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“Conductor of the Orchestra”: How Alliance Managers Harmonize Organizational Complexity

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Thursday, November 14, 2019

In “matrix organizations”—those working on multiple, complex, often large-scale projects with at least two chains of command—building and maintaining the alliance function “all comes down to leadership.” That was one of the key observations made by Lucinda Warren, who delivered the opening day keynote address at the ASAP European Alliance Summit on Nov. 14 in Amsterdam.

            Warren, vice president of business development, neuroscience, Janssen Business Development at Johnson & Johnson Innovation and also an alliance management veteran, called her talk “Leadership and Skills in Managing an Alliance in a Matrix Organization.” In an enterprise running multiple projects across multiple functions—and with multiple partners—who will tie it all together? Who will serve as the voice of the alliance and be the advocate for the partner, as needed?

            The alliance manager, of course.

            Some of the challenges, issues, and important insights that come with matrix organizations and their increased partnering complexity, Warren said, include:

  • “Alliances are not projects,” and thus alliance managers are not project managers, although the roles are often confused.
  •  Alliance managers create value; project managers deliver value.
  • Alliance management is critical throughout the product or asset life cycle; project management is critical at certain specific points.
  • When resources are stretched, alliance functions don’t always solve for it.
  • Alliance management is one function, but real collaboration requires the coordination and participation of multiple experts from various functions.
  • Who are the decision makers going to be? This question must be looked at from both internal and external perspectives.
  • Alliance management proactively identifies potential risks and seeks to mitigate them.

Warren further noted that having an alliance creates a sort of alliance “tax” on organizations—since all decisions and most information must be shared with the partner, it can double or even triple the time it takes to perform many actions, which can increase costs. Alliance managers need to help navigate these activities and act as the “conductor of the orchestra”: being familiar with all the instruments that are playing and making sure that each one—and all of them together—is “tuned perfectly for the ear.” They don’t know how to do each job, but (to switch to an electrical metaphor) they know which circuits need to be reset.

            They need to navigate not only their own organization but also the partner’s—otherwise they (and others) will be operating in a “black box” in which the partner’s challenges and motivations may remain unknown and/or misunderstood. Communication is thus imperative—about timelines, how decisions are made, how governance is to be conducted, etc.

            Which brings us to the critical role of leadership. As Warren said, “The value of the alliance function needs to be woven into the fabric of the organization.” Thus alliances and alliance management must be integrated into business strategy and operations—with full senior leadership backing and engagement. With increasing reliance by matrix organizations on partnering, everything that is done influences future collaborations and thus should be tilted toward attracting more partners going forward. Benchmarks must be established, with the goal of being a more successful partner.

            Warren said that alliance management is “more important than ever before,” and that the alliance manager is often “the CEO’s right-hand man,” the one who knows everything that’s happening, internally across functions and at the partner organization. Since these functions—and partners—typically speak different languages, the alliance manager’s job is to bridge divides for a common goal, bring everyone together in an unbiased and objective way, and not take sides.

            Or not take sides, except as the advocate for and representative of the alliance itself. “If we’re successful, people forget there’s a collaboration,” Warren concluded. “No fires are burning, nobody’s getting sued. It’s a thankless job, but [when done well] people seek you out as an expert who can triage. You’re the driver of organizational capability enhancement.”

Tags:  Alliance manager  alliances  CEO  Cindy Warren  collaboration  creating value  leadership  life cycle  matrix organization  mitigate risk 

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Mayoly Spindler’s Stéphane Thiroloix: More on What CEOs Expect from Alliance Management

Posted By John W. DeWitt, Friday, September 9, 2016

Yesterday, Mayoly Spindler’s CEO Stéphane Thiroloix kicked off the opening plenary of the 2016 ASAP BioPharma Conference. His hour-long presentation and Q&A discussion riveted attendees and teed up key themes for the remainder of the three-day event at the Revere Hotel Boston Common, which was attended by more than 150 life sciences and healthcare partnering executives from around the world. A perennial topic of discussion among alliance execs, regardless of industry, has been how to make what alliance executives do top-of-mind in the C-suite—and how to educate and influence senior executives on how better to leverage alliance management to support the company’s strategic goals. Thiroloix’s talk resonated—because he truly “gets” alliance management and how it fits into an organization. 

Thiroloix has pushed to expand the role of alliance management in Mayoly Spindler, which focuses on gastroenterology and dermocosmetics—so he’s a fan of alliance management and argues that it now plays “a central role in what we do in the healthcare industry.” He’s also crystal clear on what he expects from alliance executives—and what he doesn’t want. I talked to several veteran chief alliance officers who described it as perhaps the best presentation they’ve heard at an ASAP conference, and as I’m writing this blog during the closing session of the conference, attendees are still exclaiming the value of this session for them. 

Check out our earlier coverage of his plenary talk as well as my colleague Cynthia B. Hanson’s strikingly thoughtful Q&A blog post with Thiroloix in August. And here are more nuggets of insight Thiroloix offered during his session: 

  • Align with C-suite processes. “Use the C-suite’s governance [process]. If you can fit your into the normal C-suite governance agenda, it’s better. Be part of the monthly meeting, versus scheduling an alliance meeting the C-suite.”
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat. “Alliances are complex. The rest of my life is also, so don’t expect me to memorize, remind me again, even if it feels incredibly basic. I will stop you if I don’t need more information.”
  • Be specific and don’t assume knowledge. “Whenever you talk about a partner, be ultra-specific. When [my alliance manger] Fabienne Pioch-Laval talks to me about a partner, I don’t hear the first sentence. I’m thinking about, ‘this is the one with the product coming out 2021.’ You have the full picture, but I don’t. Don’t assume that [senior executives] know the specifics. Keep telling me what, why, what for, and how.” 
  • No surprises. “Your role is to anticipate, to manage changes that come from the outside, and from the partner, which is perceived to be outside the company. But make sure [communicating these changes] doesn’t happen in groups. Make sure executive team members know in advance that this is coming up—working the meeting before it happens. The best way to do that is to get their teams to understand, make their teams look good, make sure they convey to their bosses [the information they need]. Help them help you—the C-suite can create interpersonal goodwill.”
  • Give timely support that builds partner. “There are a couple of companies where I have to make myself visit, but if something goes wrong, I don’t know how much I would want to fix it” because of the poor nature of the relationship. “And there are companies that even if something goes wrong, I still want to work with them. Try to find opportunities for senior executives to be in a positive relationship with each other. Make sure your CEO or head of R&D makes that phone call of congratulations for your partner’s success. Write me that message that I can email onto the partner—so that when there’s a bit of turmoil they’ll do the same,” and have the same goodwill towards your company.
  • Don’t bring the CEO your gripes about BD. “One thing that I really don’t want to do is to sort out issues between business development and alliance management. One of the functions where you can step on toes is business development. But you guys can work it out. I don’t want to be involved—I’m just being honest with you.” 
  • Bring your partnering magic to C-suite executives’ teams. “At the end of the day, it’s a function, it’s a set of technical skills, a 360-degree understanding, but there’s an art, an element of humanity, interpersonal dynamics, an element of human magic. I want to see you spending a lot more time with the teams of the C-suite members, so they are informed by their teams. Collaborating in governance just works better naturally—so this is really the key message.”

Tags:  alliance manager  business development  CEO  chief alliance officers  C-suite  executives  Mayoly Spindler  partner  R&D  Stéphane Thiroloix 

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