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Like Ducks on a Pond

December 15, 2023

One of the great things about managing alliances is that no two days are ever the same. You never know what challenge will unexpectedly land in your inbox or the new opportunity you’ll discover. Add to the variety of situations alliance professionals must manage the backdrop of a rapidly evolving biopharma ecosystem and it becomes imperative to be masters at managing change.

That was very apparent at a roundtable discussion Jan moderated at the 2023 ASAP Biopharma Conference last month. We were once again proud to sponsor, present, and facilitate leadership discussions at the premier event for biopharma alliance professionals. Just how much change the roundtable participants were navigating amidst the ever-present challenge of keeping complex alliances moving forward smoothly really stood out.

Some of the changes people are dealing with include:

  • Massive reorganizations – completely new structures that meant all of their senior J-committee members were changing – and this coming only months after the partner had a similarly disruptive reorganization
  • New CEO undertaking a portfolio review and creating uncertainty about the future of key alliances
  • Executives changing places and with it having to learn different leadership styles and priorities
  • A major downgrade in the revenue potential of a partnership
  • Changes in business models that were making a company rethink its existing alliances and its partners also rethink if these alliances were still priorities for them, given their partner’s change

Maybe it was the topic that attracted people dealing with massive change to come and share, but the degree of background noise impacting the participants’ alliances was truly amazing!

The Alliance Professional’s Approach to Managing Change

Once the roundtable participants shared the changes they are faced with, we started discussing management strategies. Like all professional alliance managers, the challenges are taken in stride as just part of the job. Most of the participants are seasoned veterans so they have dealt with corporate upheaval many times. Herewith is some of their advice for managing disruptive change:

  • Number one: Keep a partnership mindset. Help your team practice the one-team mindset we know is a success factor for complex alliances
  • Keeping a partnership mindset means ensuring that you and your counterpart are working this challenge as a team. Be a visible example of a one-team mindset
  • Enroll governance committee leadership in your mission. They have a significant role to play in guiding the team to understand what has changed and the implications for the daily operations of the alliance
  • If the change is really significant, treat it as if it is an alliance startup, ensuring all teams have aligned on how they will work going forward. A lack of common language with shared meaning – meaning everyone has the same mental picture – is what causes misalignment. No more needs to be said about this!

There is no question that change is constant. What our roundtable participants highlighted was that alliance professionals must be adept at managing the change occurring within the partner organizations at the same time they are keeping their alliances smoothly moving forward.

There is metaphor that comes to mind: When one sees ducks on a pond, they are smoothly moving forward with barely a ripple, while rapidly paddling below the surface. That graceful appearance while furiously working behind the scenes is how the best alliance professionals manage change.

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