You be the coach – with this Supply Chain Director

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You be the coach – with this Supply Chain Director

Case study: You be the coach – with this new Supply Chain Director


This post is a real-life case we faced – working with the Global Supply Chain Director in a global pharma R&D corporation. The client’s identity is disguised, of course. But the facts are real. After reading the facts, you be the coach – and offer your suggestions to this high-potential leader.


Lauren, our client, was promoted to Global Supply Chain Director in a multi-site multi-country pharma R&D corporation. The company had to reduce expenses. (Who doesn’t?) More important – they had to increase speed to market. Every week that could be saved waiting for supplies to be released from QC, waiting for assays, waiting for new laboratory equipment to be set up, calibrated and operational was enterprise-critical in an environment where R&D enterprises have to do faster better less costly science.

Lauren’s CEO and the BOD understood what Supply Chain could contribute, by working with Project Management and other functions to advise scientists on better ways of working. But Lauren’s peers, the Scientific Directors, were not convinced that better Supply Chain Management, QC and Procurement practices are helpful. “This used to be a fun and innovative place to work,” one of the Scientific Directors said when we did Lauren’s 360-feedback interviews. “Now, with Lauren’s new role, we have one more corporate function questioning what we do. It’s getting harder to be agile and do good science.”

Many of the company’s Scientific Directors had little business experience and were used to being “hands-on” in their labs. They didn’t understand costs, capital allocations or operations – or the benefits of better Supply Chain Management. They just wanted Lauren to give them what they want when they want it. For Lauren to succeed, she had to lift the business acumen of the scientists and get them to see her as a trusted advisor rather than an obstacle to progress. Building these relationships took time.

Lauren was beloved by her direct reports, according to her 360-feedback. “She is always there,” one of her direct reports wrote. True. Lauren answered every email, attended every meeting (sometimes in the middle of the night to dial in virtually), gave directions and solutions, stepped in to handle conflicts, and had almost super-human depth of knowledge about every detail, in every part of her Supply Chain operation. But this left little time for cross-functional collaboration.

Our coach gave Lauren suggestion that we sent to you in our first LDP email: Free your time. We looked at Lauren’s calendar, to see what she could delegate or eliminate from her daily and weekly workload. We asked Lauren to equip her Supply Chain managers to handle more problem-solving and difficult conversations on their own. We asked how she could empower her direct reports to take decisions, not just follow directions. We encouraged her to ask her managers to check their own work, rather than relying on Lauren to proofread and edit for them.

Lauren was skeptical about shifting her role and developing her team to perform jobs that she used to do by herself. She did not see how it was possible to free 25% of her time for larger broader assignments. “I only get involved when I am needed,” she said. “I cannot tell a direct report, “No,” when he asks for support and guidance. I have to answer senior executives myself, rather than putting a member of my team on the hot seat and looking like I don’t know what’s going on in my own shop.”

Here are some moments of truth when Lauren learned to make different decisions about using her time and relying on her team. Within 10 weeks, she developed members of her team to PowerUP Level 5 initiative – accountability – influence – and freed herself for bigger broader assignments.

Put yourself in the role of Lauren’s coach. How would you advise Lauren to handle these 3 moments of truth differently?  How can Lauren free her time by Developing People? How can she adjust her thinking and her actions? We will moderate the discussion and add our comments – and pull out ideas for you to use.

Lauren’s 3 “moments of truth” – when Developing People required her to do things differently

Moment of truth #1: Stand by me!

Lauren receives a meeting invitation from a direct report. The direct report asks Lauren to intervene and chair a conference call where a principal scientist will ask Supply Chain do things HIS way rather than agree to recommendations that can deliver better faster scientific results at a lower cost. This principal scientist is not just employed by the company; he also is a Professor in a prominent Austrian university and expects less-credentialed personnel to comply and do as they are told. Lauren’s direct report offers to change the time or day of the conference call so Lauren can attend, rather than handling the meeting on his own. What should Lauren do? How could she rethink her role, her instincts and her priorities?

Moment of truth #2: Fix the problem – now!

Lauren receives a query from a member of SLT, relayed via her boss, asking why it is taking so long to get assays back from a CRO in Singapore and asking for an analysis of what it would take to do the work in-house instead. She knows the SLT member is frustrated and critical and is concerned that members of her team do not know what questions to ask of the CRO in Singapore, the scientists in the company and outside suppliers who could help outfit and supply a new lab facility – or get better performance from the CRO. She sits down to draft an email to her boss and to the SLT peer of her boss – explaining what it will take to do the analysis and how quickly she will be able to get back to them. She tells her coach, “I cannot possibly delegate this email to a member of my team.” What should Lauren do? How could she rethink her role, her instincts and her priorities?

Moment of truth #3: Why should I stay?

Lauren’s direct report threatens to resign. The direct report is a highly accomplished laboratory design engineer whom the company worked hard to recruit, and who knows how to design work flows that will yield better scientific results with a smaller allotment of kit and space and in a faster time. “I cannot work in a place where my ideas are constantly under attack and nothing I recommend is accepted,” the direct report wrote. “Unless you fight these battles for me and get me the respect I deserve, I’m going back to the University where I am respected.” The engineer has top technical knowledge and is an Anglophone Canadian whose Quebecois French lacks the savior faire to win the confidence of key Swiss and French scientific directors in the drug development project team. What should Lauren do? How could she rethink her role, her instincts and her priorities?

By | 2017-07-17T18:32:09+00:00 June 12th, 2016|Case Study, Company Culture|

About the Author:

Merom Klein PhD, business psychologist and serial entrepreneur, wrote the book about Courage to PowerUP Brilliance™ for real innovation. For 30+ years, he's equipped C-level teams to delegate, empower, trust and ennoble their best and brightest stars to Lead from the Middle, accelerate post-merger integration and drive innovation. And he's equipped mid-level leaders to step in, reach out, take charge and seize big new opportunities in matrix structures and cross-functional global innovation, talent management and M&A integration teams.
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