My motto for 2017

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-44), French pilot and writer


 

Of course yearning alone is not enough.

You certainly need quality wood, good tools, clear allocation of tasks, a plan and much more.

And yes, unfortunately I also know more than enough ‘hot-air guns’ in leadership positions, who contribute great visions (= yearnings) … but that has been it.

I would like to talk about myself instead. In the past, I realized that sometimes I got lost in bits and pieces of strategic or project planning and management during workaday’s life. This simply happens when you are working quite intensively and focused. I am sure you know what I mean.

The issue is that then the big picture easily gets lost. But this big picture is really important. It actually is the destination, the purpose of everything being done! Not adhering perfectly to the project plan or KPIs. Those are just resources and tools … but in daily routine they sometimes end in themselves. Neither the wood is the destination, nor is the ship. The destination is being able going out to sea and sailing to other places.

It is about motivation. To take along people, employees and colleagues. To not just let them settle tasks. But to actively include them in an exciting, promising and joint journey.

 

For me, Saint-Exupéry’s “yearning” is anticipation, joy, enthusiasm and identification. I am deeply convinced that this kind of “yearning” does not only yield in settling required tasks …

… but to jointly deliver superior achievements and true innovation. More than the best project plan ever could do.

The smart “no”

You need to cancel something on someone but you do not know how? Well, there are for example the …

 

8 ways of saying “no”

  1. I would like to … but unfortunately I can’t.
  2. This would contradict my personal maxims.
  3. I would like to make an alternative suggestion.
  4. My wife doesn’t want it.
  5. I would gladly pick up later … but currently I am at full capacity.
  6. I appreciate your kind offer … but to my opinion even more is possible.
  7. I need to think about it.
  8. John can do it much better!

(by Darius Götsch in the German Movo magazine, issue 1 2016)

 

The smart “no”

To my personal opinion, the best way in any case is being open, transparent and honest and letting people not wait for your decision longer than necessary.

If something is going beyond your capabilities … clarify it. If you are fully loaded … say it. If you need time to think about … request it. If you have an even better idea … suggest it. If you have an ethical or fundamental issue … put it on the table.

But do not delay your “no” because you are afraid. Fear is a bad advisor. And in case you are concerned about the possibility of negative consequences of a “no”, promptly document your decision and the underlying justification with a brief mail (optionally with CC to your line manager and/or the project manager).

Be clear with your “no” and be clear with your “yes” without dancing around the cake. And most people will appreciate. Those who do not anyhow don’t care about your opinion. But this is a different story.

The true reason why younger candidates are favored

If you challenge an existing preference for hiring younger workers over e.g. “best agers” (50+), you get a series of arguments which initially sound somehow reasonable.

  • Younger candidates have more energy and higher productivity.
  • Younger candidates bring along more recent expert knowledge due to their contemporary professional training/university education … and thereby deliver higher quality.
  • Younger candidates are cheaper.
  • Younger candidates are less resistent to change.
  • In an aging society it is more future-oriented to hire younger candidates and develop them internally on the long-term.

As non-involved I can dare to say: all those are dumb stereotypes … if not lies!

 

The “younger is more productive” myth

It has been repeatedly investigated and proven hat “best agers” on average do show at least a similar productivity and level of achievements while typically being more efficient and delivering higher quality. No more to say.

 

The “younger is cheaper” myth

Is it? I would like to challenge this assertion by stating that the average “best ager” achieves more with less energy and in less time. He compensates youthful freshness with experience and beneficial learnings from the past. So, I dare to say that a complete and honest calculation will give at least the same if not lower costs for the “best ager”.

And by the way, cheap or valuable, you always get what you pay for!

 

The “younger provides better knowledge” myth

Yes, sure, the expert knowledge a mid-20s university leaver brings along is more recent. But …

  1. By whom did they get it? From “best agers” being their trainer/teacher, am I right or am I wrong?
  2. Blank knowledge from professional training or university is by far not enough for real life success and best practice. “Best agers” typically provide expert knowledge plus experiences from years of daily working including highly valuable experiences and learnings the youngster simply miss. The overall level of current and real-life knowledge is much higher with the “best ager”.

And by the way, it is impertinent to generally insinuate that older colleagues do not continuously develop their expert knowledge to the state-of-the-art level.

 

The “seniors are more resistant to change” myth

To my observation, more senior colleagues are not above average resistant to change but in many cases even drive it. And I was involved in quite a few change projects/processes. No, senior colleagues do more dare speaking up for stupid changes and dumb implementations … where many  youngsters just follow like sheep. For me this level of commitment by senior colleagues never has been a bug but a feature. And in most cases it was highly beneficial for the whole change project.

 

The “younger provides more long-term benefit” myth

Especially the more promising youngsters have a much higher tendency to switch their job if not the company due to career aspirations. Exception proves the rule and there are certainly companies which do a proper good job in developing and keeping their staff. But I dare to say that many companies will benefit longer from a hired “best ager” staying 10-15 years than of a “±30 ager” leaving for the next career step after 3-4 years.

 

The true reason

I think there is another important point which is typically less mentioned but more influencing the preference for younger candidates within a hiring process.

Younger workers are much easier to influence and to manipulate. They challenge instructions and decisions by their line manager (who is also their hiring manager) much less. And just to avoid any misunderstanding: to my opinion this is bad, at least with  advanced, innovative, forward-thinking companies. But unfortunately there is a fatal correlation between leader quality and the tendency to hire team members which are better qualified than oneself.

“Best agers” are not more difficult to lead. But they are more resistant to bad leadership. So they are less likely hired by bad leaders who cannot stand to be constructively challenged.

Check it! Just watch the leaders in your own working environment. Which of them would you rate as better leaders and which as worse? And what is the average team age of the better … and what the average team age of the poor leaders? *

You see, what I mean!


* OK, and please kindly ignore any constitutional bias, e.g. by type of job or team where the average age is unavoidably lower. 

Do not let your customer doing your QC

I call it the “Microsoft principle” … and it is a mess. For many years, Microsoft is quite famous for delivering half-baked software, which is subsequently improved by patches and “service packs” based on customer findings. Microsoft lets its customers do the quality control (QC) for them.

 

Change of scenery. A couple of years ago, I attended a lean processes workshop. To make a long story short, the resulting “optimized” lean process basically included an abandonment of the pre-delivery inspection process step and a shift of the final QC to the customer. To be fair, some new QC cross-checks were included at handover interfaces within the process … but the proof that the product is finally OK was factually handed over.

I was surprised finding myself alone with speaking up and insisting: “this is simply crap!

At this point I need to admit, that my horizon of experience had been different from the others. Before joining the pharmaceutical company (I was working for at that time), I had had my own little service business for about 10 years. So, I knew by heart, that customers typically wish if not clearly expect to get a product of reliable high quality delivered for the money they pay. And I think, they can expect to get the same. Also I myself do. As a service provider it had always been a wonderful and tremendously satisfying experience getting customer’s feedback that he is vice versa satisfied and happy with a high quality, error-free delivery. I tell you, it is really great to enjoy your own appreciated product.

 

Certainly, a customer needs provide an explicit confirmation of proper delivery which by design requires some kind of  cross-check on his side. But this is not what I am talking about. Ideally he should not find anything. At least no careless mistakes or faulty deliveries which typically would have been identified and rejected by a proper pre-delivery QC.

Change of scenery again. I recently worked with an agency where I typically had to check every delivery several times. In my view, I was doing their work. And we are talking about mistakes which were obvious and would have been solved by a simple pre-delivery cross-check at the agency before reaching my desk. And I found myself asking, why I am doing a part of the job I am actually paying for? I clearly expect (just in case any current of future collaborating agency might read this) a reliable, rock solid product which is finally QCed already before landing in my inbox. This agency was simply annoying me.

Would this be the basis of a long fruitful collaboration?

I do not really think so.

 

Altogether, delivering properly QCed products might be better for business than being “over-lean”. Do not play Microsoft until you are in the same monopoly position.

Satisfy by quality … and enjoy satisfaction and success!

Leaving 2015 positively

2015 has been a good year!

It might not appear as such on the first view. And unfortunately there are always enough “devaluators” who are first and foremost fixated on crises and conflicts.

But a lot of positive and good things happened in 2015 which are worth to look back on. In the German newspaper DIE ZEIT (#52, 23.12.2015) Hannes Soltau, Merlind Theile and Doreen Borsutzki published a remarkable collection of facts.

In 2015 …

  • more people worldwide had access to drinking water
    (91% vs. 77% in 1990)
  • the average life span worldwide increased
    (71 years vs. 65.3 years in 1990)
  • the number of starving people worldwide decreased
    (-17% since 2004)
  • the infant mortality worldwide decreased
    (more than halved since 1990)
  • we had substantially less traffic deaths in Germany
    (2/3 less since 1991)
  • we had less school dropouts in Germany
    (5,6% vs. 9,6% in 2001)

Certainly, 2015 was also a year full of tragic events and fatal developments. But not only. Fading out the good limits the view.

I myself gladly and gratefully look back on 2015. For me personally, it has been a very good year … and the world has had worse before.

Why doesn’t anyone tell him …?

post20141107A zur deutschen Versionnew division head is in town. And he (or she) wants to share his vision and plans with the team members in subordinate departments and business units. First of all, a fair approach.

So, the new boss arranges a “townhall”, which is .. how should I say … a mix of collective self-congratulation, motivational speaker show, and blatant puffery. Actually, the intended purpose is to reduce need for the new boss to deal with each subordinate individually but rather polish off all at once.

Making a digression. Back to the topic …

Well, said new division head stands in front of the audience, perhaps something between 300 and 400 subordinates, and talks about his plans. He mentions that in the past quite a few things had been done quite well already, and that he appreciates those efforts and the great expertise of the teams and people … but that there certainly is room for improvement and optimization. He presents his new master plan, laid out for 5-6 years, at last solving all issues of the division, and which will be the ultimate solution for a prospering future of the enterprise. Goes without saying that the plan crucially includes a reorganisation.

There is just one problem: he (or she) is the 3rd new division head in 5 years already. And the majority of colleagues sitting in the audience have repeatedly heard exactly the same speech. This is still very much present, it hasn’t even reached long-term memory yet. And those colleagues sit on their chairs, listen to the presentation, and think: “What a speechifier! In 2 years max you will been gone again. And then the next one jumps in, and retells the same, that he now knows how it really works. And your master plan is going to be history like all the other big master plans before.”

Summary: Actually the new division head just now makes a fool of himself.

Is that really necessary? Why did nobody appropriately prepare and brief him? Who the heck coaches middle managers such amateurishly? It almost appears as would someone simply follow a checklist … a rather goony one by the way.

An honest and down-to-earth announcement gaining respect and appreciation by associates rather would sound like this  …

“Hi everybody! I am the new boss, and I also cannot turn water to wine! We are going to spend the next 2 years together, perhaps even a bit less. Let’s make the best out of it! So that at the end all of us are able to show some smaller or bigger but nice achievements and progresses, without any unneeded collateral damages.”

“Product Literature Database” (PLD) … what the heck is this?

zur deutschen VersionPharmaceutical companies have an inevitable need for regular if not permanent analysis of literature published on their products. They are not only legally obligated with regards to pharmacovigilance (e.g. processing of any undesirable drug effect reported somewhere) and medical information (e.g. answering product inquires by practitioners and pharmacists). Beyond that, product reports within the scientific literature are a full treasure of real-world product behavior findings which support marketing, competitor intelligence, product innovation, and more.

But we are talking about giant pool of millions of publications within thousands of scientific journals which is growing every single day. Ad-hoc searching and analyzing costs reasonable amounts of money:

  1. Professional literature databases are quite expensive with a market dominated by few providers only, which sometimes behave like monopolists.
    (And to make an early clear statement: no, PubMed clearly does not qualify, especially due to its lack of comprehensiveness and poorly finished content.)
  2. It is very time-consuming to find precise and significant answers by searching and analyzing scientific literature. And the cheaper the source, the more (expensive) human workload is needed.

 

The solution

So-called “product literature databases” (PLDs) or “corporate literature databases” deliver the knowledge about what has been published about your own products … much more efficient than highly redundant and multiplied individual ad-hoc literature searches.

PLDs are sort of subsets of the worldwide literature, including only publications which mention at least one product of the company. Typically, they are filled by automatic search agents (search profiles) or by feeds delivered by database providers.

Well-designed PLDs also provide mechanisms for rating publications, annotating information and signaling predefined events.

 

External PLD providers

UK-based Pi2 solutions Ltd. is an established vendor for customized pharma and biotech PLD solutions and was acquired by ProQuest Dialog this summer. Pi2 traditionally supports Pfizer, and since 2009/2010 also Wyeth (who had worked with OvidSP® for ad-hoc literature research before). A 2013 poster presented at the 9th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals might give some information on general approaches. Beyond that are no public information available regarding Pi2’s market success or market share, and I am quite curious about impact of the new collaboration with ProQuest.

Other potential providers of PLD solutions are major B2B specialist information database and service providers, like Reed Elsevier, Thomson Reuters and Wolters Kluwer, who are factually dominating the mass market for literature raw data. Particularly Elsevier has already shown strong interest in providing more customized and mature services to industry clients. They quite recently build a kind of customized product literature service for Sanofi’s pharmacovigilance by combining their database content with the QUOSA literature management software.

 

In-house PLDs

The Novartis pharma group had their own internal PLD since the late 60’s, called “eNova”. This solution has been the most mature and significant PLD I have ever seen. Novartis not only collected literature on their products, they also applied a kind of in-depth ‘digestion’ of reported product findings and clinical data. As a result, the PLD was able to very precisely answer questions on any aspect of real-world drug behavior at the push of a button. “eNova” was finally discontinued and shut-off by Novartis end of 2013, despite the fact that internal analysis had shown substantial positive impact on productivity and individual time savings for product related literature research & analysis of 93% and more.

Roche once also had an internal PLD similar to “eNova”, which was shut-down a couple of years ago already. As a “side effect” corresponding product literature research & analysis activities and workload were distributed across the organisation. For example, each national affiliate had to substitute the service by an own solution to continue mandatory MedInfo deliveries and to comply with regulatory expectations. It goes without saying that this split-up of different solutions and approaches did not really result in an overall productivity increase nor in overall cost savings.

A little later, after negative effects became more and more evident and clear, Roche tried to reactivate their in-house PLD. But unfortunately the reintroduction failed as 2-digit million CHF investments were needed but not provided.

By the way, much more money than continuing the Roche in-house PLD would have costed.

 

Why do PLDs have such a poor standing?

Watching the developments at Novartis and Roche, one automatically ends up with the question for what reason their PLDs were shut-off … despite obvious downsides for the enterprises? Actually, there are some dependencies and basic conditions for the reasonable operation of an in-house PLD. And those dependencies and basic conditions are sometimes contrary to currently practiced management paradigms.

  1. PLDs need long-term view and sustainability. But currently lived management approaches in pharma enterprises are more near-term and quite volatile. Without a strategic integration, a PLD is always in danger falling victim to a short-term budget or structural decision, similar to other internal services. But in contrast to other internal services, such a decision is much more fatal for a PLD, as it cannot be just shut-on again once negative side effects become obvious.
  2. PLDs save money in the in the field. What a fatal dilemma. As a central service, PLD costs are budgeted with a (global) business unit, which does not necessarily benefit itself by the service. On the other hand, corresponding cost savings, e.g. by higher productivity, cut costs for external providers, synergy effects, etc. pp. are effective within the whole organisation, with completely different business units. As a result, budget and benefit are organizationally decoupled. Overall, the enterprise has a tremendous advantage and cost savings by the PLD. But unfortunately this full picture view is less and less shared with individual budget decisions.
  3. PLDs are IT, they are not. Effective PLDs certainly need a powerful IT infrastructure, databases, and more. Unfortunately, this bears the risk to rashly assign PLDs to the IT department. To be very honest, to my opinion that is the wrong place. I also need a PC to work efficiently and powerful, but I am far away from being a software engineer. For me, a clever PLD implementation includes a clear localization within business, at least within a well-established linking function between business and IT.
  4. PLDs are strong as central functions. Only then they can fully exert resulting synergistic effects. In contrast, there seem to be frequent “waves” with in pharmaceutical enterprises to distribute tasks over the whole organisation. The underlying thought is “we save money at Global (e.g. for the PLD), and the work is shared by all”. Funny thought … unfortunately with fatal implications on productivity of associates.
  5. PLDs are designed by information experts for information experts. True, and there are historical reasons. But this approach does not fit to todays reality within pharmaceutical enterprises anymore. During the past 10-15 years, pharma has consequently reduced the number of educated information professionals. As a result, todays users of PLDs are more and more subject matter experts (e.g. medics) without explicit expertise in using professional information tools. And honestly spoken, I so far have not seen many PLDs which serve those new user groups regarding usability adequately.

 

Fazit

An in-house PLD – cleverly designed and implemented – is able to reliably cover the need to know that has been published about a company’s own products. It also prevents troubles with regulatory expectations and authorities, and increases productivity at once.

But “cleverly designed and implemented” also includes a long-term strategic integration within the enterprise as well as a reasonable degree of independence from short-term decisions and tactical changes. Any short-term shut-down of an established in-house PLD bears the risk to create hidden but substantial costs. And in all known cases it had been an irreversible back to zero.

Currently, one of the biggest challenges of PLDs is, to give medics and other non information professionals efficient access to product answers, especially by more productive and intuitive user interfaces. Success will be result of votes by the feet … resp. by the keyboards.