Management Success in Six Easy Steps

By Malcolm Fleschner

Few pharmaceutical salespeople enter the profession planning to pound the pavement as front-line detail reps forever. Most have plans of moving into management one day, preferably soon. But beyond working hard to land a promotion at some point in the future, truly savvy and forward-thinking salespeople are already taking the first steps so they can hit the ground running when that much-anticipated call finally comes.

So what are those steps? According to a recent article in SPBT Focus, a magazine serving pharmaceutical and biotech industry trainers, newly minted district managers should follow a six-stage approach to smooth the transition into a leadership position.

Stage 1: Get oriented.
During this stage, which can last from one to three months, the focus is on learning the business while continuing to keep things humming. Your goal is to balance assessment – finding out about the organization and its long-term needs – with action – handling day-to-day requirements. Don’t act too hastily, which may expose your ignorance. At the same time avoid being too deliberative, which may make you appear indecisive and cost valuable time.

Stage 2: Do your detective work.
Now is the time to listen and evaluate. Talk to customers about how to be a good resource for them; talk to your salespeople about what’s going on in the field, what they want from you and their overall expectations. You’ll also want to have key conversations with regional managers, other district managers, suppliers and others. Learn the history of the department, find out about previous plans and programs and get the overall lay of the land.

Stage 3: Design your game plan.
This is when you begin to come into your own as a manager and start to shape the organization in your image with a more formal game plan. Your plan should include:

  • determining which operational elements of the business vision will determine the success of your leadership transition
  • coordinating what you learned during stage two about working with your sales team, regional manager and other critical stakeholders
  • identifying appropriate milestones for your leadership plan
  • creating a vision that includes specific milestones for success in the next 100 to 200 days
  • breaking down those milestones into a realistic timeline arranged in 30-day intervals.

Stage 4: Make waves.
Now is when you begin to make genuine organizational changes. By this time you should have identified patterns that might be hampering the organization’s potential. In this reshaping stage, aim for a two-wave approach. In the first wave, secure early wins with short-term improvements, which frequently will involve personnel. These smaller wins will set the stage for the second wave, which should deal with more fundamental issues of strategy, structure, systems and skills.

Stage 5: Take stock.
Now is the time to pause for a moment to figure out how you’re progressing. There are lots of ways to do this. You can choose an informal approach, generally surveying the same stakeholders you consulted with in stage one, or you can systematize things a bit more by hiring a consultant or facilitating a diagnostic meeting. The point is to evaluate progress against the milestones you’ve established. This is a good way to gain critical feedback, reward people for positive performance and determine where stumbling blocks remain.

Stage 6: Keep it going.
By now, typically after more than a year on the job, you are no longer considered the new kid on the block and will have either established yourself and created a power base – or not. You’ve got a record now and will be judged accordingly. Nevertheless, this should be a calm period when your focus is on consolidation and follow-through. Outside influences might stir things up for you, but otherwise you should be familiar enough with how the organization works to feel more comfortable with the cycle of identifying and working to correct problems.