Foster Insight, not Oversight

Last spring I visited a small, young, and very successful pharmaceutical company in South San Francisco. Two things impressed me most, having spent nearly three successful decades in Big Pharma. One was the repeated references to the business value of candor. The other was this string of encouraging phrases which guide the ways of working. It went something like this:

Think it through. Find a way. Get it done. Win Together.

I was left wondering if these simple messages were, in large part, behind the pulse and success of this organization. Most science and technology companies have a lot of smart and talented people, but the process framework that an organization establishes can undoubtedly maximize “brain power” into “doing power.” Plan, execute, achieve.

Why is this lost in many organizations? Are endless steering and oversight committees draining thinking time into PowerPoint time? Are the steps of “thinking it through” and “finding the way” still accountable, despite some committee blessing? Has Big Pharma modified the structures of our workforce to foster more oversight than insight – minding what you cannot do over what you simply should do?

I have written before that we should take an inventory of our steering and oversight committees and then take their square root. Of course, Pharma is arguably the most regulated industry and, as such, needs to insure compliance. In Canada, for example, the term used to grant the right to commercialize is, in fact, “notice of compliance.” One should not confuse achieving crisp processes at the expense of allowing think tank time and good business conduct. Doing these things right is the price of admission.

Recalling my mid-career brain tease MBA, most textbooks and curriculum speak of process in the context of the marketing Ps – rightfully focusing on ensuring that processes are considerate of the end customer. Yes, there are competitive advantages in crisp logistics and insightful customer service groups. In acute healthcare, for example, it’s same-day appointments, minimal wait time, in-stock prescriptions, and maybe even a follow-up call that you really did understand not to take that pill with papaya.

It is in these daily obligations that, in my opinion, we see less attention to process. They suck time away from “thinking it through,” and instead, fills one’s day with preparing for “what will they think?”

How can one foster think time in their business process? Here are three suggestions:

1/ Encourage an open and informal environment. An open-ended, informal think tank where only one or two issues are discussed. No slides allowed.
2/ Limit the number of slides in a steering session to three. The issue, the options, and the recommendation. Make senior management endorse, not decide. Your people should be smarter than you.
3/ Finally, stop scheduling 60 minute meetings for 20 minute topics. Then, use the extra weeks you gain to celebrate your success. ////

Featured in the MISC 2015 : The Creative Process Issue.

Dr. Ted Witek is the former President and CEO of Boehringer Ingelheim Canada. He is based in Toronto, Canada and Lisbon, Portugal.

the author

Dr. Ted Witek

Dr. Ted Witek is a professor and senior fellow at the Institute of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation (IHPME) at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and Chief Scientific Officer at Innoviva in San Francisco. He is an advisor to the Design for Health program at OCAD University.