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Three resolutions to improve your business in ‘13
January 2013
by Amy Swinderman  |  Email the author
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"Lose weight and keep it off—in only seven minutes a day!" proclaims the television. "Get organized!" department stores scream as they line their entryways with rows of plastic storage bins, file cabinets and label makers. "Get your financial ducks in a row," every neighborhood accountant advertises on their storefronts. 'Tis the season to reinvent yourself, get crackin' on those tasks you've been putting off for way too long and finally do something uncharacteristically bold or fun—it's time to make your new-year's resolutions.
 
Does the calendar's inevitable turn to Jan. 1 bring some sort of magic power to transform our lives? No. But it's as good a time as any to contemplate how changes in certain aspects of your life or business might have a transformative effect.
 
Our media and blogosphere are aglow with suggestions of new-year's resolutions for business, and there are dozens of lists aimed directly at the pharma and biotech industries. They advise companies of all sizes and niches to adopt quality manufacturing processes; better plan pipelines to prepare for patent expirations and keep revenue flowing; consider outsourcing to speed up manufacturing and lower costs; get back to basic science and partner up with an academic laboratory that is investigating something novel.
 
The above advice is sound, but it's certainly nothing new or groundbreaking in the business world, or in the drugmaking industry. To me, all of those suggestions seem like chapters from the "Book of Duh." Of course, all companies should adopt industry standards in manufacturing processes. Who doesn't want their pipeline to provide consistent revenue streams? Who hasn't considered outsourcing at this point? And the pages of this magazine are filled every 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 spikes in your stock price—you'll need to think outside of the box. What's that saying about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?
 
Let's resolve to do something different this year. Change can be scary, but it can also present the opportunity to examine how external or internal forces impact your business and employees. Whether you are a global pharma with thousands of employees in several locations all over the world, or a small biotech start-up comprised of five friends who did their postdoc work on a novel compound—or even a supplier of instruments or software to these companies—we can all benefit from taking a step back and assessing with fresh eyes how we can better serve our customers, clients, employees and the life-science world as a whole.
 
So I will offer a few pieces of advice that you probably won't see in any of the many articles on this subject, in the hopes of getting you to think differently about how you do business. After all, I am not a scientist myself, just a journalist, so my advice may be the set of fresh eyes you've been looking for.
 
1. Get out of your own way. There is no "I" in "team," but there is a "me." None of us like to admit this, but sometimes, we can be our own worst enemies. Despite our best intentions, we can overlook opportunities for growth or change by sticking to a routine that we feel keeps the wheels of business turning on a daily basis. Switch jobs with a coworker for a week, and observe how they tackle things differently. Put people from diverse departments on teams together and give them an interesting challenge or task. Walk in the shoes of some of your other employees for a day, observe what sort of challenges they typically encounter and figure out ways to make their jobs easier. Leaders of any organization are always examining the engagement level and 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 English major to work in your laboratory. But making a non-traditional hire in a traditional position may give your company the fresh outlook and culture it needs. Hire someone who has a proven track record of success in a totally different industry to be your chief financial officer, head of marketing or information officer. These individuals will likely bring new ideas and concepts that have worked for them elsewhere. They will likely have contacts and connections outside of your industry that may expose your business to new audiences and broaden your customer base. These skills and abilities can help you get out of a rut in a hurry.

3. Listen to your customers—and show them that you're listening. Patients don't like feeling far removed from the companies and organizations that are supposed to be in a position to impact their lives. Let the wishes of your end customer dictate where you concentrate your efforts—and then brag that you did it. Patients don't like being told that there are no truly effective, safe therapies for rare illnesses—resolve to change that, and give them hope for a better quality of life. Patients don't like being prescribed drugs that have side effects that are similar to the symptoms they are trying to alleviate—even if your clinical trial says that a good percentage of patients may see benefits from a drug, recognize when patients complain, resolve to address their concerns and show them that you want to see more patients have a positive response. THAT is what "filling an unmet medical need" looks like.
 
And remember, giving serious thought to making serious changes in your business or life is not an activity restricted to the month of January. 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. The most successful businesses are always in this frame of mind. Best of luck in '13. 
 

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