Learn Grow Succeed Conversations: Juliane Meyerhoff

Reading time: 17 minutes

Welcome to the Learn, Grow, Succeed Conversations podcast. And I’m your host, Sharon Newey. If you want to be the extraordinary leader that today’s organisations need, then listen now as on this special conversations episode, I’m joined by Dr Juliane Meyerhoff from Boehringer Ingelheim’s Corporate Medical Affairs department. The information that Dr Meyerhoff will share today are her personal views and not necessarily those of Boehringer Ingelheim.

Now, Dr Juliane, I know that your role is as a senior global medical advisor, and in a moment, I’m going to invite you to share a little bit more about Boehringer Ingelheim as a business and about your particular role and your team’s role. And today, we are going to be talking about your experience of collaborating with Excel Communications on a particular development programme. So, thank you for sharing your time with us today, and welcome to the podcast. And perhaps we could start by just sharing a little bit about Boehringer Ingelheim as an organisation.

Dr Meyerhoff: So thank you for the invitation. Yeah, Boehringer Ingelheim is a family-owned, research-driven pharmaceutical company. Their headquarter’s located in the middle of Germany, and since it was established in 1885 – so really long history -BI, as we call it shortly, is [in] the pharmaceutical industry’s top 20 companies, and we have some 50,000 employees, and we create value through innovation day-by-day for three business areas. It’s human pharmaceuticals, animal health, and biopharmaceuticals. And in human pharma, we focus on diseases where there’s no satisfactory treatment today and therefore focus on innovative therapies for patients.

Interviewer: Yes, yeah. And I’ve learned something cool already because I hadn’t realised that you focused on three different business areas. So your specialism, obviously, is in the human area, and so as a member of medical corporate affairs, and as a senior medical advisor, what does that role entail for yourself?

Dr Meyerhoff: Well, there are many things we have to do. We have to communicate with all kinds of stakeholders, but for the purpose of this project, I would like to focus on the responsibility I have for our customer engaging medical functions out in the countries. So I’m responsible for preparing training materials, information that enhances their understanding of the scientific data of the brand we work for. But this is only one part of my role.

Interviewer: Yes, I imagine there’s many facets to it.

Dr Meyerhoff: Absolutely.

Interviewer: And so, in terms of … You mentioned there that your responsibilities about learning development programmes for your customer engaging medical functions. And so, I know that that’s quite a specialist role, and could you maybe just expand a little bit for the listening audience a little bit more about that role?

Dr Meyerhoff: Yeah, so in essence, we have two functions. The so-called medical science liaison, or MSL, that’s pretty common now in the industry… And the medical advisors who are more office-based, but also go out and talk to customers. And their job is to make the science of our products relevant to external partners. And they build scientific partnerships with experts; they try to enhance the HCP’s knowledge about the disease area, about the brand, and the science behind it. They support medical education, they collect scientific insights from their interactions to feed back into the company, so what else do we need to do for research, for example.

Interviewer: Right, okay, and so, I mean, just having a little insight into that role from my professional background, you know this is quite a specialist role. Someone who can be having a very in-depth scientific data conversation perhaps with a leading professor and then later that day can be having a conversation with a nursing carer who is dealing day-to-day with patients. And so, being able to have a conversation at multiple different levels with different kinds of health care professionals is a big need in that role. Is that right?

Dr Meyerhoff: Yeah, that’s correct, but I think that the focus is clearly on the top experts in the country or the region and less so with professionals who work on the direct operational levels. So sometimes it’s quite an academic discussion, as you can imagine.

Dr Meyerhoff: We have really highly skilled people, so [inaudible 00:05:49] medical doctors themselves will come from the more natural scientific background, so there are really peer-to-peer conversations that they have in mind.

Interviewer: Got it, right, okay, that’s great. Thank you for just clarifying that. So thinking about the situation at the time, then, from your perspective, what was happening within the business and the MSL teams, as you describe it, at the time that created a need for the Medical Customer Engagement Excellence Programme that was eventually developed.

Dr Meyerhoff: Yep. So our role in corporate, traditionally, is to provide strategic guidance, support countries with the execution and so on. So this is away from the day-to-day business a little bit. And in 2015, we did a gap analysis of our work here in corporate medical affairs at that time, and we became aware that we do everything to develop and to maintain the MSL’s scientific proficiency and knowledge of the clinical data. However, we had signals from the market; I call it market although it’s not about sales –

Interviewer: Yeah, I know what you mean, yeah.

Dr Meyerhoff: That data, though scientifically totally sound and attractive, were insufficient to ensure the full understanding of the medicine’s benefits for the patient. There were still a lot of misunderstandings around in the markets about our brands, despite all the efforts. And we found out that all the trainings we had on offer were on the data. So the training programme, if you can call a programme at all, was lacking for a customer engaging medical functions to develop communication skills, to ensure that people really connect with customers and make an impact on their understanding of the science.

Interviewer: Right, so some real expertise of the highest level in terms of data knowledge, but it was about how that data was then communicated, so people really understood.

Interviewer: Okay, and you’ve alluded to some of the challenges that came to light, that the messages were not necessarily translating the same way. Were there any other challenges, that as you started to dig and explore became apparent?

Dr Meyerhoff: Well, of course, the challenge was multifold, but this was the core of it. To say, okay, we have to link brand content, science with communication skill training. And we thought it can only make an impact if we make it a mandatory training that really has an impact on local teams. And another challenge was that in corporate, we are not expected to deliver training. As I said before, we are more on the strategic level, high level and so-on. And training traditionally is something the countries would be responsible for. So we had to somehow ignore that, and take part, now we are going to do something and offer something for the countries. And of course, I have to appreciate that for many colleagues, English is the second language, as it is for me. We had to do a communication skill training in a foreign language, which is a challenge, but it worked quite well. And lastly, it had to be a sustainable effect. So you do a one-off training, and they go back to their daily business, and they tend to forget what they have learned. So we tried to implement from the start measures to make it last.

Interviewer: Yes, yeah, absolutely. I guess it is unusual for a corporate structure to be developing a programme like this, and yet, you obviously clearly recognise that there was a global need, and this just wasn’t a local need.

Dr Meyerhoff: Yep. Right.

Interviewer: And obviously, you’ve eluded a little bit, but I just wonder if you can expand on perhaps the impact that this particular gap was having within the organisation.

Dr Meyerhoff: Okay, so we were very aware from the beginning that this skill training we were going to design had to be embedded in a clear understanding of the role of these customer engaging medical functions. But because skills can only be developed if people know what their role is and what they’re expected to do and what they are allowed to do as well. So we had this kind of strategic thinking right from the beginning, we have to define the role and be very clear about what we expect, and so alongside with the scientific brand core messages and the tools that were the core for training. And the feedback was really, really amazing about that. So it was enthusiastically embraced. For many colleagues, it was the first ever skill training they had after many years in the industry. And they really appreciated that they got tools that helped them to move away from just data dissemination, and to really engage in true interaction with customers.
Interviewer: And just before I ask you to start talking a little bit more about the programme that evolved, I’m curious about what was it that contributed towards that decision to engage and collaborate with Excel Communications, because the way you described it a few minutes ago, it came across certainly to myself that it was a clear decision to open up a conversation with Excel.

Dr Meyerhoff: Yeah, we had at that time experience with Excel because they supported us in launch preparation for a new product; and this I think is specific to Excel, and I’m not aware of many other training providers, they are familiar with the specific legal restrictions in a medical organisation. What you can say, what you can’t, and what the role is… And yeah, furthermore, they work on an international level, so they have, of course, English-speaking trainers, but also if needed, trainers that can do it in Chinese, and Japanese, and Russian, and we had bilingual training in the end, and this also played a role. And last but not least, I was so amazed to see how dedicated people were in the work in developing and delivering the training, so that … I think it was just a perfect combination of all this.

Interviewer: Yes. And I imagine with this being a global initiative, as you say, it’s very unusual to do a programme like this at the corporate level, that that need for multi-lingual capacity probably was the real cherry on the cake I imagine.

Dr Meyerhoff: Absolutely, yes.

Interviewer: And so, let’s talk then about the programme that was developed. Could you perhaps share with the listeners an overview of what was involved?

Dr Meyerhoff: Yep. So first of all, I would like to clearly state it was a co-creation by Excel and BI, so they brought in the skills and the tools and the training bits, and we put in the brand content, and we really had something that worked together and was kind of 50/50-piece in the end. So the actual deliverable was a one-and-a-half day face-to-face workshop led by Excel, but with the support of us in corporate medical affairs. So there was more or less, almost every workshop there was a person from corporate medical affairs present. And they, as I said, contributed to the tools and did the moderation of the sessions and so on, and we added the brand content and challenged sometimes the participant but also the trainers to apply things to our brand content.

Dr Meyerhoff: We had refresher workshops in Europe. So Europe is one of our focus regions, so six months later we had refresher workshops, one-day refresher workshops, and I’m very proud to say that we also had webcasts in 2017 and 2018. So a series of three webcasts that really were interactive and helped people to reconnect to the content, because people tend to forget. And we updated some brand content, and so people could then check whether they can apply the tools to the new content. And we also tried to make sure that new team members could on-board. So we offered this one-and-a-half day workshop twice a year in Europe for new team members, and I think those were the key elements.

Interviewer: Yes, yeah, and can I perhaps though, just pick up on one part that you mentioned. You said that you’re really proud of it, and that was the webcast series because obviously, with organisations like Boehringer Ingelheim and many other global companies, it isn’t always feasible to bring everybody, let’s say for a follow-up to embed skills and embed learning, it’s not always feasible to bring people back to a face-to-face session. So maybe can you just expand a little bit on how you use those webcasts and what value the audience gain from them and what it meant for you as a team in the outcomes of what you were achieving here?

Dr Meyerhoff: Yeah, so I think many of us know from everyday work that whenever you engage in a teleconference, it tends to be a more passive exercise, somebody’s talking, the rest falls asleep or does other work. So the challenge was to do a communication skill training online. And so one of the decisions we took is it should be small groups, up to 15 people, not more to really keep everybody engaged. And I have to name the Excel trainer who did it, it was Mark DeCosemo, the lead trainer, who really found a way to keep people active. It was with very few slides and a lot of exercises, so once the content was introduced, there was a quick refresher on the tools, people got exercises. They’d say, okay, please phrase how, or type, also use the chat function in the webcasts, how you would introduce content to the customer in one sentence. Or a question, an impactful question, you would ask the customer about the topic for today’s conversation. So people had to really think and engage, and everyone stayed until the end, and that showed me that they were engaged, even if they were thousands of miles away.

Interviewer: As you were collaborating, you know as two organisations, to develop this, what were some of the specific outcomes that you were looking for the programme to deliver, Juliane.

Dr Meyerhoff: Yeah, you’re saying something very important. You shouldn’t start with developing a programme without being very clear about the objectives, what you’re wanting to achieve. This is one of the learning I took from my trainer role. So you’re saying, okay, the customer engaging medical functions need to know the brand core scientific messages. They need to understand their role in developing scientific partnerships with external experts, just beyond data dissemination. There’s much more into that role. By the end of the programme, we felt they need to know and … First of all, need to be able to use tools that increase the relevance of their conversations with external experts, such as defining objectives for a conversation, understanding customer’s needs by asking impactful questions, addressing perceptions, and achieve commitments. We also had a kind of, I would say, soft objective to, yeah, achieve that people say, “I leave the room with a bold attitude.” We were like a little bit in a defensive mode, a very academic, discussing if there was any objection or question, this would be answered. And we would like to really stand up and say there’s convincing data about this and this, and I would like to discuss this, and not shy away from difficult discussions. And lastly, we also have to keep in mind that team leads play an important role too, first of all, for keeping a learning present in people’s minds. They should be able to coach people and create an environment of learning and exchange and keeping things alive. This was also a very big challenge, I have to say.

Interviewer: Yes, yes. So quite a number of outcomes, and some real specific ones, which is great. And I guess, just thinking back to the point that you made right at the beginning of our conversation, that generally as a corporate medical affairs team, you wouldn’t usually get involved in, let’s say, skill-based communication type training, it would be much more at country-level. So I guess it just made me think about stakeholders, and who, as stakeholders, needed to be involved in the collaboration and the conversations.

Dr Meyerhoff: Yeah, we not only needed the commitment from the brand team leads in the countries, but also from the higher-up management, from the senior medical managers in the countries, but also here in corporate. But the time commitment nowadays is so important, but what amazed me was that everyone was immediately positive about the idea, “Let’s do a skill training for medical affairs.” There was no single concern raised by anyone, but at first, I was really afraid to approach these higher up managers. Oh, what will they say if we come up with this odd request?

Interviewer: Yeah, yes. Well, that’s good because I’m sure there are people listening who can completely relate to your situation and some of the challenges you just mentioned there. So to hear that actually, you had a lot of support right from the outset … And I think it is possible to get that kind of support, even from country heads and other stakeholders.

Dr Meyerhoff: That’s what we noticed, yes, absolutely. And you need to spend a considerable amount of time just for setting this up and get the communication started, maybe have a web-call to address people’s questions and so-on. It took a couple of weeks’ time.

Interviewer: Right, okay. And it absolutely sounds like it was worth it, though, so good for you sticking with it. Now, there were a number of different components you described were involved in the programme, you know, face-to-face, the webcasts, some follow-up, what did you find, on reflection, were some of the key stages in the overall developments of the Medical Customer Engagement Excellence Programme?

Dr Meyerhoff: Yeah, so after the kick-off, the decision we need to do something-

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr Meyerhoff: We defined the objectives, as I explained earlier, we had internal alignment of budgets, which countries to involved, the frame of work to say it has to be a face-to-face workshop, it’s just not doing a webcast from the beginning. Then we had a workshop together with Excel to design the face-to-face training. I think we had one-and-a-half or two days together with them. And the communication to stakeholders as I just expanded on a piece there. Then we had a period where we really fine-tuned the training, leader guide, the materials, got approval for everything. Then the execution phase, that took two months or so, where we really travelled to countries, people travelled to us here near Ingelheim, and we did the workshops. We had then immediately the planning for the refreshers, half a year later. And yeah, then an interesting phase began when we said, we shouldn’t stop here. That was so successful, now we should work further on the strategic framework, as I said before. So we took the decision to write a so-called white paper and with this help, managers and team leads will better understand what the role is, what their value is for the organisation because this is, I think, underestimated. And we implemented this thinking in a specific workshop that followed about a year later with the brand team leads from the countries. This was also an interesting exercise.

Dr Meyerhoff: And after that, we had some webcasts, as I said, to keep things alive. And some late-coming countries, like China, they also had the primary workshops, so it was overall a programme that went over three years.

Interviewer: Wow. So something that started then as we need to do some … I’m saying this very simplistically … Do some skills-based training for some very high profile medical experts suddenly bloomed into a much much bigger impactful project. So … That must have been a journey, over that time, and I imagine at times that perhaps you were scratching your head with a few frustrations. It’s, I think, developing something like this globally across such a large organisation, there must have been times when you had a few frustrations. So, any that you could share with us that perhaps people could learn from?

Dr Meyerhoff: Yeah, you’re right. So it’s the usual frustration you have as a trainer, you have done your best, you’ve got amazing feedback from your initial face-to-face training, and then you’ll meet people months later, and they have forgotten most of the things. And that frustration, yeah, we had that as well in our programme. So that showed us that some people, not all, but some people haven’t used the tool in their practice. There must have been some hurdle for them to really go out and apply what they have learned in the classroom. So that taught us that we need to work more closely with the team leads and to encourage them to work with their teams and make it an everyday thing, like brushing your teeth. And yeah, of course, it’s really difficult to measure the impact. So of course, in theory, there would be tools to try to evaluate what can we do to measure the impact, but that proved to be a really really hard exercise. You could even imagine interviewing customers whether they have seen any changes, but that was just wishful thinking, that didn’t work out in practice.

Interviewer: Yeah. So, and I know that you mentioned when we were chatting before the podcast, about that you haven’t been able to do a full-blown evaluation, I think was how you described it. And yet, I know that as you’ve reflected back over time on the programme, what can you confidently say that you know the programme has specifically addressed these areas. What would you summarise those key areas as?

Dr Meyerhoff: So maybe I should mention that for me, it was very nice to see that the programme was not just a one-off thing but that a more overarching organisation within BI took the idea up. And to say, this is such a nice approach, we should spread it to other therapeutic areas, and now a colleague of mine has taken it on, and again works with Excel to make this programme available also for other brands, other therapeutic areas. Of course, there are some little tweaks, some changes, and the challenge still remains to keep brand content as an important element of it, and not just the skills and tools. But it was very pleasing for me to see that, although we finished our programme, it continues elsewhere in the organisation.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. And so, and I think the thing that I’m hearing very strongly from you in terms of the success of it, because this started off as an initiative on one particular therapeutic area and a particular brand, and for that now to go so global. And that sounds like that’s been the real success piece. Is that right?

Dr Meyerhoff: I would say it was a perfect summary. This is what I believe is the value, but other people gave me feedback that this exactly is the unique thing. Even participants who had attended a kind of skill training before, they said, this was really unique.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. And so, this sounds like this was something different and unique, I think you just described it. What perhaps were some of the other things that you think made … Was the difference that made the difference to this kind of programme?

Dr Meyerhoff: I think I can just reiterate what I said before, that it was a global approach. So, very much align across countries and that it was not a one-off thing. That we would try to make it sustainable, come back to the tools we introduced. But even the content was evolving, the scientific messages, so it didn’t stay the same over the three years, so we modified them every year, tiny little bits. And so we had a reason to again interact with people and say, “Look, this has changed, and please integrate it in your communication, by the way, this is how you could do it. Join the webcast.” And I think this made people aware that we really want this to be implemented, not just offer it once and do what you want with it. So that was close to our heart, and many country teams have adopted it locally then and used the tools in their team meetings to discuss improvements in communications as it was.

Interviewer: Fantastic. And just finally, then, Juliane, obviously there will be other senior advisors like yourself working in medical affairs teams in other global organisations. There will be other senior leaders working in organisations that again are global, but perhaps different industries, who are looking for different kinds of either communication or leadership sorts of training, so if someone was thinking of undertaking a collaborative programme of work, like you have with Excel, what would perhaps be some of your suggestions about how to go about collaborating on such a programme like this.

Dr Meyerhoff: Yeah, so you essentially are asking for a kind of recipe, how to set this up and what is key, yeah-

Interviewer: Well, I guess, yeah, from your experience, because it’s been a journey, and I love the fact that you talk about how you kept learning and making tweaks.

Dr Meyerhoff: Yeah, so, I’ll try to summarise some key aspects. So, first, you need to start off and do your homework as a brand team member. So what do you want to achieve with such a programme, what are your brand scientific core messages, we suggest there should not be more than three, which is a challenge sometimes. Then within the organisation, you need to find someone in the team who’s dedicated to the project. And this should be a person, ideally, who loves to be engaged in communication of science.
Then, also, I think a learning is, make sure if you have set up a training, so Excel will definitely help with it, and it’s their part of the expertise to develop the actual flow of the training together with you. Make sure that people are attending the training who know the brand, so ideally someone from corporate medical affairs, but it can also be somebody from countries who is brief to the programme. For us, it was really important in the first place to make the programme mandatory, as I mentioned, to just have full alignment in the teams, and get management support for this. Therefore, you need to involve the team leads and managers early enough. The team leads really need to also understand the tools, not just sit in the back of the room and listen what their people are doing, they have to be fully involved at the same level as their team members, and they need even level more, the lead needs some idea how to coach these skills, that’s another challenge.
Yeah, so … What else.

Then have a thought about the long-term programme. Offer opportunities how to refresh the content and improve the skills, so on the day-to-day basis, this will be largely a responsibility of team leads, but also some formal conventions, like refreshing trainings. You can add it to meetings you have anyways with people. And from time to time, you need to check, is there new brand content? Last but not least, do not forget to offer opportunities for new people to onboard to the programme. I think these are key steps, maybe I’ve forgotten a few, but I think with this, you’ll have a pretty good list of bullet points what to do to implement such a programme.

Interviewer: Yeah, and I’m sure that that’s going to be really welcome advice for people like yourself who are going to be listening to this, so thank you for that. And thank you for your time as well, I know that you feel very passionate about this particular programme, and I completely understand why, having been able to chat to you about it for the last sort of half an hour. Are there any sort of closing comments you would like to make about your experience, of the programme, or just collaborating with Excel just as some closing words?

Dr Meyerhoff: So it was really an amazing experience, for me in a corporate function to also be in direct conversation, direct contact with country team members and to also understand their needs and to … It was so pleasing to provide something that people need. And with Excel, it was such a pleasure to work on a very professional level, so if it’s all their experience combined with the openness to our needs, that was the perfect combination and the key to success, I would say. If you ever work with Excel, if a member of the audience has the pleasure to do so, challenge them and not just say deliver something, make a proposal, but really engage and you will get an excellent partnership with them.

Interviewer: And I think the other thing that I’m taking away from this as well, just listening to you talk, is that it is possible to develop programmes like this that are global and multi-lingual and that you can deliver consistent training and get consistent results, I think, because that must often be a bit of a headache sometimes for people in corporate’s head office, like yourself, that actually this is possible because you’ve done it. You’ve demonstrated that it’s achievable.

Dr Meyerhoff: Absolutely, this is a good message, yeah. Just go out and do it.

Interviewer: Yeah, well lovely, thank you for your time today, I really appreciate it, and I’m sure that the audience listening will enjoy the value just hearing of your journey. So thank you, Juliane.

Dr Meyerhoff: Thanks, it was a great pleasure to talk to you.