Collaboration – By Wendy Heckelman, Ph.D., and Sheryl Unger, MILR
There are tangible actions to ensure core values are supported
Most life sciences companies include customer centricity in their company values. Rightfully so, as this external focus drives processes and resources needed to bring innovation to the marketplace and support achievement of desired patient outcomes.
Another typical corporate value is “collaboration,” which is more internally focused. A study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Rob Cross, Edward A. Madden professor of global business at Babson College, found that companies that promoted collaborative working were five times as likely to be high-performing.
While these values are aspirational in nature, there are tangible actions leadership and customer-facing roles can take to ensure customer centricity and collaboration are central to everyday work practices and relationships. For life sciences companies, the intersection of these two values results in the right medicines and solutions getting to the right patients at the right time and with the best possible outcomes.
This article focuses on the cross-functional collaboration needed to drive success, especially with customer-facing roles focused on larger organized customers.
Let’s Start With Definitions
Customer centricity means companies put their customers at the center of all decisions related to delivering products, services and experiences to maximize customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.
Collaboration in business is leveraging internal and external connections and relationships to generate ideas, find solutions and achieve common business goals.
Why Focus on Collaboration?
There is no surprise, given that collaboration has a significant payoff, that companies that promote and reinforce a collaborative culture:
- Are five times more likely to be high-performing.
- Sustain higher levels of engagement.
- Report lower levels of work fatigue.
From the organized customer perspective, when account teams comprised of cross-functional roles work collaboratively, there is less role confusion among customer stakeholders and within the internal account team. Nothing annoys account stakeholders and diminishes productivity more than having multiple people from the same company calling the same customer without coordinating activities, messages and responses.
When customers want answers or clarity, they look to the customer-facing role for coordination and efficiency. This includes bringing the right resources and expertise to address their challenges and provide support.
Lastly, when pharmaceutical companies undertake customer satisfaction market research, it is not uncommon to find that many customer-facing roles are described as tactical. Through collaboration, roles share information and jointly uncover needs increasing the opportunity to build a value-added, trusted partnership.
In an aligned account team, a customer-centric approach requires efficient and effective collaboration to solve critical health systems challenges, contribute to managing healthcare costs, enhance the patient experience, improve quality measures and achieve better healthcare outcomes.
Collaboration Takes Intentionality
Collaboration is not easy, but organizations sometimes unintentionally make it more challenging than necessary. Executives and senior leaders need to be intentional about what it means to collaborate and eliminate systemic factors that inhibit how information flows through the organization, and which may unnecessarily complicate decision-making. Leaders also need to be explicit about how people are measured and rewarded for collaborative behaviors.
When commercial organizations design incentive systems that only reward individual behavior as opposed to recognizing account team accomplishments, they may be creating barriers that reduce proactive collaboration among cross-functional colleagues. To avoid this, best practice organizations establish and reinforce team-based performance goals that emphasize the importance of collaboration and teamwork.
Unique to life sciences are the considerations that need to be given to compliance guardrails and firewalls. When organizations proactively provide guidance on how account teams should work together compliantly to advance organized customer goals (particularly between sales and medical functions where compliance sensitivity may be heightened), there is better alignment and more cooperation.
Additionally, specialized roles, i.e., medical science liaisons, clinical educators, health economics and outcomes research and reimbursement specialists, are often strained by broad geographies and account loads and are being pulled by competing priorities. Providing direction and guidance on when to bring in these specialized resources may help with more efficient and effective triaging and prioritization.
Information flow, both formally and informally, also needs to be addressed. Most customer facing employees work remotely and live within their assigned geography. The enabling platforms for capturing customer information, updating account plans and reviewing account analytics need to support the free flow of information regardless of proximity. Physically getting together is rare, so it is important that tools are structured to allow teams to work together seamlessly.
Tips for Leaders to Foster Collaboration
Fostering collaboration requires first- and second-line managers to coach and support their direct reports. Let’s face it, people are people, which means communication will break down, personality styles get in the way and individual agendas may impede collaboration.
Managers need to coach and lead by providing direct feedback to employees when they see or learn about behaviors that are not productive or appropriate. Also, helping employees understand what prevents or inhibits proactive collaboration may create an opening for individuals to take more initiative.
Positive reinforcement may include regularly celebrating collaboration successes. For example, during team meetings, recognize individuals who work well with cross-functional colleagues to solve problems and achieve customer goals.
Being Accountable for Proactive Collaboration
When managers continuously coach direct reports to drive a culture of collaboration, it comes down to individuals and their ability to effectively communicate and gain alignment with others. Employees who default to asking and acting upon “who else needs to know?” and “would this information be helpful for someone else?” are positively demonstrating collaboration.
When employees look to strengthen existing relationships, respect diversity of thought and come together to focus on achieving shared objectives, then collaboration has become the expected way of working. Even when there are breakdowns, efforts to take the high road center on surfacing real concerns, creating shared understanding and creating solutions.
Keeping customer needs and objectives as the focal point when working together to solve problems, strengthen relationships and co-create solutions leads to a stronger culture of collaboration and sharper customer centricity.
Wendy Heckelman, Ph.D., is president and founder of WLH Consulting. Sheryl Unger provides project management support for WLH Consulting. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.