On July 29, Jan facilitated a conversation with Katherine Kendrick, CSAP, head of alliance management at Jazz Pharmaceuticals and Nancy Griffin, vice president of alliance management at Dicerna Pharmaceuticals about defining and communicating the value professional alliance management delivers to its key internal stakeholders and partners. Part of ASAP’s webinar series, everyone defined the preparation and delivery of the session as “certainly not work.” Highlights of our spirited and spontaneous conversation follows.
Our discussion built upon the cover story article in the Q1 2021 Strategic Alliance Quarterly, to which each of us contributed, widening the aperture to explore how to expand beyond the daily management of contracts, governance, and solving problems to discuss the higher level, more strategic services and activities stakeholders value the most.
Building Trust with Stakeholders
We stipulated upfront that dashboards and scorecards that report individual alliance metrics don’t communicate the value of alliance management. These dashboards have their place, but they don’t reflect what forward-thinking alliance professionals do. Our team concurred that while alliance dashboards are important baseline tools, they do not generate trust, clout, and respect for the alliance management organization–that’s up to us.
What builds trust is what is useful to senior executives—and that they aren’t going to get from anyone else. High on the list to is to provide a portfolio perspective. Show them the big picture. As Katherine explained, examine whether or not alliances are generating the value intended at the time of the deal. If not, why not? Include your internal programs, too. That way you are presenting a complete picture that will allow better resource allocation decisions and to take other actions, perhaps remedial, but also to recognize opportunities to create additional value.
You may get some resistance from the business development or product portfolio team who think you are second guessing them, so turn it around. Position the exercise as something that will help them make better upfront assumptions. It could also be a demonstration their assumptions were right on, which will build trust in their abilities. Alliance professionals have multiple customers, including internal stakeholders, so show them what is in it for them to work with you.
Focusing on Strategic Intent
Nancy has been at Dicerna for about a year and is evolving its alliance management function. She echoed this portfolio analysis. One of the practices she is introducing is a strategic review of individual alliances and how they fit into the portfolio. Is the company getting what was expected? If there is strategic drift, why?
Reflecting on the purpose of an alliance and the intended benefits more broadly than just the expected financial return is critical. There may be resources, insights, access to data or technology that was considered to be an important value of the alliance—and may have been the factor that tipped the partnering decision—that gets lost in the daily shuffle to meet milestones. For example, in a project The Rhythm of Business is working on, the deciding factor was data sets and experience in working with a specific patient population that would have value beyond the alliance in question. That could easily get overlooked.
Communicating Your Message
We also talked about how to communicate what alliance management does. It is important to realize that given how long alliances have been a core part of the biopharma business model, executives have had a variety of experiences with alliance management and have various perceptions about what it does and doesn’t do. It is your job to explain what alliance management is in your shop. Don’t let executives assume and apply their past experiences to you and your team! Meet with new executives. Understand their past experiences and prejudices.
Explain how you help them be successful in the alliances they are working on. Remember that value is in the eye of the beholder and it is personal and relevant to what is important to them. It is also temporal—the critical piece of information that shifts a decision loses value if it isn’t communicated until after the decision is made. Most importantly, speak plainly and use analogies. Nancy said she was once introduced as “the explosion prevention department.” Of course, that didn’t describe everything her team did, but it was what resonated for this executive. Katherine shared how she sees alliance professionals akin to the “broth in a stew” that ties the meat and vegetables together. Stories and analogies help make the intangible value of alliance management real for people.
Finally, we all emphasized how important it is to be proactive. That’s really hard to do when people are stretched to the max with so many alliances that they can do nothing but manage contracts, governance, and react to issues. Hopefully we’ve communicated that recognizing the value of alliance management is more about connecting with individual stakeholders and helping them be successful than it is about KPIs for alliance managers or alliance metrics. Internal metrics don’t help your customer be successful!
We don’t want to overstate or misrepresent a moment in time as a trend, but both Nancy and Katherine are growing their teams to help them be more proactive and deliver higher value services. Additionally, we are aware of multiple job openings in our client base. There are also new jobs within the alliance management function focused on managing operations to free up more senior alliance professionals—and create an onboarding for future alliance managers. Focus on what matters to stakeholders, help them understand how you help them, and the trust, clout, and respect will grow. As it does, you’ll have more opportunities to be proactive and point out, as Nancy asserted, how an inevitable decision that used to be reactive, limiting options, is now being made proactively, in a planful way.
That’s where the true value of biopharma alliance management is.