raise the Profile of Medical Information” sharing how his team developed a tool to help other teams in the company understand the Medical Information function better and showcasing how his team can support individuals across the company.

Key takeaways: there are many ways to add value to your organisation and to communicate that value. Pick at least one approach that works for you and do it regularly. The only way to build your reputation in your organisation is to maintain a consistent presence.

Picking the right partner for your Medical Information system needs

During a recent dinner a group of us were discussing how to pick the correct Medical Information system. While we agreed that no system will make you happy all the time, there are some systems that are likely to make you consistently unhappy and should therefore be avoided.

Picking your perfect system will depend on your specific needs, however, one recommendation that I would sign whatever your needs are is the following “as you assess vendors and systems don’t base your expectations of system performance or features on your experience of what is practical or sensible. Until someone has confirmed a certain feature exists, or works the way you want it to, assume it does not”.

Below you can find some additional aspects it is worth considering when looking for a solution provider, these are areas that have caused problems for some of the individuals in the group, but that were not identified early enough.

The first question is what is your partner’s experience in the market you want a system in? Has your partner implemented systems internationally or only in one market? If internationally, how many international clients do they have and what size are these clients? Can the system be validated? Have companies run into issues when trying to validate the system and how was the issue solved/could it be solved? Can you see client references or speak to current clients? What type of support set-up is available? Do you need to buy individual licenses or not? How easy are process flows for typical activities? How configurable is the system? What type of implementation support is available if you do not have the capacity in-house? How will the system integrate with other systems such as your CRM or content management tools? While chemistry with your solution provider is important the group agreed that that this is not the key success factor.

Key takeaways: Selecting the correct IT system for your needs depends on many factors, your users, your business, your current IT infrastructure, the support capabilities in your IT team and the scope of your roll-out among others. It will save you millions of dollars in fees and employee costs if you consider carefully what you want, what you need and who can provide it to you before you choose. 

Leadership: Ever been told you need to be more vocal to get promoted?

Have you ever been told you are not present enough? Have you ever told employees that they are not visible enough, or contributing enough? Before you focus on fixing your own, or you employees’ failings, consider the following:

Sometimes employees are told that they don’t contribute enough at meetings, that they should be more active, proactive or visible and that future promotions depend on behavioural changes. In the comments section of a post on this topic a senior leader at a large pharma company wrote “we pay people to contribute, we expect them to manage themselves, this isn’t a leadership issue”.

The comment struck me because I don’t think it is as easy as that. Nobody works in a vacuum. How people perform and behave depends on many factors including the context they are in. Individuals need to show up, yes, but they also need to be given the space to show up in. As a coach and consultant, I have often observed that who speaks at meetings depends on who is present or absent, how homogeneous the team is, on the connections between the individuals in a meeting, each individual’s need to be seen and validated by the group, and the level of trust between group members as well as the distribution of talents and abilities amongst the individuals present.

Recently I experienced a situation where I was in a meeting where I didn’t end up contributing much of what I felt I could have shared. While I can easily make space for myself if I feel I need to or want to, in this situation as a workshop participant I chose silence. Not because I could not have spoken up or because I had nothing to say, but because after being spoken over a few times I decided to approach the situation with curiosity about the group’s dynamics and with an interest to see what if anything would happen.

My observation from this and previous experiences is that when diversity in a group drops below a certain threshold the majority tends to lead the conversation. There is comfort in numbers, there is comfort in similar opinions, and this makes it harder for other views to be heard. This is a well-known phenomenon.

Unfortunately, the majority, comfortable in a shared world view, may not notice that there are other views in the room. Gender, ethnicity, global, local and regional affiliations, being monolingual, or multilingual and the languages used for group work, socialisation differences and geographical locations all influence perspectives, some of these factors may be known, many of them may be hidden to the casual acquaintance or team colleague.

The ability of a team to collaborate well can be expanded if leaders remember the following: what happens in a room depends on who is there, the different histories that people bring to the table and beyond that what can be said, versus what may not be permissible. In addition, there are things that are known and spoken about, known but not spoken about, as well as things that are unknown, i.e., not consciously known, and thus cannot be addressed, but which are still present and may have a profound impact on the team in the room and how they interact.

Naturally when there is work to be done it is easy to not focus on this, however, to ensure that all voices are heard to the benefit of the business it helps if both leaders and individuals are aware of the dynamics influencing communication and take responsibility at their level.

Key takeaway: Team leads: Assess individual and team performance in the context of personalities and your company culture: Individuals: remember that feedback you receive may be a projection, take feedback in context, reflect on whether you have received the same feedback repeatedly, identify the key drivers for the issue and whether you can influence them yourself or need help.

Thank you for reading, I enjoy sharing my thoughts and I love hearing what piqued your interest or any feedback. If you are currently working on a project in the fields of medical, digital, systems, analytics, channels, or facing any team or personal challenges, feel free to reach out to me for a chat. I am always happy to explore how I might be able to support you.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Image credits: Isabelle Widmer (ICW) London and Basel September and October 2023