Business gurus have written for years about the importance of management and what it entails and to quote Peter Drucker: “From the outside, business management can look like a mindless game of chance at which any donkey could win provided only that they be ruthless. But, of course, that is how any human activity looks to the outsider unless it can be shown to be purposeful, organised, systematic... that is unless it can be presented as a discipline.”
But as a discipline, when compared with other professionals such as doctors, accountants or lawyers, the job of a manager is often misunderstood. Often companies, in their efforts to overcome the wrong perceptions of management, have simply changed the job title. In the 1980’s, General Electric rejected the word ‘manager’ and instead went with ‘leader’ and Drucker himself shifted his choice of title to executive to help him move way from any prejudices. Management, therefore, is a discipline that is not always distinct or clear and in practise it produces various results. We can all recall experiences in our working lives of the far-reaching consequences of a poor manager or, on the flip side, the positive aspects of good management.
In our introductory feature to line management in the pharmaceutical industry, we showed that many senior industry people believe that good First Line Management is critical to business success. The Pf Company Perception, Motivation and Remuneration Survey also highlighted how important regional management is as a motivational factor for a representative and conversely, it was shown that a poor relationship with a line manager is one of the top three reasons why representatives move companies. But in an industry where company turnover often runs at around 20% of representatives per year and the cost of a new rep is reportedly more than £100,000 per annum, getting line management right is vital.
In this article we will look at the perceptions of regional management from a representatives viewpoint to try and understand how reps feel about line management and its affects on their ability to do their job and also their future prospects.
Lloyd Farrow, 36, is an account manager with the GSK consumer team in East Anglia, working with key NHS customers in the smoking cessation arena. Lloyd has been in the industry for about 18 months and before that was a retail manager with both Safeways and Victoria Wine.
The benefits of having a Regional Manager to Lloyd are clear. Being field-based and relatively remote from Head Office, his regular field visits with his RBM allow him to communicate on a personal basis with the company. Richard, who is Lloyd’s RBM, is the ‘face of the company’ and Lloyd said: “Facilitating communication must be one of the most important roles of a Regional Manager. This is two-way communication, feeding straight to Head Office and also communicating and filtering messages back to me and the rest of the team.”
Lloyd’s RBM’s experience is also invaluable in helping him get the best from his territory and he said: “I find it really useful to be able to tap into Richard’s experience when I have a problem. From my perspective, having a manager who has done the job himself and has broader experience than me is vital. In retail, I had the unfortunate experience of working with managers who had spent no time on the shop floor and who, consequently, were often flummoxed when situations occurred that were not dealt with in their rule book.”
Being motivated by his manager is also an important factor for Lloyd. He said: “When you are alone you can get disheartened from time to time. I understand that my RBM’s role is about monitoring and driving performance. However, these objectives are underpinned by encouragement and this motivating element is the overriding feeling I have when we work together. This is important because I know from other company reps that this is not always the case and some managers are thought to exist only to de-motivate people.”
From a career perspective, Lloyd too would like to develop in the line management direction. Why? The ability to earn a better standard of living for his family without any relocation issues, is a big factor. In addition, from a personal development perspective, line management offers career progression and personal growth. However, Lloyd does acknowledge that there will be a price to pay for the benefits of promotion in terms of longer hours, more pressure and more paperwork.
Other views make for interesting reading and four new representatives on the i2medical team, which is a co-funded unit for Lilly and Sankyo, gave their input. Three of the four had no previous field selling experience. Damien, 35, from Belfast had worked for a medical devices company for 10 years, Catherine and Priya were recent graduates and Joanna, 33, was previously a teacher.
In terms of what they wanted from their manager, they felt their main needs were for the person to be supportive and encouraging. All were very aware of their personal development and felt that managers should be able to give constructive criticism and be a resource that could help build their skills and knowledge. Catherine and Priya were very clear that they needed their manager to help them identify their training needs and work with them on specific areas. Moreover, good access to their manager was seen as critical, especially in the early months, with regular field visits and daily telephone and email contact. In addition, Damien felt that monitoring and performance management were a fundamental part of the RBM’s role and also that line managers were very much the communication channel for the company messages and his field feedback.
But what did they not want in a line manager?
In this area, our four new recruits were very clear, No bullying tactics, no condescending behaviour, no favouritism, no arrogance, no marginalisation of their issues and problems and no interruption of their calls with customers (Yes, this bad habit of some regional managers had already filtered through to them). Interestingly, the four reps admitted to not being totally clear on what First Line Managers did with all their time! Field visits were obviously cited, and thought to take up between 9 and 12 days a month and it was suggested that perhaps administration, data analysis and report writing and sales management meetings would take up the rest of their working week.
Of the four new recruits, three were very interested at looking at regional management as an option in the longer term. This was primarily down to the ability to earn more money but also due to the fact they thought their inherent organisational ability, good communication skills and aptitude to get on with people, made them good management potential.
Bernard Warner, a senior representative with Abbott Laboratories, also gave some interesting feedback to the question, ‘What makes a good manager?’ He said: “It is a person who endears the individual to them; who is able to be tactful yet firm when necessary; can give needed discipline but in a way that is acceptable. Moreover, this role requires a sense of empathy, (which is often lacking), and if improvement is needed, a manager should be able to show by example how this can be done. But above all, management entails giving the individual the feeling that he or she genuinely cares (yes, cares!), and really does want that person to succeed.”
Clearly, we have some interesting views and perspectives from representatives, some of which will be relevant to reps currently working in the field. In the next feature of this series on line management we will explore the role of a First Line Manager in terms of what the job actually entails and the skills needed, not only now but perhaps in the future.