Shedding Wings - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Shedding Wings


Pharmaceutical Executive


Friction is an interesting phenomenon. It can be very dysfunctional and very inefficient. On the other hand, friction can be very productive. Anytime you're learning, particularly if you're learning with others, or you're bringing together people with very different experiences and skill sets and pushing each other against very aggressive performance targets, there's going to be friction. You're going to have disagreements about how to get to the performance targets you're looking for, and you're going to learn from those disagreements, as long as you have trust and respect on both sides.

A lot of the key in harnessing this productive friction is becoming much more skilled at building trust relationships where you can disagree and have friction, but end up having productive outcomes, like improving your own practice and the practice of your business partners.

One of the places where you see pretty productive friction in the pharmaceutical industry is between the industry and FDA.

That's a good analogy. I see too many executives viewing success in a partnership as having a very smooth relationship. But it's a two-edged sword. Smooth relationships may be that you're not pushing each other hard enough to get better faster, and if you are pushing each other, you're going to have some bumps along the road.

You had some ideas in the book for how to tell the difference between a functional friction, a productive friction, and unproductive friction.

A lot of it has to do with choices around the people—making sure you're bringing the right skill sets together, so you have deep skills in the relevant areas to get to a solution. Often, a lot of the unproductive friction comes because you have people who don't have the necessary skills. They become very defensive and protective, as opposed to open and willing to push each other.

Respect for each other's skills is also important. The challenge when you bring people with very different backgrounds and skill sets together is they often tend to dismiss each other's [abilities]. But you have to have respect for the other skills that are going to be required.

It's also important to have a very aggressive and tangible performance target. We talk about action points. This is the idea that the most productive friction occurs when there's a very clear outcome in a specified time period, so that you're all working towards a very clear deliverable. You can't just debate endlessly. You have to come to some kind of resolution around this.

At the same time, it's important to leave as many degrees of freedom as possible around how you get to a solution. This allows various skill sets to come together and really come up with a creative solution.

The final idea is the need for effective prototypes, ways of representing potential solutions and testing and refining them. These become critical to enhancing the friction process.

All of which leads you to the notion of strategy, which you come to in the latter part of the book. You talk about the difference between the ways that companies have looked at strategy in the past: fortress strategies as opposed to guerrilla warfare strategies. That idea of going from a static strategy to a dynamic strategy, where your plan is not just to occupy a position, but also to move over a period of time, that sounds incredibly scary. You must have people fleeing from the room when you present it to them.

It certainly makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. Anybody who has read a conventional strategy book will hear two important foundations. One is, the relevant timeframe for strategy is one to five years. The other basic principle you hear is, you need to have your strategy very clearly and tightly defined before you move into execution. Execution has to follow a strategy. You can't jump the gun.

We turn both of those basic assumptions on their heads, and argue that in very uncertain markets where there's not a lot of stability, the two most relevant timeframes for senior executives are both at a very long-term time horizon of five to 10 years, where the challenge is to develop a common view of what the market's going to look like five to 10 years from now, and what business you're going to have in order to be successful in that kind of market.


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Source: Pharmaceutical Executive,
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