Thoughts on Global Medical Affairs
Creating an integrated, global MA organization is difficult work. Local affiliates or regions that have had a fair amount of autonomy are unlikely to want to give that up. Many efforts to build global coordination fail, resulting in local affiliates and regions going through the motions of coordination but actually investing most of their efforts in activities that either skirt the global coordination or ignore it altogether. Making matters worse, they may be encouraged to take such action by the local or regional GM who may see it as the only way to get their affiliate or region the support they need. In the end, the company as a whole would have been better off without these efforts since so much time is wasted on internal activities without any corporate benefit.
However, when global coordination works well everyone benefits. The corporation benefits by having its resources focused most efficiently on a global basis, the global MA organization can achieve its goals, and the local affiliates or regions benefit from shared resources and a broader, global perspective.
In my experience, successfully implementing a globally coordinated MA function requires the following three factors to be put in place (each of which I will discuss in more detail below):
Senior Leadership Alignment
Global coordination efforts risk failure if the local affiliate or regional GMs are not supportive of the effort. Therefore it is critical to start any global coordination effort by reaching out to the local affiliates or regional GMs, sharing the plans for global coordination and the rationale behind the need for coordination. There discussions have to be as much about listening as telling – the concerns and objections of the GMs need to be understood and directly addressed. Many of those objections will likely revolve around the need to address specific, local conditions. Carve-outs of the global process should be defined to specifically address the most pressing of these local concerns. Defining these carve-outs before any effort is made to create a global coordination process will ensure that they are seen as part of the plan rather than push-back against the plan.
Once these discussions have taken place and the needs of the GMs have been addressed, they will be expected to be supportive of the process. Providing them with clear guidance about how and when they can offer their support will ensure that the right messaging is being conveyed to their organizations.
Engagement and Ownership
Once senior leadership is supportive, the next step is to develop the coordination process. Regardless of what methodology you follow, a formal process for executing the methodology needs to be put in place. Developing this process should be done collectively by representatives of all the local affiliates or regions affected along with members of global MA. The temptation that many organizations succumb to is having global MA create the process and simply send it out to the local affiliates or regions.
People support what they create. By engaging with the local affiliate or regional staff in the development of the new global processes, there is a much higher likelihood that they will support the final results. There are often detailed nuance, including the timing of local holidays, that must be considered for the global processes to be successful.
Once the local affiliate or regional staff have worked collectively with the global MA team to develop the new global processes, they can take the lead in rolling it out to their affiliate or region.
After the new processes have been defined and rolled out, the next key to success if consistent follow up. The new processes will require people to think and act differently. While they may understand this theoretically during training, it’s only during the actual execution of the processes that people make those changes. Ensuring that people have the support they need during the actual execution of the process is critical to achieving success. And its not enough to only support the process for one year. , The processes need to be supported for a number of iterations and since many of these global coordination processes are periodic in nature it may take two or more years to get past the first four iterations when help is needed most. Many organizations lose interest in supporting a new process after the first iteration and the subsequent iterations begin to deviate significantly from the optimal path.
What has your experience implementing global coordination processes been like? What other best practices would you include? Leave your comments below.