When You Look In The Mirror, Do You Like What You See?

Organizations can have distorted views of themselves, STEM Healthcare helps them to see more clearly. 

A little introspection never hurt anybody. For STEM Healthcare, who provide a global benchmarking service for the biopharmaceutical industry, it’s what makes the difference between surviving and thriving. By holding up a mirror, they help firms look at internal strategy and direction to ensure the business is truly on the right track.

STEM has been scaling up globally since acquisition by UDG Healthcare in 2016 and now works in 50 countries and across every therapy area, last year completing 600 commercial projects and 300 in medical affairs. Ahead of the upcoming eyeforpharma Philadelphia conference, Dean McAlister, Senior VP, Client Relationship Development at STEM Healthcare, told eyeforpharma chairman Paul Simms what benchmarking has to offer the industry.

STEM stands for Study, Translate, Execute, Monitor. “It implies a very iterative nature, and that’s the approach that we take, whether it’s a commercial or medical affairs client,” says McAlister. “We provide a benchmarked view of alignment, belief and execution of internal direction, agnostic to what that direction is. If you're looking for a way to see if people inside your own organisation actually understand, believe in and are aligned to the strategy, and are ultimately executing it – that’s what we provide. It's like holding up a mirror to your organisation.” 

This mirror approach is what makes STEM unique, as they explore the underbelly of pharma organisations themselves, rather than a downstream customer view. “There's really nothing else like STEM because we’re  the only biopharma benchmarking provider that has 10 years of longitudinal data across 3,000 brands and 300,000 direct observations in front of clients. We've got immense databases built up with a lot of therapy-specific benchmarks.

“The competition to STEM is basically not doing anything – it’s saying, ‘We do our own field coaching forms, we have our own internal focus groups,’ which are all valuable but they're also all biased. This is a great way to true up theory to practice from a benchmarked, external point of view.”


Starting with the strategy 

McAlister will be presenting twice at eyeforpharma Philadelphia, speaking with Eli Lily on commercial strategy, and then teaming up with Allergan to discuss alignment in medical affairs. In ‘Lost in Translation: Why Your Teams Don't Execute Your Strategy,’ he will explain how STEM helps firms pinpoint dysfunction in commercial strategy through internal diagnostics. Both strategy and alignment are core to the STEM protocol, which involves driving businesses back to basics to define clear strategic goals.

“What we often find is that it’s not an execution issue as much as there’s a lack of clarity around what they’re trying to accomplish. The strategies aren’t defined enough and they’re too complex – we once worked with a brand who wanted to have 16 different things as part of their plan. There’s always a drift as strategy gets coached and executed on the front line, so a big piece of this is forcing the strategy to be clearer.

“The other thing that we look for, particularly on commercial projects, is what is actually causing expressed behaviour change in front of the HCP. We have field workers go out and observe the execution between a sales representative and an HCP, watching for whether what is verbally expressed has changed from your strategic plan.” They often find that it’s actually a case of the field force making modifications to try and make the strategy work, which informs firms to re-examine their strategy.

“When we have success, we see people turn around with an action plan with three to five things that we can help them with. Every quarter we get an assessment with them to say, ‘Are you on track with your action plan?’ That naturally leads to when we should do a subsequent wave.”


Owning the insights you uncover 

It’s important that such introspection doesn’t end up turning into a blame game, says McAlister. “If you're holding up a mirror, you have to be objective enough to say, ‘This is the benchmarked view of this. I have to take all the trepidation around looking at ourselves and use it as a reality check. There's some good things and there's going to be some things we want to improve.’”

STEM won’t work if, instead of informing strategic improvements, insights are used “as a stick to beat somebody,” such as field staff being blamed for poor execution. “It’s to say, ‘Our strategy is all that, it’s just not being executed,’” says McAlister. “You hear a lot of arrogance and presupposition that there's nothing that might be better in terms of the way the strategy is actually being developed.

“I don't always like what I see when I see the mirror every day, I’d rather be 6ft 2ins and ripped with chiselled abs,” he laughs. “However, I can still look in the mirror and see what incremental things I want to change and what I want to make better.”

So, what can a company expect to gain from working with STEM? “By successfully employing STEM, over time, wave on wave, you're building a lot of capacity in your organisation to have shorter cycles from learn to apply,” says McAlister, taking the analogy of a fine Aston Martin. “Even if you have the best car, unless you periodically do alignment checks, your car is not going to run or won't run as efficiently. That's what STEM really provides an organisation with – a chance to periodically have a reality check. Are we still hitting on all cylinders? Is everything still going as planned?”

People sometimes get complacent, feeling that the work has been done, he adds. “The risk is after doing a few waves, you think it’s all right, you’ve learned it and it is part of what we do now. In reality what we find is that with the people who stop using us, you start to see the atrophy of the skills and capabilities of quicker alignment. If you don't keep doing this, you lose that muscle, and that’s the danger.

“I think of it as storytelling. We really help you see the story of your brand in that period of time. Every good story has a set-up, a conflict and a resolution and we see all of that, cross that and bring it back. STEM storytelling really is a powerful component and what I believe we bring to an organisation is the chance to really get a view of what the story is now in this chapter and then – more importantly - what does the client want the next chapter to be.”

Dean McAlister, Senior VP, Client Relationship Development, STEM Healthcare, will be giving a Chairperson Opening Address on Tuesday, April 16 from 2:05pm-2:15pm in the Red Room at eyeforpharma Philadelphia, April 16-17, 2019, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

He will then be joined by James Brewer, Director, Global Commercial Operations, Eli Lilly, Dan Zuniga, Vice President, AMAG Pharmaceuticals, Mina Makar, SVP US Respiratory and Infectious Disease, AstraZeneca and Dave Giles, National Sales Director, Neurology – Autoimmune and Rare Diseases, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals to present ‘Lost in Translation: Why Your Teams Don't Execute Your Strategy’ on April 16 from 4:45pm-5:25pm in the Red Room.

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