Three resolutions to improve your business in ‘13

If you want minimal results, resolve to do the bare minimum. If you want surprising results--results that set tongues to wagging and produce spikes in your stock price--you’ll need to think "outside of the box."

Amy Swinderman
"Lose weight and keep it off—in only seven minutes a day!"proclaims the television. "Get organized!" department stores scream as theyline their entryways with rows of plastic storage bins, file cabinets and labelmakers. "Get your financial ducks in a row," every neighborhood accountantadvertises on their storefronts. 'Tis the season to reinvent yourself, getcrackin' on those tasks you've been putting off for way too long and finally dosomething uncharacteristically bold or fun—it's time to make your new-year'sresolutions.
 
Does the calendar's inevitable turn to Jan. 1 bring somesort of magic power to transform our lives? No. But it's as good a time as anyto contemplate how changes in certain aspects of your life or business mighthave a transformative effect.
 
Our media and blogosphere are aglow withsuggestions of new-year's resolutions for business, and there are dozens oflists aimed directly at the pharma and biotech industries. They advisecompanies of all sizes and niches to adopt quality manufacturing processes;better plan pipelines to prepare for patent expirations and keep revenueflowing; consider outsourcing to speed up manufacturing and lower costs; getback to basic science and partner up with an academic laboratory that isinvestigating something novel.
 
The above advice is sound, but it's certainly nothing new orgroundbreaking in the business world, or in the drugmaking industry. To me, allof those suggestions seem like chapters from the "Book of Duh." Of course, allcompanies should adopt industry standards in manufacturing processes. Whodoesn't want their pipeline to provide consistent revenue streams? Who hasn'tconsidered outsourcing at this point? And the pages of this magazine are filledevery month with news of industry-academic partnerships.
 
If you want minimal results, resolve to do the bare minimum.If you want surprising results—results that set tongues to wagging and produce spikesin your stock price—you'll need to think outside of the box. What's that sayingabout doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a differentresult?
 
Let's resolve to do something different this year. Changecan be scary, but it can also present the opportunity to examine how externalor internal forces impact your business and employees. Whether you are a globalpharma with thousands of employees in several locations all over the world, ora small biotech start-up comprised of five friends who did their postdoc workon a novel compound—or even a supplier of instruments or software to thesecompanies—we can all benefit from taking a step back and assessing with fresheyes how we can better serve our customers, clients, employees and the life-scienceworld as a whole.
 
So I will offer a few pieces of advice that you probablywon't see in any of the many articles on this subject, in the hopes of gettingyou to think differently about how you do business. After all, I am not ascientist myself, just a journalist, so my advice may be the set of fresh eyesyou've been looking for.
 
1. Get out of your own way. There is no "I" in "team," butthere is a "me." None of us like to admit this, but sometimes, we can be ourown worst enemies. Despite our best intentions, we can overlook opportunitiesfor growth or change by sticking to a routine that we feel keeps the wheels ofbusiness turning on a daily basis. Switch jobs with a coworker for a week, andobserve how they tackle things differently. Put people from diverse departmentson teams together and give them an interesting challenge or task. Walk in theshoes of some of your other employees for a day, observe what sort ofchallenges they typically encounter and figure out ways to make their jobseasier. Leaders of any organization are always examining the engagement leveland dedication of their employees, but how can you be a better team player?
 
2. Make an interesting new hire. Now, I'm not suggesting you find an Englishmajor to work in your laboratory. But making a non-traditional hire in atraditional position may give your company the fresh outlook and culture itneeds. Hire someone who has a proven track record of success in a totallydifferent industry to be your chief financial officer, head of marketing orinformation officer. These individuals will likely bring new ideas and conceptsthat have worked for them elsewhere. They will likely have contacts andconnections outside of your industry that may expose your business to newaudiences and broaden your customer base. These skills and abilities can helpyou get out of a rut in a hurry.

3. Listen to your customers—and show them that you're listening. Patients don'tlike feeling far removed from the companies and organizations that are supposedto be in a position to impact their lives. Let the wishes of your end customerdictate where you concentrate your efforts—and then brag that you did it.Patients don't like being told that there are no truly effective, safetherapies for rare illnesses—resolve to change that, and give them hope for abetter quality of life. Patients don't like being prescribed drugs that haveside effects that are similar to the symptoms they are trying to alleviate—evenif your clinical trial says that a good percentage of patients may see benefitsfrom a drug, recognize when patients complain, resolve to address theirconcerns and show them that you want to see more patients have a positiveresponse. THAT is what "filling an unmet medical need" looks like.
 
And remember, giving serious thought to making seriouschanges in your business or life is not an activity restricted to the month ofJanuary. Any time of the year is always a good time to examine where you are,ponder where you'd like to be and formulate a plan for how to get there. Themost successful businesses are always in this frame of mind. Best of luck in'13. 
 

Amy Swinderman

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