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Enterprise Leadership: Is Compliance Ripe for Disruption?


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-07-01-2020
Volume 40
Issue 7

Case study illustrates how compliance teams, in today’s climate, can foster innovation across an organization to help achieve corporate goals.

Case study illustrates how compliance teams, in today’s climate, can foster innovation across an organization to help achieve corporate goals


On Jan. 27, 1975, jazz pianist Keith Jarrett stormed out of Cologne (Köln) Opera House refusing to perform on the out-of-tune piano the promoters had provided. Later, persuaded to return, he strode onstage toward an unplayable piano and out over his comfort zone. The subsequent recording of his historic performance has since outperformed every solo piano album ever, selling over 3.5 million copies. The obstacles Jarrett faced spurred his creativity, drove his resilience, and brought out his best.  

Today, the global COVID-19 pandemic we face has detuned the status quo and placed new obstacles in front of all of us. 

They say necessity breeds innovation and it’s likely there is a good chance the pharma, biotech, and life science industries will emerge from this pandemic stronger than most. However, are  individual companies missing the chance to deliver their own stellar performance?

What if current working restraints are the catalyst to new ways of thinking? What if our obstacles could lead to greater innovation and success? 

Taking Istanbul online

At FiveAndCo, we help pharma and life science organizations build thriving teams and develop enterprise leaders. We help our clients to embrace innovation and harness the collective power of their people to drive success. We are inspired by the boldness of clients such as Alexion, which partners with us to embed culture that embraces this approach. An example occurred in May when we were due to explore the themes of innovation, patient centricity, and leadership at Alexion’s annual Compliance Group conference in Istanbul, but the pandemic cancelled those plans. Nevertheless, we weren’t going to let travel restrictions and the obstacle of moving a global compliance summit online, across multiple time zones, stop us.

With travel out of the question, the Alexion team worked alongside FiveAndCo to develop an online solution capable of delivering the same long-term benefits as the face-to-face event.  

“We weren’t prepared to lose the opportunity of getting our whole team together at this critical time,” said Loren Becher, director of enterprise programs, Alexion. “Our long-term vision is evolving, our global compliance program continues to mature, and our team is anxious to take the next step as enterprise leaders. We

Loren Becher

couldn’t let working from home slow us down, so we embraced the challenges and sped up our development.”

Pivoting from a traditional, three-day meeting-with all the usual plenary and working sessions-was the biggest challenge, according to Becher. “We are proudly innovative in this group,” she said. “Indeed, we see it as one of our key differentiators. We embraced the challenge and committed to taking it online and using the technology to its fullest.”

The first step was to move from three full days to three, two-and-a-half-hour sessions over three days to address the time zone challenge. With colleagues as west as Oregon, US, to as far east as Sydney, Australia, Alexion had to make sure not to encroach on its colleagues’ personal time. 

‘We started our communication well before the meeting began,” said Becher. “Knowing we would have less time together, we made use of Zoom’s recording capability to capture the leadership team’s key messages ahead of the meeting. We made sure the working groups were up and running before we got together and worked to ensure no one was left feeling short-changed by shorter meetings.”

Alexion also arranged an open online ideation session with the team ahead of its virtual Istanbul meeting. “We discussed numerous scenarios and committed to supporting each other during these difficult times,” said Becher.  

Evidence suggested, according to Becher, that the regular rhythm of meetings before the event increased the connectivity within Alexion’s teams, even beyond pre-COVID levels. This made for a lively virtual summit underpinned by trust and openness, she said. 

“I was so impressed by the level of engagement across all three days and by the sheer amount of content we covered,” added Indrani Franchini, Alexion’s chief compliance officer. “We’re now well-positioned for the next five years and I’m confident everyone is aligned to our shared goals, understands their role, and is ready to embrace the challenge for compliance to play an even greater role in the achievement of our corporate goals.”

Three days in (virtual) Istanbul required the same degree of planning and consideration ahead of the meeting. “Using Zoom for a large, multi-day event such as this is a real challenge,” said Nick Green, director, FiveAndCo, who helped to design and facilitate the event. “We’re all learning fast about how to make the most of the technology. Forward planning not only helped us mitigate downtime and network glitches, it ensured levels of engagement remained consistently high and that everyone in the group was able to contribute to achieving the goals. Responsibility for different parts of the agenda was shared around the group, which kept engagement levels high.” 

Green also noted that a skilled approach to event facilitation in the virtual setting helps ensure that everyone is involved in small group discussions. “We’re now excited to work with Alexion’s compliance team to action everything we discussed and agreed to during the meeting,” he said.

Franchini elaborated on the key points of differentiation for Alexion’s compliance group. “Ultimately, we’ll succeed or fail based on our ability to support the business in achieving its goals,” he said. “For Alexion, that means embracing patient centricity and finding ways for our group always to put our patients at the center of our thinking. Asking ourselves how our decisions will help patients is essential and we’re now consistently finding new and innovative ways to achieve this.”

Becher believes the ability of pharma compliance programs to evolve and mature by adapting to different ways of working is critical.“Innovation needs to be in everything we do,” she said. “From how we train and develop our people to how we lead and manage investigations. It’s no longer good enough to be good enough. We need to excel at everything we do, and we need to partner with the business in the achievement of our shared goals.”

The show must go on

Life sciences leaders today have a unique opportunity to expedite growth through building a culture that embraces enterprise leadership across the board. It’s a chance to unleash their team’s innovation and free them to outthink today’s new business obstacles. Nowhere will this be more evident than in compliance.

For most, compliance is a neglected force and seldom the source of innovation. But what if we took compliance out of the box? 

A compliance function, or any function, unleashed to share its creative and sharp thinking across an organization and apply it in new arenas is an appealing change to the mainstream models of the past. Many compliance professionals boast impressive legal backgrounds and experience across multiple business environments. Restricting this skill set could be a company’s loss. Compliance professionals who embrace their role as an enterprise leader can make big changes. Meanwhile, enterprise leadership breaks down tribal function labels, eases friction, and creates opportunity for engagement by as much as 35% more than individual- or

Click to enlarge

function-focused leaders, according to the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) HR Leadership Council. 

By allowing compliance teams to develop an enterprise leadership mindset, we could flip the entire concept. With the right approach and backing, compliance can enable more than it prevents. Imagine a compliance team empowered to innovate rather than stifle, to drive growth and development, as well as to protect.

Today’s global business environment is moving at pace and our processes must adapt to shifting micro and macroeconomic conditions. It’s safe to say tomorrow’s leaders will operate within a more complex and interdependent environment. Indeed, hierarchy, job descriptions, and workstreams evolve all the time, becoming more fluid as circumstances change. The rule book is constantly being rewritten, but perhaps now more so than ever, in these pandemic-charged times, it takes a special kind of leader to compile a manual on the move.

Enterprise leaders know how to observe. They understand and manage their relationships across an organization. They ask, “how can I make things better for everyone?” This type of leader works to be ego-free, in an ego driven world, and their focus is maximizing the whole, not just improving things for those in their circle. This seems simple, but is costly, and it takes effort. The rewards speak for themselves (see Figure 1 above).

We know that leadership models must adapt to this uncertain world. The case study presented here is one of many displays of innovation and resilience occurring across the life sciences arena. Rather than viewing our present circumstances as an obstacle, it could be the perfect stage for a brilliant performance. Instead of expecting everyone to wait for their cue, let’s unleash our compliance teams to “play jazz.”


Ben Woollard and Nick Green, Directors, FiveAndCo  

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