Why Leaders Should “Bless the Mess”

Author: By Liz Lewis, Head, Global Oncology Patient Value, Policy, and Access | Published: Sep 29 2021

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This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on September 29, 2021

I am proud of how Takeda – like so many companies around the world – has adapted and embraced new ways of working over the past year-and-a-half. As Head of Global Oncology Patient Value, Policy and Access (PVPA) at Takeda, I also miss in-person interactions with my team and colleagues and look forward to returning to the workplace soon.

With our anticipated implementation of a hybrid working model for employees, I’m also excited about the return of “messiness.” And I’m not talking about a cluttered desk, but rather the deep dive into issues or difficult problems in a “messy way” that comes from off-the-cuff conversations as well as impromptu troubleshooting and brainstorming sessions that have proven difficult to replicate in the “politeness” of our virtual interactions.

I believe that to achieve as a learning organization it’s important to go through this mess that feels most apparent in the middle phase of business undertakings. I remember pre-COVID strategy meetings with a lot of discourse and differing perspectives around the room—and the vibrancy of coming together to solve difficult problems and embracing a myriad of perspectives. Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter said it best: “in the middle, everything looks like a failure.” While it is natural for people to be motivated by beginnings and endings, we must not let ourselves become discouraged by the difficulties we face in between, because this hard, challenging and “messy” work in the middle is where the magic happens.

During this period of uncertainty, it’s natural for many of us to seek order and predictability. As leaders, we’ve had to create systems and processes to help our employees feel safe and ready to do their best work in a virtual world, while also helping them adapt to constant change. Our payer negotiations, for instance, had to be rethought. I’m proud of how my PVPA team embraced their new environment by quickly and effectively pivoting to virtual negotiations without skipping a beat. New trainings were developed and mock virtual negotiations were held to prepare local operating companies. This flexible mindset exemplified the importance of embracing the mess and undoubtably drove much of the success we have had this year.

Our colleagues’ willingness to adapt and embrace change was also put to the test when we set up our PVPA group; and all, of course, rose to the task. To ensure that we had the right structure to accelerate our efforts to secure rapid and broad patient access, while strengthening our policy and advocacy approach, we upended established roles and workstreams.

Not only did we change the way we worked as a team, but we also challenged other teams to work with us in new ways to incorporate the access perspective earlier in the development process. At first, people were uncomfortable with the change, but in the end, challenging our status quo enabled us to become the strong and agile team that we are today. This was virtual “messiness” at its peak and an effort which may have been less likely to succeed had my colleagues and I chosen not to accept and adapt to the change.

While our work environment continues to evolve, we need to recognize that change is a constant. Try new models for working, and if they don’t suit your team, try again. And remember to hang in there as you get through the mess in the middle – it’s an essential part of the process. We have a unique opportunity during these times to try new ways of working and to shake things up for the better, so experiment and have fun with it!