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Building ‘Leadership Muscle’: Get Your Organization Ready for the ‘Partnering Marathon’

Posted By John M. DeWitt and John W. DeWitt, Thursday, March 7, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Welcome to the new partnering race—where everyone is running as fast as they can, frantically trying to catch up to the customer.

Nina Harding, channel chief at Google Cloud, asked an important question at the October 2018 ASAP Tech Partner Forum in San Jose, California: “So how do you work with your partners when the customers are ahead of the ecosystems?” This is indeed an important question, given that “every single thing we do is new,” according to Pear Therapeutics Founder and CEO Corey McCann. He added, in a keynote at the September 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference, that risks associated with new ventures “conspire to make partnerships not successful.” Stuart Kliman, CA-AM, partner at Vantage Partners, characterized the current playing field as “one of significant and ongoing change, which is driving new forms of collaboration, new kinds of alliances.”

Being successful on such a competitive playing field requires alliance practitioners to build their “leadership muscle,” the focus of the Q4 2018 Strategic Alliance Quarterly cover story, “Building ‘Leadership Muscle’: Are You and Your Alliance Management Organization Ready to Run the ‘Partnering Marathon’?” Building leadership muscle means giving your leaders the strength, flexibility, and endurance to withstand the breakneck pace of modern collaboration.

Why do you need this muscle? No matter your industry, regardless of the specific drivers, it’s almost certain that:

  1. Your company is “remixing” its build-buy-partner strategies;
  2. Partnering activity, especially nontraditional partnering, is exploding for your company;
  3. Your alliance organization faces an overwhelming workload;
  4. Your partnering strategy and execution require new thinking, skillsets, and tools.

If your company and its partners are evolving to catch the customer, then you should (or already will) be rethinking, reorganizing, and relearning:

  • Rethinking. Alliance leaders must continuously rethink partnering strategy and models in the context of disruption and new competitive threats, which are all-but-continuous now.
  • Reorganizing. If you aren’t thinking proactively about how you are organized and aligned to overall company strategy, you can be sure someone else is—and soon you will be thinking about it too, only reactively.
  • Relearning. Alliance executives require new skills and cross-industry knowledge for the new partners and ecosystems they interact with. Many alliance processes and practices require radical rethinking and streamlining if they are to remain useful for managing at the accelerating pace and exploding scope of partnering activities today.

“When all these things are changing around you, you can’t keep doing business as usual,” said Brandeis professor, consultant, and author Ben Gomes-Casseres, CSAP, PhD. “This means very often a change in company strategy [and] if the organization’s strategy is changing, then the alliance organization should change with that. That is fundamental.”

See the Q4 2018 issue of Strategic Alliance Quarterly to learn more about how alliance leaders are rethinking, reorganizing, and relearning while they build “leadership muscle.” John M. DeWitt is copy editor and contributing writer and John W. DeWitt is editor and publisher for ASAP Media and Strategic Alliance publications.

Tags:  alliance  Ben Gomes-Casseres  channel  collaborative  Corey McCann  cross-industry  Google Cloud  leadership  Nina Harding  partnerships  Pear Therapeutics  Stuart Kliman  Vantage Partners 

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‘It’s All about Med Adherence’: Atrius Health’s Dr. Steven Strongwater Discusses Accelerating Change in Healthcare—and Cracking the Code on Improved Care at Reduced Cost (Part 2)

Posted By John W. DeWitt, Wednesday, September 26, 2018

“A lot of non-value-adding costs need to be cut out of the chain,” asserted Steven Strongwater, MD, CEO of Atrius Health, in his thoughtful and data-packed presentation during the ASAP Leadership Forum meeting on opening day of the September 24-26, 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference in Boston. When it comes to prescription drugs, for example, “it’s all about med adherence. The problem is very practical. In New York, there are ten thousand homeless children. How compliant are they going to be with their asthma meds? Instead they go to the emergency rooms.”

The urgency of reducing soaring US healthcare costs while improving outcomes is a constant mantra for Strongwater and Atrius Health, which serves 720,000 patients in the state of Massachusetts with 1,300 clinicians and 825 physicians across 32 clinical sites in over 50 specialties. The non-profit accountable care organization (ACO) generates about $2.1 billion in revenue and is the top-ranked ACO for quality of care in both New England and nationally.

Regarding the challenge of prescription and therapeutic adherence, there are of course many factors and interdependencies involved, from drug costs and prescription protocols to care models and patient behavior, all of which means you need to ask, “What’s the full delivery chain?” His ask of the biopharma partnering execs in the room was specific: “How will you not only sell [pharmaceuticals that help patients], but also help us manage down the total cost of care?”

One biotech executive immediately responded that “drug companies care a lot about adherence—we talk about it every day.” Dr. Strongwater replied, “We don’t hear it—but if that’s the case, there are 560 ACOs who’d be interested in working on this with you.” (Strongwater describes ACOs as groups of providers that collectively accept responsibility for overall spending and quality outcomes for attributed beneficiaries. There are 561 ACOs nationwide as of May 2018.)

Stuart Kliman, CA-AM, partner at Vantage Parners, introduced Dr. Strongwater and moderated the leadership forum discussion. At this point, he interjected with an example of a company that is taking a holistic approach to adherence, commenting that “we should be thinking about adherence as a total solution—are we in the drug business or the solution business? And what is that [total solution] going to look like?” Which of course begs the money question: Which organizations in the life sciences and healthcare space are going to invest in holistic delivery solutions?

“We on the front lines do not have the R&D budget to study this,” Dr. Strongwater noted. “This is basic lab research funded through grants, mainly NIH [National Institutes of Health]. Operations research around adherence, compliance—there’s no funding stream to do this kind of delivery-at-the-front-end work. And we really do need help.”

Strongwater spent a slide discussing the frontlines challenge of compliance in diabetes—providing another thoughtful illustration of the entangled drivers of rising healthcare costs. He offered a case example of “a 48-year-old woman who weighs 200 pounds, has two children, and works as a medical secretary making $45,000 a year. She has diabetes and hypertension—but can’t afford her insulin on a regular basis.” Atrius has an analytics tool that can predict, with 80 percent accuracy, the likelihood of a high-risk patient requiring hospitalization—but a doctor probably wouldn’t need that tool in this all-too-common scenario for diabetes patients. “About half of diabetics skip care because of the cost of drugs and 45 percent cut back on treatment. Insulin costs spiked eight percent last year,” he added, noting that insulin price has nearly tripled since 2002 and that three manufacturers control the insulin market.

Strongwater then described one way Atrius is tackling the cost challenge for its diabetic patients—“an initiative within Atrius to switch to lower cost test strips.” With 80 percent utilization, this initiative will save Atrius itself nearly a million dollars a year. Patients still pay their usual copay, but get a free new meter and, if they pay out-of-pocket, they will be able to pay less for their strips.

Stay tuned for more about the ASAP Leadership Forum discussion—including Dr. Strongwater’s analysis and recommendations for collaboratively cutting healthcare costs—as well as the ASAP Media team’s onsite coverage of the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference. 

Tags:  accountable care organization  Atrius Health  Dr. Steven Strongwater  Healthcare  healthcare reform challenge  improving outcomes  Stuart Kliman  therapeutic adherence 

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Ready to Externalize? Start internally.

Posted By Stuart Kliman and Electra Hui, Vantage Partners (ASAP EPP), Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Updated: Monday, September 17, 2018

In the past, most companies assumed that the way to create value and, indeed, to win in the marketplace was to have the singular best internal capabilities—from research to innovation to development to manufacturing and beyond. Today, more and more companies know that the best way to bring greater value to customers is by finding, accessing, and taking advantage of innovation wherever it exists—which is, of course, frequently outside the company. They know, in other words, that the key to winning is to “externalize”.

But while the will to externalize is there, and many firms have taken various efforts to do it, most still haven’t truly captured the promise of externalizing. Why? Because while they espouse externalizing as a goal, they haven’t fully embedded the notion of externalization into their internal processes and behaviors. They’re stuck in an outsourcing mindset (at best), focused on ensuring that their internal efforts are as strong as possible and looking to partner only when they believe they have gaps or, perhaps, that there is some unique external capability that they need to leverage. External partners are viewed as a means of fulfilling a specific, targeted function or technology instead of fundamental elements of the company’s strategy.

To successfully capture the value promised by externalization, you need to change the way you think and the way you operate. That means shifting the foundations of the organization from an assumption that you need to win through your own expertise to an assumption that you will win through world-class partnering, broadly defined.

Organizational and Behavioral Drivers for Successful Externalization.
Once you’ve made the mindset shift to winning through partnering, the next step is to embed that mindset into every aspect of the organization—from culture to organizational structure to incentives to processes and tools to skills and behaviors. Otherwise, you’ll have only limited success. Below are just a few of the things organizations need to do to externalize successfully.

  1. Create and communicate a clear and coherent external relationship strategy, so potential partners bring their best opportunities to you. It’s important to proactively, externally communicate the extent and seriousness of your new model and the porousness of your boundaries.
  2. Build the operational interfaces for drawing on external resources. When partnership is baked into operations, companies can move rapidly into new initiatives and markets with a broader set of strategic objectives. This often requires adopting a project mindset, in which internal and external capabilities can be tapped quickly and seamlessly for any given effort, without regard to employment status. It also requires building budgets that account for variable external costs.
  3. Be open to creative, “win-win” partnering structures that get the company access to the best opportunities. Companies must be comfortable with creating fit-for-purpose relationship structures that allow for maximum and fair value creation based on the unique needs of each partner.
  4. Ensure partners feel respected and would want to work with you in the future. When companies move slowly on decisions, de-prioritize partner meetings, or undervalue partner contributions or expertise, those partners aren’t likely to bring their best. When partners feel respected, on the other hand, relationships flourish, and companies are viewed as partners of choice.
  5. Train people on how to manage and engage in external relationships successfully. To make partnerships work, people within your organization need to have solid collaboration, influence, and negotiation skills. Managers must be deft at creating and supporting just-in-time teams that can both leverage and deal with difference.
  6. Address issues with partners in a transparent and collaborative manner. Proactive identification, management, and accommodation of difference—between company and partner strategies, goals, culture, risk tolerance, etc.—has to be part of the organizational DNA.  Both parties need to be committed to experimenting together, working iteratively, and periodically reflecting on what is and isn’t working.

Successful externalization doesn’t happen on its own. Leaders need to explicitly define the change in their organization’s strategic assumptions, articulate the implications for the way people will work and how the organizational model will shift, and—most important—purposefully and methodically move the organization to the new, externalized model. Otherwise, externalization will remain nothing more than a nice idea at best, a failure at worst. 

Tags:  Electra Hui  Externalization  operational interfaces  Organizational and Behavioral Drivers  Partnering structure  partners  strategic  Stuart Kliman  Vantage Partners 

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Part IV: Stuart and Shawn Compare Notes on How to Build Bridges among Partners though Best Tools and Practices

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Updated: Saturday, October 22, 2016

This is our continued coverage of a lively discussion that took place at an ASAP session presenting two valuable alliance management studies on “Applying the Latest Alliance Management Research to Your Partnering Practice” at the 2016 ASAP BioPharma Conference “New Faces, Unexpected Places in Partnering: The Foresight to Lead, the Foundation to Succeed,” which took place at the Revere Hotel in Boston. The session unveiled the landmark ASAP-commissioned 6th State of Alliance study, “The Economics of Alliances, Social Capital, and Alliance Performance,” researched and authored by Dr. Shawn Wilson, DBA, vice president and general manager at Beaulieu Group (see Part I of this blog post). The session also included an insightful presentation by Stuart Kliman, CA-AM, co-founder of Vantage Partners, on his company’s 2015 study “Transcending Organizational Barriers—A Cross-Industry View of Alliance Management Trends and Challenges” (see Part II of this blog post). The presenters then engaged in a conversation about how the two studies dovetail in economic and financial metrics and the ways they can be used to improve company performance (see Part III of this blog post).  

Shawn: It goes back to the ability to build bridges. There are some families in a neighborhood that exert more effort to make community ties. The same thing is true with tools and practicessome are more helpful in building bridges between companies. We need to look at how we are assessing companies and whether we are missing a large mass of information underneath. The full picture needs to be looked at so the bridge you are building can match up to the distance. There was a small business worth billion of dollars, struggling to hit two-to-three percent growth. We looked at social capital, and a little sliver came out that seems trivial, but we employed it into a solution. That little sliver went live two months ago and resulted in 80 percent growth. Social capital might seem small, but it is clearly a force driving firms away or pulling them together.

Stuart:  You need to put in mechanisms to bridge the difference.

Shawn: Sometimes the gap is too big. You need to ask: “Do we actually have the capability?” Building a plane while in the air is not the best strategy.

Stuart: Sometimes we get called in to intervene in an alliance. Someone will call and say we have lost trust. What does that mean? We don’t trust that we are well aligned, have the ability to manage that misalignment, and be able to manage that difference in a significant way. They think of trust as individual relationships.

Shawn: Social capital is not so much the existence of specific ties. It’s more the environment created for them to exist that’s definitely a spider web. There is too much emphasis put on goodwill and trust. Social capital is not these feelings or soft things or upper-level management having strong personal deals. It’s about two firms having multiple connections. It’s about the structural dimensions and the ability to interact. Last in line in social capital are the trust, respect, and goodwill. 

Tags:  alliance management research studies  Alliance Maturity  Dr. Shawn Wilson  Economic Metrics  Social Capital  Stuart Kliman  Vantage Partners 

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Part III: Stuart and Shawn’s Economic and Financial Metrics—A Dialogue About Social Capital and Alliance Maturity

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Monday, October 24, 2016
Updated: Saturday, October 22, 2016

ASAP presented first-of-their-kind findings from two alliance management research studies during the packed session  “Applying the Latest Alliance Management Research to Your Partnering Practice” at the 2016 ASAP BioPharma Conference “New Faces, Unexpected Places in Partnering: The Foresight to Lead, the Foundation to Succeed,” which took place at the Revere Hotel in Boston. The session unveiled the landmark ASAP-commissioned 6th State of Alliance study, The Economics of Alliances, Social Capital, and Alliance Performance,” researched and authored by Dr. Shawn Wilson, DBA, vice president and general manager at Beaulieu Group (see Part I of this story posted on September 14).

The session also included an insightful presentation by Stuart Kliman, CA-AM, co-founder of Vantage Partners, on his company’s 2015 study “Transcending Organizational Barriers—A Cross-Industry View of Alliance Management Trends and Challenges” (see Part II of this blog post). The presenters then engaged in a conversation about how the two studies dovetail in economic and financial metrics and the ways they can be used to improve company performance. Following is part of their exchange:

Stuart: I think the two studies are very well connected and say very similar things in different ways. One thing that is interesting is that internal operating models haven’t evolved at the same pace as alliancing activity. In the gaps in the internal operating models, we need to rely on social capital. If you start to think of social capital and operating models, organizations need to grapple with how to enable the building of social capital. It’s not easy to do if organizations put people in dilemmas to make social capital decline. The concern I have about the ASAP study is that the language of social capital sounds too individual skill-based, not “How do we build up organizational capability?” We need to make sure executives don’t misunderstand that language.

Shawn: Social capital is an extremely underused term that is much more than individual ties. It’s been used for relationship building, but it’s really precise with dimensions that are unique and powerful when employed…. You need to take all those things into account to appropriately assess the distance between two firms: Is the social capital strong enough to put them together? How do firms assess maturity?

Stuart: Alliance management maturity is a useful concept, and how social capital fits into the model or how to evolve it. Do we assume the commercialization process is taking place only internally, or through partner relationships? There are various attributes of maturity, and when you measure maturity, you want to define your terms. Assuming you have a complex portfolio of somewhat interdependent relationships, what is your maturity level to manage that kind of social capital? Below the surface activities are really interesting to understand, and how they keep us from delivering specific goals.

Shawn: Alliances are outpacing the ability to properly apply physical techniques and analyze, and it’s important to understand the true distance between two companies. How do firms build social capital? That’s a fantastic question. Consider this analogy: My wife and I located back to the West Coast and moved to a neighborhood with an eclectic group—PhDs, opera signers, government workers. If you’d asked me whom the people were that I’d connect with, it wouldn’t have been these folks. But it turns out the structural dimension of the neighborhood was key—who was out in the front yard every night and what is family to me were much stronger predictors of connections.

Stay tuned for additional coverage of the session “Applying the Latest Alliance Management Research to Your Partnering Practice,” which will continue the lively discussion in Part IV between the presenters on how the two studies connect. You can read more on Vantage’s studies by visiting

Tags:  Alliance Management  alliance management research studies  Alliance Maturity  alliances  Dr. Shawn Wilson  Economic Metrics  operating models  Social Capital  structural dimension  Stuart Kliman  Vantage Partners 

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