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Changing perceptions by measuring inputs and outputs?

Posted on May 12th, 2017 by in Pharma R&D


Elsevier Reset Therapies 36

Perception is reality. I am sure everyone will have had an experience (or will do so shortly) where their perception of a situation is at odds with the perception of another. We all have our individual styles and preferences. In teams, this can be both a strength and a weakness, depending on the situation. Developing agility in how we flex our styles and preferences is an important part of our development of working with others effectively to ensure the delivery of a product. In the complex, socio-technical world of R&D, there is a non-linear link between input and output. Money and other tangible resources are not a prerequisite for success, and organizations spend considerable time building the softer skills with people that may make that outcome more likely.

There was a series of interesting articles in the recent Harvard Business Review looking at the science of teamwork (1-4). It provided an up-to-date methodology for describing individual styles and creating a balanced team, some “watch-outs” for managing stress and forming balanced decisions from a range of perspectives. Apparently, many companies are now focussing on developing bespoke personality tests that enable people to develop roles that can really fit their personality (4). These softer people skills are no doubt becoming a key differentiator for many leaders in how to build sustainable high-performing teams. The focus on how to make “good” even better is a key feature of any process improvement, but there is also an element of how to bring in a sense of reality. We can have too much of a good thing, and ensuring balance of attention to how the team functions, celebrating the diversity of individuals and the wider context the team finds itself can also bring important insights.

Accepting accountability for our part in the widespread changes we are facing is perhaps another, albeit uncomfortable, area for focus. In the past, some communities dealt with problems and issues by offloading them onto a scapegoat, an animal or person that is to blame for important problems or a way of cleansing the issue. Our ability to take this approach may not have diminished over the years. It is an all too human pattern that we can fall into. This can happen across teams and across the industry. For example, the sector appears to have taken the collective blame for the high price of medicines and sometimes limited access for patients to truly life-changing technologies. Individually and collectively there are some skills regarding the concept of “mindfulness” or taking notice that we can develop to maintain our focus in the reality of the moment.

However, in the absence of any concrete measures of success, these very useful approaches can still fall short of creating changes in our perception. Scientists in the industry are used to working with specific data sets, and measuring both inputs and outputs are an essential way we can challenge perceptions. It is interesting to note that governments are starting to ask for greater clarity on costs associated with R&D, manufacture and marketing (5). Without any measures of output from these costs, the data is open to the reality of misperceptions. The specific individual profitability of products and the productivity of teams and organizations is a question that commercial organizations continue to grapple with. The long life-cycles, multi-partner relationships and specific coding of data represents significant issues to resolve.

From a “user” perspective, the cost and benefit are also inputs and outputs of interest. In my experience of working across multi-organizational partnerships, the agreement of key input and output measures creates a common language to become aware of and to understand different perceptions. From awareness and understanding, the opportunity for change follows. Of course, this is only part of the answer, there also needs to be a motivation to change. Change does take energy, and we can find many ways to maintain the status quo and identify others that may need to change first. Scapegoating is a convenient human response to dealing with issues that may take our own and group cognitive resources to resolve. Dealing with input and output data is a way in which we can start to discuss what is really happening, rather than what we might just perceive.

  • Johnson Vickberg, S.M. & Christfort, K. (2017). Every team is a mix of these personality types. Here’s how to get the best out of them. Harvard Business Review March-April, 50-56
  • Beard, A (2017a). How work styles inform. Harvard Business Review March-April, 58-59
  • Beard, A (2017b). If you understand how the brain works you can reach anyone. Harvard Business Review March-April, 60-62
  • Harrel, E. (2017). A brief history of personality tests. Harvard Business Review March-April, 63

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All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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