Marlene Teresa Llópiz Avilés
CEO
Clínica Responsable Operativa, S.C.
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Expert Contributor

Two Years Later: A Look Back, Part 2

By Marlene Llópiz | Mon, 05/30/2022 - 11:00

(This is the second in a three-part series looking at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the pharmaceutical industry. Read Part 1 here.)

How did the pharmaceutical industry optimize its employees in such a critical situation?

The essential foundation for getting your employees to take ownership of their roles is to give them a game worth playing. Was the home-based office a game everyone wanted to play?

There was a need to create an environment where people want to give their personal best to support the team effort. How do you create an environment at home?

In some instances, most business owners had not put enough care or attention into establishing the rules of their game. This was a NEW GAME! The result was that both employers and their employees ultimately had to make up their own rules as they went along. 

There are eight essential management standards that can serve as the rules of the game, and that in some ways helped to create a win-win scenario for employers, employees, and pharmaceutical industry customers.

There was a need to establish clear agreements. In this new scenario, managers and employees had to establish transparent undertakings about what work was to be done, and how and when it was to be done – a timeline for deliverables. People were sent home and expected to work just as they were in the office. Did they work the same? Did they work less or more? Weren’t the hours on their computers endless? Video-calls seemed to go on forever.

If we didn’t clearly express the exact results, work accountabilities, and standards that employees were expected to maintain, then managers were/are essentially managing by abdication.

The goal was to establish an environment that operated under what is referred to as management by agreement, and this could only be achieved if expectations, accountabilities, and standards were comprehensively communicated and formally acknowledged, resulting in mutual agreement.

Clear communication was/is essential – as it has always has been. However, we weren’t “together” anymore. We were distant – not in the same office where we could sit down and work shoulder to shoulder, when discussing an objective over a cup of coffee could lead to intense and productive brainstorming.

Any changes in the nature or scope of the work (either specific projects or overall levels of accountability) had to occur only after there was mutual agreement between the manager and the employee.

Just as agreements were made about the work that was to be done, an agreement had to be reached on anything that might deviate from the expected results, work, standards, environment, etc. Were these changes taken into consideration? How have we worked from home with spouses and children in the same room? It was a difficult and very disruptive situation to say the least.

Employee Responsibility: A Two-Way Street

Employees take full responsibility for performing the work and achieving the results as agreed upon, and managers are accountable for providing the employee with the necessary resources, guidance and training. How do you grade and evaluate an employee just on numbers when so much more is put into work? How could we assess the quality of the work put in? Were we to just judge and grade on deliverables without seeing and acknowledging the real dedication behind a project?

Report Changes Immediately

During this time, a number of issues arose. Among them – and because we had no clue as to what was happening – exceptions had to be reported immediately. The employee and the manager were accountable for notifying each other immediately about any changes or exceptions to established agreements.

So many changes for all.

Giving Space

Managers can assume the work is being done as agreed upon, unless notified by the employee. If you cannot depend on your people doing what is expected of them, then you will always be worried and preoccupied about what is happening in your business and you will never be free. But, were employees really working? Was the computer just online? Granted most employees have been doing their jobs adequately and punctually. There are always exceptions to rules, are there not?

For this, managers and employees have regular check-ins: weekly meetings, deadlines, reviews, whether online or in the office. Periodic check-ins or “reporting loops” occur between the employee and manager to communicate and keep each other informed about how the work is progressing.

No matter how well you establish the rules of your game in the beginning, you must always have a way to keep track and confirm that everything is going according to plan. The less you check-in with employees the more chance the rules will be forgotten. Did the checking in increase now that employees weren’t in the office and not meeting up?

When you have so many video calls, webinars, courses, can you keep up with periodic check-ins? There are no exceptions. Some employees are very dedicated and really online, while others are online but just “around” and not really engaged. Even in this situation, failure to notify each other of changes, exceptions, or missed due dates is unacceptable.