Talking about “A Day in the Life” … a courageous development initiative

(~9 minute read.)

kaye and nic 2

Nicole Good (left) & Kaye Grant (right)

Kaye Grant is Director of Strategy and Operations for Bristol Myers Squibb Australia.   Previously she has worked for a number of pharmaceutical businesses across sales, marketing, access and clinical research, starting her career in bench research at the University of Melbourne. 

Nicole Good is Head of Sales – Innovative Medicines for Bristol Myers Squibb Australia.  She has spent over 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry, primarily in sales leadership roles and has a passion for people development, organisational capability mapping and strategic leadership.

Kaye and Nicole recently piloted “A Day in the Life,” an idea originally conceived by Matt Baker, Business Unit Director – Innovative Medicines.  In this initiative, Kaye volunteered her position to Nicole for Nicole’s personal development. In doing so, there was a ‘development’ ripple effect through the organisation as Nicole’s role was taken up by one of her team members, and so on.

Join us as Kaye and Nicole share how they shaped this initiative, the role that courage played, and the benefits which include accelerated learning and stronger relationships.

What is “a day in the life”?

Kaye:  The opportunity to move into more senior roles in Australian multinational organisations is relatively limited simply due to the size and scope of the local affiliates. So, you need to look in different places for development opportunities. We know that new roles help you grow as you experience different things.  But maybe what’s not so obvious is, if you don’t have an opportunity for a new role you can still create a new experience.   I think what we learnt in retrospect, is that the most important part of the experience is to find something different enough to make yourself slightly uncomfortable. And that was the big thing about the “a day in the life.”  It needs to be – not so much of a step that you can’t feel confident to learn something – but it needs to be a big enough step to feel uncomfortable; until you’re uncomfortable, you don’t learn.

Nicole:  It’s essentially about creating learning experiences in a different role to your normal role. What’s really important about “a day in the life” is, it is about stepping into someone else’s role that can stretch you from a development point of view, and also stretch you to be open to the learning that exists from exiting your normal role.

There’s richness in learning from both stepping into a new role as well as having someone else step into your role.

Kaye:  You become one; we were one.

“We were one.” What do you mean by that?

Kaye: The bit that makes you one comes about as we sat next to each other and we talked a lot; we basically talked constantly for the three months … to the point where I had a bit of anxiety when Nicole left that I might get lonely. Whilst the program was designed as a development opportunity for Nicole it was equally a learning experience for me.  There’s nothing more powerful than doing your job with someone who develops a direct understanding of, and interest in, what you are doing and who can ask insightful questions.   We tend to move forward unconsciously with our everyday tasks and to have someone challenge me to think differently was a fantastic opportunity to ask myself if there was a better way.

So, during the 3 months of “a day in the life,” you did everything together?

Nicole:  We broke Kaye’s role down into three buckets:

  1. What I wanted to learn
  2. What I wanted to experience and
  3. What I already had as a skill and wanted to apply in a different world

There were things that I took on responsibility for in areas more closely related to Sales, such as enabling functions where I had a solid understanding already. Additionally, I was able to take on responsibility for a couple of the more customer facing type functions, and based on my skills, provide insights.

Then there were things that I needed to observe only, because frankly the business needed to run. At these times, I got to experience Kaye’s expertise; for example, during the budget process, I observed her interactions with the business analysts, and how that worked with finance, and pulled through to above country.

There were some other responsibilities and actions that tended to be more ad hoc; things would crop up and Kaye would say, “you actually should come along and observe this.”

So, with respect to “we were one,” there were some parts of the role in which we were interchangeable, but not everything.

So, what role did courage play in “a day in the life”?

Nicole:  Workplace courage is being brave to do something different. It’s really easy, particularly if you’ve been in an industry or a role for a really long time, to just keep doing what you know works. But in the organisation and the world in which we’re living, that no longer works; it takes courage to be willing to try different things.

This project provided an opportunity to do just that. It takes courage to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and with that comes vulnerability.  A day in the life required me to be courageous and hand over my team to someone who would look at my job, put their flavor on it and then inform me of what they learnt, including how I might do things differently or better.

This initiative also took courage for the teams impacted because of its flow-on affect to the managers I lead.  Neither of my team members volunteered and yet they both courageously stepped into the project.  At its core, courage is about stepping into something you don’t know, trying it and learning.

Kaye:  This was an experimental project where I needed to take a leap of faith based only on a vision … and figure out the details as we progressed. Much like building a prototype this was about constructing, aligning and building together as we worked.

As Nicole said, it was also an exercise in being vulnerable as someone with ‘fresh eyes’ and a different skill set would likely see and do your job differently … and no doubt better in some cases.

I also see courage at work as being your authentic self whether that is influencing decision making based on your values, or being vulnerable and honest about your shortcomings.

Kaye, you mentioned that this had not been done at BMS before.  What led you to volunteer?

Kaye:  I think I was a combination of things – this was Matt’s idea and over the course of 6 months he enthusiastically articulated the vision to the BMS Leadership Team (LT).  While I thought it was a bit crazy at first (sorry Matt!)  at the end of the day I just thought, “Oh well, why not? What could I possibly lose?  What better project to get involved in, than one where I can directly have an impact on someone else’s development?”

While Matt had the concept, there was no structure, so after a few initial meetings with Nicole, we were able to scope out the project to ensure it was both a positive learning environment and a learning challenge.  In the end, it actually wasn’t hard to say yes, it would have been hard to say no!

So, I volunteered for something I wasn’t entirely sure about which takes courage and had me feeling vulnerable. In retrospect, I wasn’t worried about failing because I work in an incredibly supportive environment.

Nicole: I was asked to pilot it and I did think about “what if I don’t do it well enough.”  On further reflection, I realised you don’t often get this sort of opportunity and thought “what’s the worst that’s going to happen?” And I love learning from Kaye whether I’m sitting next to her or not.  So, there were many pluses. We could never have anticipated the degree of learning. It put learning on steroids and accelerated it so much.

The first couple of weeks were really overwhelming for everybody because you’re working out how this is actually going to happen, which is why the three months is so important. For me, what Matt and Kaye did is just so courageous and innovative because a lot of organisations struggle to build a learning environment; an environment where it’s okay to try things and for it to not work every time. In the last LT meeting I shared my learnings and I was very vulnerable in that I shared what I did well and what I learnt that I really hadn’t been doing before. I got a sense that the LT were surprised and appreciative of my vulnerability; I think that’s a really important thing in a learning organisation.

You’ve both used phrases like “the benefits far outweigh,” “more significant learning”, “it was enriching.”  Tell me about some of the benefits, tell me about some of the gains at a personal level.

Kaye:  For me there were two.  One is having an “inbuilt coach.”  For example, immediately after a meeting, I could and did ask Nicole, “what could I have done differently?” Prior, I wouldn’t necessarily reflect because I could avoid it until another day, but in this situation, being there with another person you almost have no choice but to reflect, and that is a great thing. There’s nothing more powerful than knowing someone is observing. As a result, now, I tend to do it more often – either seek Nicole out or reflect on my own.

The second element is, we have subsequently implemented a bi-directional mentoring program. We now consciously think about and act on bi-directional mentoring.

Kaye, what takes more courage for you? Reflecting on self or the conversations with Nicole?

Kaye:  Probably the self-reflection.  I find it easy to have a conversation with Nicole because she doesn’t judge, she understands the background, and she is offering help. Why wouldn’t you want to take that?  She’s also probably not as harsh on me as I am on myself.

kaye and nic 1

Nicole, what have been the benefits for you?

Nicole:  I have literally a list of things that I learnt; the three most significant are related to my way of working. Prior to this project, in my role I would spend a significant amount of time in field which then meant that “I’ve got one day of admin, so I’ll run through my actions and I’ll knock off a whole lot of emails.”  From observing Kaye, I noticed that she has a lot of conversations rather than emailing people which has greater impact.

Also, I’m someone that likes the execution of the plan. I feel quite comfortable exploring but once we start to land, I feel very uncomfortable going back into that exploration/iteration phase. What I’ve learnt from sitting in Kaye’s role and watching the way she works is the best outcomes and in fact, the achievement of our longer-term aspirations, are going to require iteration. So, I am actually constantly challenging myself to be okay with that. We were working on the organisational development map the other day; I drafted it, I went to the LT with it, I got feedback and I came back and drafted it again. I  now think, “this is an iterative process, this is not final, this will keep changing and I’m cool with any input we’re all providing.”  Twelve months ago, I would have started to get anxious and frustrated but now the way that I work has totally changed.

My other learning is that I realised I was spending less and less time with my team because I felt like I’d built this capable group of managers, and I stepped more into work development projects which I enjoy. I had lost some of the connection with them, but only had this insight because of my team member who had stepped into my role.

Kaye:  Sometimes you need a break from your day to day work to return to do a better job.

Nicole:  That’s a gift to be able to step away for a period of time and then come back and be able to manage better.

Based on your experience in this project, what one or two pieces of advice do you have for your colleagues?

Kaye:  I say you have to give it a go. People might like to think cautiously about a “day in the life” and limit the experience to two weeks but that’s not what it is. You have to be gutsy enough to do in its entirety.  Otherwise you won’t get the best value.

Nicole:  It requires effort and dedication to create a learning experience for everybody that’s purposeful. So even if you don’t have all of the perfect structures, you do have to commit your time; there’s a generosity in that for yourself and for other people, and what comes out of it is so worth doing.  Have a go and be vulnerable; try and get as much learning as you can because at more senior levels, you don’t often get those opportunities to actually learn.  At times, the more experience you have the more close-minded you may become about your development; not through bad intent but because you’re busy or you’ve been doing it for years.

When you open yourself up to getting different perspectives it is just incredible; you’ve got to be open to it.

On a scale of one to four, where one is not at all and four is absolutely needed, how much courage did you need to be in this interview today, with each other?

Nicole: None.

Kaye: None.

Why is that?

Nicole/Kaye (simultaneously):  Trust.

And that is part of courage.  In terms of making a decision to be courageous, it’s taking a moment or an hour or however long, to weigh up the risk and how worthwhile an action will be.

Kaye:  Can you imagine if we did this constantly throughout the organisation and others built the same relationship we have, with a whole lot of people. Oh, my goodness, that would be a powerful leadership group.

Nicole:  And the people had the opportunity to reflect on how they could be working more effectively.

Kaye:  And then you would understand people too; when I’m in meetings with you now, I understand a lot more about who you are and your intent. That’s quite a different perspective, because you’re thinking about the person not just what needs to be done.

Nicole:  For me, it’s the same with all of the LT members; I feel like I understand what their drivers are and why they’ll be focused on one particular thing; it just gives you a totally different perspective. The perspectives are incredible and helpful … I could go on …

I have had the absolute pleasure of knowing and working with Kaye and Nicole for some years now, and I am forever inspired and delighted by their enthusiasm for what they do and how they do it.  I am constantly energised by their openness and willingness to try new things and to learn from their experiences, bringing people (including me) on the journey with them.  The last few comments above are testament to this …



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