A Master Class in Building Bridges

Posted By: Jon Lavietes BioPharma Conference, Member Resources,

In between the insightful keynote sessions, engaging panel discussions, and invaluable networking sessions, learning was afoot at the 2022 ASAP BioPharma Conference. Always a  staple of ASAP conferences, master classes taught by the profession’s leading consultants were again another highlight of this year’s annual gathering of biopharma industry alliance professionals.

On the event’s second day, the leaders of longtime ASAP members and sponsors The Rhythm of Business walked attendees through one of the knottiest challenges alliance managers face throughout the often lengthy course of a partnership’s life cycle: finding common ground when partners disagree on critical decisions in the relationship.

“It is perhaps the hardest part of the job, but it is the part of the job that delivers the greatest value,” said Jan Twombly, CSAP, president of The Rhythm of Business, as she kicked off the session, “Using the Power of Positive Influence to Bridge Differences and Drive Alliance Value.” 

The North Star Lights a Path to Common Ground

Partners can come to loggerheads on a variety of issues, including but not limited to budget, culture, timelines, strategy, priorities, risk tolerance, governance structures, philosophies, ways of thinking, and clinical trial execution. However, alliance managers have the power to influence decision makers and bridge those differences. What is the source of that power? According to Jeff Shuman, CSAP, PhD, principal of The Rhythm of Business, the alliance manager brings a well-rounded knowledge base that includes an understanding of the contract and the partner’s values, objectives, resources, and priorities that help in this fight. But the alliance professional’s big-picture perspective also helps keep everyone aligned with the partnership’s true mission.  

“You’re the keeper of that North Star,” he said. “It’s going to help you bridge the philosophical differences, it’s going to provide you focus, it’s going to help you move forward.”

You Can Taste It: Give-and-Get Is the “Secret Sauce” of Influence

How do you use that arsenal in battle, so to speak? Alliance managers need relationships to access knowledge, expertise, and resources, and they must get partners and internal stakeholders to act without the authority to command them to do so. Thus, they have to engage in a type of bartering to achieve goals and resolve conflicts.

“Collaboration works on influence, and in order to get mutual benefit, there’s a type of exchange that’s implied, and we call it the ‘give-and-get of reciprocity,’ said Twombly. “Not in a transactional way, but in a long-term exchange of value that creates mutual benefit. The give-and-get is really the secret sauce of influence.”  

Four Currencies and Six Steps to Give and Get

Alliance managers trade in four types of “relationship currencies,” Twombly added. These include 1) expertisein the form of structured knowledge transfers, engagement with investors, or assigning senior personnel to alliance teams, for example; 2) resources, including money, personnel, and physical assets, but also knowledge from previous successes, an optimal distribution of work, and a shared presence at important congresses; 3) commitment—appropriate personnel on governance committees, inclusion of the alliance in personnel objectives, and periodic meetings of top executives from all parties in the collaboration; and 4) alignment through the establishment of the North Star, a shared collaborative platform, face-to-face meetings, and the discussion of underlying assumptions.

How do you put it all together “systematically and proactively,” in Twombly’s words, to overcome obstacles and make tough decisions? The presenters walked participants through a six-step process. 

  1. What are you trying to achieve?

Whether you are trying to align philosophies, ratify an account plan, or bridge disparate sales forecast figures, among many other hurdles, it’s critical to “get beyond a position,” said Twombly, and “focus on those underlying interests and motivations. That frees up creativity to come up with many different solutions.”

  1. What do you need?

You alliance may need more dedicated personnel, higher prioritization by senior management, or some other tangible or intangible resource. Alliance managers must think creatively about  “what is going to help you achieve your objective,” said Twombly.

  1. Who are the relevant stakeholders?

“Who has the relationships with whom? Do you indeed have to perhaps go second order in order to get to the key stakeholders you need?” asked Twombly.

  1. How strong are your relationships?

Twombly urged listeners to do some stakeholder mapping and assess key potential champions’ and resource holders’ “interest and engagement on your particular project. Manage your relationship with the key stakeholders proactively so that when you need something from them, you’re able to make that ask.”

  1. What are their motivating interests?

“What is it that they care about? How can you help them be successful?” said Twombly. “Always arrive bearing gifts.”

  1. Practice the give-and-get of reciprocity.

Once you know what you need, who to get it from, and how to get it from them, it’s time to make the rubber meet the road, and as the old Nike slogan said, just do it. 

“You may go through this process multiple times to get what you want. You may go through parts of it again and again to get the right stakeholders or really understand what are [their] true interests,” said Twombly.

Shuman and Twombly further helped the audience make the rubber meet the road by applying these concepts to a fictional case study involving a co-commercial alliance with four phase 3 trials under way, in which the partners’ respective medical affairs teams’ operations norms were in conflict with each other. Breakout groups huddled together on three occasions to assess and share what they thought the underlying interests of each party were, what alliance managers needed to bridge the differences between the respective medical affairs stakeholders, and how they should bring the parties together, structure the conversation, and present relevant data to get to a resolution.

Keep coming back to this blog periodically over the next few weeks for more highlights from the 2022 ASAP BioPharma Conference!