Summary from exclusive ASAP Global Alliance Summit executive virtual roundtable. Download the discussion slides
“We are all operating in a new norm and we need to evolve with it.” So stated one of the alliance executives The Rhythm of Business invited to a virtual roundtable discussion during the 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit on reimagining alliance management for the next normal. We approached the topic from two angles:
- The impact of COVID-19 on a people-intensive business that depends on good relationships
- The increased demand for alliance management services as companies’ alliance portfolios continued to grow in size, complexity, and new types of digital and service alliances, even before the pandemic
According to the 13 executives assembled from both the US and Europe, some things have changed and some have not. Stronger collaboration and partnering that is product agnostic has occurred in some instances. The number of new collaborations to find treatments, vaccines, and develop diagnostics has exploded, so the demand for alliance management continues to grow. On the other hand, you still have to develop trust and confidence in your partner, which is a lot harder to do over video. People are adapting—one alliance management leader reported conducting a 12-hour negotiation over video!
It can be easier to track people down now because they aren’t travelling. Despite this, the need to proactively seek people out, being very deliberate and intentional in communication is essential. If good alliance managers erred on the side of overcommunicating in a pre-COVID world, that has only become even more the mode of operation. What can be challenging is that the side conversations that used to happen in the hallways either aren’t happening—and so informal knowledge isn’t spreading as easily—or people must be proactive in scheduling them.
Alliance leaders reported that team members are reaching out to them more, while at the same time they also have to be more direct in ensuring they are invited into the right meetings. As one participant shared, “You can’t parachute in and out. You have to be in the conversation.” It is a challenge to have the right conversations—especially when alliance managers are, “used to being in the room with program managers setting the tone and tenor for what is in-bounds and what is out-of-bounds.”
Some of the participants reported establishing new practices or building new tools that are helping now—and that will continue to do so in the next normal. One of the leaders had an opportunity to do a deep dive on alliance management with his CEO, demonstrating needs and getting to decisions to reshape the organization model going forward, and adding to the team. After recognizing the valuable insights alliance managers could provide him, the CEO has requested a weekly personal note letting him know what happened with the company’s partnerships during the week. That’s a perfect instance of reimagining a traditional dashboard communication to senior executives. Another participant reported providing regular updates to senior executives with the impact of COVID on an alliance as well as the next key decision or milestone. Ongoing communication provides regular opportunities to provide value.
Participants also reported an increasing reliance on program managers, project leaders, and others with hybrid roles to manage the growing number of partners. That can be a challenge because these colleagues require training and tools—and still may not have the skills to wear two hats. Invariably the alliance management work plays second fiddle. Clearly it is not sustainable to continue to add to a centralized function. Training and upskilling are seen as one answer, although it can be challenge to get resources for it. One alliance leader reported that they’ve used this time to update and revise their handbook for the project managers who have some alliance management responsibility. It also becomes critical to focus on what matters most, to define standard packages of valuable services that are offered to complex, typical, and simple alliances to increase agility and help provide repeatability, predictability, and scalability.
As we settle into this next normal, we are certain alliance managers will continue to adapt and innovate, both to address the challenges of our new business environment and to provide the services stakeholders find the most valuable as the demand for alliance management grows. This is but the first step in the journey. We will pick up the discussion during the ASAP Biopharma Conference in September. A big thank you to all who participated in our virtual executive roundtable!