MSLs and field-based medical personnel, you are the heroes of this article. The people who often cover huge geographies working both remotely and field-based, are experts in their therapy area and work tirelessly to be the trusted, impartial provider of scientific information, whenever a healthcare professional calls!
If you are interested in exploring your own behavior and how a simple focus on making small positive changes to the things you do every day, can lead to incremental benefits for yourself, the team you work with, and the healthcare community that you serve, then this article is for you!
There are several objectives that as MSLs, we may be trying to achieve, such as.
- Creating a great stakeholder experience seamlessly across multiple channels; this means building deeper professional scientific relationships with external stakeholders and providing them with the education they want/need, in the format they want, when they want it.
- Provide enhanced scientific dialogue to external stakeholders which supports them to deliver better healthcare to their patients
- Just winning the day, developing good habits, and consistently performing them
Whatever your objective, the core job can be performed using a variety of channels and the skill is to select the most appropriate one for the key objective, the external stakeholder, the time available, and the best use of the MSL time and budget. It’s not just about variety, it’s about appropriateness.
At the same time, we want to achieve MSL excellence compliantly, and arguably, what lies at the center of this is delivering positive and impactful scientific engagements with external stakeholders. Regardless of the channel of engagement, we need to get the fundamentals right. Gaining the external stakeholders’ trust is critical, as is putting the foundations in place to develop a long-term professional working relationship. This then puts us in a better position to demonstrate to the wider business the scientific value of medical affairs.
The challenge we face is consistently providing a high-quality service. This assumes that your company has visible standards and expectations to which you can hold yourself accountable. How can you determine if you deliver at an above industry medical affairs standard if you don’t know what the industry standards are? Regardless of the awareness of standards, be that at a company or industry level, every MSL should want to constantly improve, take an introspective view, and want to be the best they can, to be recognized by their external stakeholders and employers for the consistent, high-level contribution they make.
So, the question is what does good look like and where do you start when it comes to determining what is a high-performing MSL? Let’s focus on something simple, something we are all in control of and that is our behavior because our behavior has an impact, and therefore always delivers an outcome! Let’s start thinking about how we can develop our behaviors to drive the results we aspire to achieve. What’s required is some self-motivation, a focus on our personal development, and an evaluation of our own behaviors to build on them further.
Consciously develop positive behaviors, consistently deliver them, and so form new habits. More positive behaviors drive more positive outcomes! For example, aim to always be early to external engagements when presenting to groups, consider your posture and facial expressions, and whether your body language is congruent with the words you are using. Do you read from your slides too much, do you get defensive when challenged on the scientific data? There are so many things to consider, just choose something important to you, write it down, and think about how you could improve that behavior.
From here you can move forward, equipped with objectivity and awareness as you pursue your personal goals and aspirations. As MSLs we need to be consistent, bring good energy, and keep doing the basics well. This will set you up for success. Start by exploring your individual behaviors, the relative strength of each behavior, and its impact on outcomes. Once we understand the relationship between impact and the behaviors that give rise to them, we can start to demonstrate more of the behaviors that have the desired impact. Consider impact intended vs impact landed. Do we, as MSLs, adapt our behaviors to align with the diverse stakeholders we work with to ensure we manage these behaviors, ensure our impact lands as we intend, and therefore have greater control over the outcomes? How can we say we are truly focused on demonstrating the scientific value of medical affairs if we are not focusing on our impact and therefore the outcomes resulting from our behaviors?
Remember that feeling when an external stakeholder meeting went well and you left feeling good because you just knew you had done a great job and the stakeholder really valued your scientific input? The intention here is to focus on replicating that feeling, on a more regular basis, by taking ownership of your personal development. This starts by developing our behaviors to consistently drive more positive outcomes. Constantly developing our approach to scientific dialogue and stakeholder engagements will enhance the reputation of the company and the industry as well as helping to further the science and address the unmet medical need within your disease area.
What is the future we all want to work towards? You will have your own way of describing it though here are some suggestions below:
- Clarity on how positive behaviors, consistently delivered, will improve outcomes.
- Applying these positive behaviors will result in more positive responses from external stakeholders.
- Increased fulfillment in role because of improved outcomes.
Let’s consider three steps that will help us achieve this future.
Step 1 – make small daily improvements in behavior.
- Do nothing at all vs making small consistent efforts to develop.
- 1.00365 = 1.00 vs. 1.01365 = 37.7
Notice the second answer is nearly 38 times larger than the first, just as a result of doing 1% more than usual every day of the year! The impact of such a small improvement, consistently delivered, really can lead to remarkable results! So where do we start? By aligning on the basics, setting the standards that we want to hold ourselves accountable to and then consistently delivering on those standards as a minimum.
Step 2 – commit to these improvements within your appraisal/personal development plan.
We can all start to make small improvements daily, though how do we keep this going? As a suggestion, incorporate these changes into your appraisal and personal development plan. We all should set objectives at the start of the year, have a mid-year appraisal and then an end-of-year review, which presents the perfect situation to be visible with management and our peers as to what we want to achieve, put these plans into action and track them throughout the year. This public commitment to want to be a better MSL, whatever this looks like for you, is a great start to ensure the focus remains on your development throughout the appraisal cycle.
Step 3 – ask for feedback, internally and externally, to provide the proof that your positive behaviors are having the desired impact, are recognized, and appreciated.
Consider a short feedback questionnaire to send to external stakeholders following a meeting. Include a NET promoter score question, such as ‘How did the interaction with an MSL from [company name] compare to meetings you have had with MSLs from other pharmaceutical companies?’, which allows you to benchmark your performance.
Internally, ask for guidance and use the responses to recalibrate. Don’t look for praise and recognition, look for correction and guidance.
What is the smallest change you can make that will get you closer to the target and make a noticeable difference?
We all want to have more positive and impactful scientific interactions so take that first step and identify the behaviors you will look at first, what do you currently do and how will you improve? Write it down, make it public, commit to improving and consistently apply the refined behaviors. Seek guidance and feedback to inform your approach to developing more positive behaviors, consistently delivered, creating the opportunity to achieve more successful outcomes. If you do this, then you are already one step closer to being a high-performing MSL.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed within this article are solely the author’s and do not directly reflect the opinions and beliefs of Mundipharma or its affiliates.
About the author:
Steve Patmore is an award-winning medical affairs specialist who has worked across both commercial and medical functions. As an empathetic, conscientious, and optimistic leader of teams, he believes in a values-based approach and the benefit of a purpose-driven culture as the foundation for the longevity of high-performing teams.
Samantha has 22 years within the pharmaceutical industry working across a number of different functions & therapeutic areas. For the last 3 years she has been working as an MSL and has a passion for supporting HCPs and demonstrating the value of the MSL role both internally and externally.