Engagement with Impact
Medical Science Liasions need more than just scientific acumen to get the message across.
There has been an explosion in the number of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) over the last few years, spurred by the trends that can be best summed up as the shift from volume to value. Companies want partnerships with customers through peer-to-peer interactions that deliver customer value and scientific credibility. Yet, to deliver this level of stakeholder engagement, MSLs need more than highly developed scientific acumen, they also need finely honed interpersonal skills.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the key to MSL performance, says Dr Mary Collins from the Irish Royal College of Surgeons. EQ is pivotal for effective leadership – communicating with impact, and building trust and rapport, as well as identifying and understanding another person’s situation, feelings, and motives. Most important of all is the self - awareness to manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.”
Peter Rutherford, VP, Integrated Market Access at QuintilesIMS, agrees, but says other people often need to be convinced. “The first challenge is to get Medical Affairs colleagues to grasp the importance of emotional intelligence. As a UK hospital medical director, I used to deliver a presentation to new doctors entitled ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why If I’m the Most Intelligent Person in the Room Did I Not Get My Way’. It was all about trying to teach the importance of emotional intelligence in terms of personal engagement with patients and other internal hospital colleagues. We need to know who we are and we need to know who they are, then we can have a better conversation. That’s a key step and I’m not sure that everyone is on the same page.”
Dr Collins defines emotional intelligence as the ability to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships empathetically, adding that EQ can be developed. “In my role as a leadership coach, I work on assessing people’s EQ through psychometric testing, then working in a supportive, coaching environment to increase it through ongoing training and development. An important aspect is self-awareness and being open to change and development. The business ROI of investing in EQ is very high.”
For Martyn Newman, author of Emotional Capitalists: The New Leaders, being able to engage with someone completely – suspending your own agenda and focusing on that person’s experience and the challenge they’re facing – totally transforms leadership. “The key skills of exceptional leadership are grounded in emotional competencies,” he says. “We know how to measure them and develop them; when you do, it is utterly transformative. They need to be integrated into leadership development as well as recruitment and selection processes.”
MSLs looking to build strong relationships – internally and externally – will need training with emotional intelligence at its core, says Helen Kane, founder of MSL support company, PivotMSL. “Learning and development has traditionally been strong in commercial teams but we need to invest heavily in continuous professional development in Medical Affairs to give MSLs the confidence to engage credibly and have the most impactful medical interactions,” she says.
“Emotional intelligence is a key component – relationship building, communicating effectively, being able to stand in the shoes of your customers, actively listening and being able to flex to suit your audience, and influence effectively, getting to the nub of the problem in an agile way, understanding what the goals are across the organization and being able to work cross-functionally all hinge on emotional intelligence. Only 24% of MSLs work for companies that have a formal MSL professional development framework1."
A NEW WAY OF THINKING
We must demonstrate the value that the ever increasing number of MSLs bring, says Mark Rees-Saunders, MSL Excellence Lead at AstraZeneca. “In AZ, the number of MSLs has grown by approximately 30% in the last year and a half. Given the size and cost of this investment, MSL teams have to be optimally skilled in terms of how they communicate externally and internally and work cross-functionally within the organization. We need to better demonstrate the value this resource brings the organization, clinicians and ultimately patients – KPIs would include standard quantitative measures such as the number of interactions and qualitative measures, such as the quality of their scientific communications, how they interact with key account teams, value-added outcomes, scientific expertise and ultimately the value they bring to clinicians. Medical Affairs is becoming an equal partner with the commercial side in driving the strategic direction of the organization and for MSLs, this is partly supported by the strategic insights they bring into the organization,” he says.
However, establishing effective KPIs can be challenging, says Peter Rutherford. “You can’t look at commercial measurements like sales revenues; KPIs for MSLs need to be set around the delivery of the medical plan and the activities around it. You can use bland metrics, like time in field or number of interactions, but they don’t’ capture the emotional engagement or the value and depth of the interactions. You also need to look at surrogate outcomes, such as metrics around delivery of an improvement plan or delivery of a medical education program if they are your key objectives.
“Surveying the MSL’s customer groups, both external and internal stakeholders, can provide a measure of the quality and depth of relationships, and their contribution to special projects and strategic planning,” says Rutherford. “Observation and feedback on in-field performance from managers and directors is also critical to driving the quality and impact of MSL teams.”
Given the growing strategic importance of the MSL, it’s important to hire for success and provide continuous training and development, says Antonio Tataranni, SVP and Head of MA, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Business Unit at Sanofi. “We have reorganized our Medical structure to ensure our training becomes a central tenet of what we need for the future. Once you establish scientific credibility as your foundation, it informs the talent you attract. You have to guarantee that your talent pool matches the expectation of your constituents. Attracting and developing talent is a large part of our long-term partnership with strategic stakeholders; we need to anticipate the future and recognize knowledge gaps within the organization and ensure they’re filled.”