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Five Tips for your first 90 days as a Regulatory Affairs Leader

September 02, 2015

by Ben Hobbins

Male Boss Addressing Meeting Around Boardroom Table
“If you could have those crucial first 3 months as Regulatory Affairs Leader back, how might you approach things differently”? This was the question I asked of a number of seasoned VPs as part of my series of Senior Regulatory Leadership articles. The responses I received were so enlightening I felt duty bound to share them with you here. They say that hindsight is a wonderful thing – benefitting from the hindsight of others is even more wonderful. So if you are about to take up your first RAL role then here are 5 tips from your fellow professionals that could make all the difference.

1. Take stock
Just as important as the new ideas and plans you may have is the ability to take stock of the situation you have inherited. This is a time for considered reflection rather than sweeping changes that could unsettle your team members and jeopardise future working relationships. The old adage, ‘If it’s not broken don’t fix it’ is so true. Find out what has worked well to date and what might need improving in the months ahead. If your organisation has an Operational Excellence Group, seeking out its leader would be a good place to start. They usually have a detailed understanding of how the company works and a good perspective on the challenges that lie ahead.

2. Know what success looks like
It may sound obvious but ensuring from the outset that your view of success matches that of the people you report into is something that cannot be assumed. No doubt some time has passed since your interviews and priorities change. Acquaint yourself quickly with the current priorities and critical success factors. Make sure that your objectives are clear, well documented and that the deliverables are achievable. Only once you know where you are going can you begin to build a plan to get there.

3. Who’s who?
Those first 3 months are the ideal time to work your way through the organisation’s structure chart, find out who your key connections will be and maybe even secure advocates. Once you’re established in the role you’ll simply be too busy. Make the time to meet the key stakeholders in each area and understand the line of command. If possible identify the ‘go-to’ person in the organisation, the person who knows the organisation inside out and can provide invaluable insights.

4. Build a strong team
As your own remit may be global and cross-functional, it’s likely you’ll also be managing a diverse team with very different outlooks and skill-sets. Make sure your people share a clear vision of what you’re working together to achieve. Agree specific timelines and operational procedures, such as Deputising. Put in place a comprehensive reporting schedule. Although it may be challenging to implement initially it will pay dividends and strong communication channels will ultimately empower your teams. Take the time to get to know as many of your team as possible. This way you’ll not only get to grips with their key strengths but also begin to create a team environment where everyone feels valued. Cascade key team objectives and ensure each team member understands what’s expected of them individually. Where appropriate reward success, either simply by praising an individual’s efforts or by nominating them for a company award or suchlike. Most importantly, lead by example. If a difficult project requires some early starts and late finishes make sure it’s your car that is first to arrive and last to leave.

5. Embrace diversity
With the fast pace of change in organisations, it’s likely that you’ll soon face the need to recruit new team members. Resist the temptation to focus purely on technical skills or recruit the same type of people you’ve recruited before. The best teams contain a mix of people and most importantly include members that are flexible and open to new challenges. Find people willing to step outside their comfort zones and take responsibility for developing their own future career paths, albeit with your help. Use competency based questioning to look for signs of leadership, even in relatively junior appointments.

A final note for aspiring Regulatory Affairs Leaders…
Keep your skills fresh and be prepared to re-invent yourself as the industry changes. Start thinking about where you want to be and find a mentor to help you get there. Don’t wait. Do it now!

Ben Hobbins is a Managing Consultant at Talentmark and an expert in supporting pharmaceutical companies secure senior, global leadership level Regulatory Affairs professionals. For a confidential discussion he can be reached at Ben.Hobbins@talentmark.com.

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