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The Value of the Alliance Watchdog—Flagging and Wrestling with ‘Wicked Problems’

Posted By Geena B. Richards and Cynthia B. Hanson, Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Updated: Monday, September 17, 2018

“Wicked problems”—those stubborn, persnickety alliance challenges that defy easy answers—are sometimes difficult to pinpoint, discuss, and address in partnerships. Which is why Jeremy Ahouse, CSAP, vice president of alliances at Merus Pharmaceuticals, selected the topic to address head-on in his upcoming session “Grappling with Wicked Problems in Alliance Management” at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference. The September 24-26 conference will be held for a second year at the Hyatt Regency Boston—conveniently located in the back bay near several esteemed academic and research institutions.

Never one to avoid a grueling topic, Ahouse developed his session after interviewing several senior alliance members about the hardest parts of alliances. Some of the seemingly intractable challenges were downright wicked, he concluded. Hence, his session on helping alliance managers learn how to confront and wrestle with the tough stuff.

“Wicked problems” can be particularly corrosive to meeting dynamics and challenging to contract clauses and/or shifting priorities. Ahouse pulls heavily from renowned public leadership guru Ron Heifetz for ideas on how to deal with such issue. There are three types of problems, he says. “In Type 1 problems, you agree on the problem definition and potential solutions. Project managers can often successfully address these,” he states. “In Type 2, we agree on our understanding of the problem but are still working on the solutions. In Type 3, we don’t even agree on what the problem is.”

An alliance manager must determine which type of problem they are facing to address it. Sometimes this process requires deep thinking and analysis because the problems are difficult to recognize and complex, which makes them so “wicked.” But there can be great value in wrestling with complexity, he purports. They may be tough to identify, but resolving problems is vital to partnerships. “Alliance managers are uniquely positioned to see problems that come out of interactions between companies and functions,” Ahouse points out. “This puts us in a position to notice early and alert our teams.”

This watchdog role is important to keep the collaboration running smoothly and most efficiently. There is no magic potion to addressing these issues, he quickly points out. “I don’t have simple answers to these problems.”

But discussing them makes them less “wicked,” he adds. And there are good, better, and best ways to communicate when a “wicked problem” surfaces.

Ahouse plans to focus on the challenges rather than success stories associated with these kinds of alliance problems. This way, the audience can have first-hand experience wrestling with real-life, hard problems that might get ignored in an alliance management situation.

The goal for the session is to create “an opportunity to start talking about [problems] and get ASAP members wrestling with them in a public forum,” he concludes. He plans “to stay away from simplistic answers” and encourage ASAP participants to think deeply about topics that need confrontation but many shy away from because of their complexity.

For more about Ahouse’s session, check out “'No Whitewash': Going Beyond 'Simplistic Answers' to the Toughest Alliance Management Challenges” in the July 2018 issue of eSAM Plus.

Tags:  alliance challenges  Alliance Management.#ASAP BioPharma  alliance manager  Jeremy Ahouse  Merus Pharmaceuticals  partnerships  Ron Heifetz 

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An Unambiguous Call to Action: Preview the Q1 2017 Strategic Alliance Magazine

Posted By John W. DeWitt, Saturday, February 11, 2017

From the cover to The Close, the Q1 2017 issue of Strategic Alliance Magazine tackles the critical topics that matter in today’s increasingly complex collaborations—and serves as a call to action for partnering executives to step out of their comfort zone, sound the call for professional alliance management, and continuously build their organizations’ capability to collaborate everywhere. For example, in our regular column “The Close,” I share a recent conversation with top Cisco executive and collaboration leader Ron Ricci. While “comfort with ambiguity” is an oft-cited trait of alliance executives, I argue (with support from Ron) that there’s nothing ambiguous about your CEO recognizing that digitization demands collaboration if your company is to succeed. Get a jump start reading this issue—full text of “The Close” follows below.

“THE CLOSE: An Unambiguous Call to Action,” from Q1 2017 Strategic Alliance Magazine

In Genevieve Fraser’s Q1 2017 Member Spotlight on Celgene, she and Jeremy Ahouse, CSAP, PhD, discuss how his alliance team includes “the kinds of people who can live with ambiguity and difference even as they get things done.” I’ve often heard comfort with ambiguity cited as an important trait of partnering executives. I got to thinking: Do I know any “ambiguous” alliance executives?

Most partnering professionals I know strike me as grounded, clear-as-a-bell communicators who don’t hesitate to share their point of view and who often can be very directive. I surmise that it’s precisely a lack of personal ambiguity that helps alliance execs lead amidst ambiguity. In a nutshell, it takes confidence to collaborate.

You feel that confidence within Ron Ricci, co-author of The Collaboration Imperative and a longtime Cisco senior executive focused on collaboration as an organizational capability, who joined a 90-minute conference call with ASAP’s advisory board in January. Ricci and Norma Watenpaugh, CSAP, principal of Phoenix Consulting Group, discussed the just-published ISO 44001, the International Standards Organization’s standard for “collaborative business relationship management systems.” (See in-depth coverage forthcoming in eSAM Plus, ASAP blogs, and future Strategic Alliance Magazine articles.) Ricci believes the ISO standard—which aligns to ASAP’s alliance management frameworks—will help propagate a common language for business collaboration, inside and among organizations. Ricci and the many leaders he interacts with see partnering and collaborative ability as central to grappling with the pace of a rapidly digitizing world.

“I spend all day long talking to senior executives of diverse governments and companies around the world about their collaboration opportunities,” says Ricci, vice president of customer experience services at Cisco, whom I spoke to recently. “Speed is the most important thing they need to move their businesses [according to] every leader I’ve met with over the last five years on this topic of collaboration. And companies see collaboration as the means to get speed.”

Talking to Ricci is an unambiguous look into how the C-suite views partnering and collaboration today—and the opportunity this represents for alliance management.

“Digitization and the ability to connect anything has taken the notion of speed and actually made it a potential carnivore of companies,” Ricci explains. “Take the technology trend of standardization and connect to the broader business trend of digitization—now we have a market moving almost at the pace of Moore’s Law. In 18 to 24 months the way you make money serving your customers can evolve. … So the way organizations collaborate and work together might need to be the most important capability they need to survive in the 21st century.”

This is an unmistakable call to action for all alliance professionals. It’s time to evangelize the value of this profession like never before. Recent ASAP, Vantage Partners, and other studies present unambiguous data on how professional alliance management drives success and financial performance of partnerships. As exemplified by our cover story, “The Partner-Everywhere Imperative: A Practitioner’s Guide,” and numerous sessions at ASAP conferences, the ASAP community is on the forefront of extending and adapting alliance management frameworks, practices, and tools to the new, increasingly complex collaborations that now proliferate across industries and sectors.

“How do you survive in a world where risk is growing faster than growth?” a Fortune 500 CEO recently asked Ricci. “You have to operate at an uncommon level of speed, adaptability, and flexibility,” Ricci responds. “And if there’s a better way to do that than collaboration, please tell me.”

And if there’s a better resource for collaboration success than your alliance team, the ASAP community, and the alliance management profession, please tell me.

Tags:  alliance executives  alliances  ASAP Conferences  Celgene  collaboration  C-suite  Fortune500  Jeremy Ahouse  Partner-Everywhere  Ron Ricci  Strategic Alliance Magazine  The Collaboration Imperative  Vantage Partners 

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Q3 2014 Strategic Alliance Magazine Preview: Unlocking the Benefits of Altruistic Alliances

Posted By Rebekah L. Fraser, Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Q3 2014 issue of Strategic Alliance Magazine, coming this month to ASAP members and subscribers, takes an in-depth look at alliances, consortia, and other collaborative relationships among for-profit, nonprofit, and public sector entities. Our cover story on altruistic alliances takes an in-depth look at how biopharma companies (and alliance executives) derive numerous benefits from partnerships with nonprofits. We interview ASAP members and alliance executives such as Jeremy Ahouse, alliance management director for Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research’s strategic alliances department, who says, “Close collaborations allow us to cultivate alternative viewpoints, which, in turn, keeps us open to possibilities.”

 

In this and other articles from the Q3 2014 SAM, we explore how consortia and other collaborations are popping up everywhere to solve the problems emerging as a result of climate change and other major disruptions, including exponential population growth, increasing global demand for energy, political and social unrest, epidemics, famine, and natural disasters.

 

Indeed, local-level collaborations have the potential to make as deep and broad an impact as global consortia. Green Launching Pad seeks to harvest New Hampshire, USA’s entrepreneurial talent to bring eco-friendly technologies, products and services to market. Innovations like SustainX’s compressed-air energy storage technology may be the answer to the global conundrum of storing solar and wind energy. Even if Holase’s low-cost, user friendly, self-contained solar powered LED traffic lights, and LDI’s environmentally friendly medical supplies for hospitals are sold only in New Hampshire, the technologies and products can be replicated by companies across the world. What kind of local alliance could your organization form that may have global applications and benefits?

 

Organizations using high-tech manufacturing tools are collaborating with governments and nonprofits to bring peace to the planet, indirectly. Mineral mining operations throughout Africa have sparked violent conflicts. The Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade is a multi-sector, multi-party alliance designed to “support supply chain solutions to conflict minerals challenges in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes Region (GLR) of Central Africa.” Participants include corporate giants from the software, pharmaceutical, auto, aerospace, telecom, jewelry, and electronics industries.

 

How will you and your organization harness the power of partnership not only for profit, but also for a better planet? We hope you find this latest issue of Strategic Alliance Magazine informative, though-provoking, even inspiring.

Tags:  Jeremy Ahouse  Novartis  Strategic Alliance Magazine 

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