Strategies for Stress Management

By Len Monheit

With at least four key North American events in the next eight weeks, it can be argued that this period of time is the year's most pivotal. Combine that with budgeting and planning obligations to set 2006 targets, and stress and anxiety levels in the industry are set to go straight off the charts.

In the past I've spoken about topics such as how industry uses (and perhaps abuses) industry events with inadequate planning or even as an excuse to refrain from decision making. I've also commented on the mix of interaction approaches we are currently experiencing and how this is evolving (Webinars, small symposia etc.). And I've spoken about how, as gray areas between sectors blur even further, more events and other commitments and obligations must be factored into the event mix as well as other operational costs and commitments. (Two new products conferences occur in the month of October alone, there's a weight loss and obesity conference next week, and there's even apparently a tabletop exhibition series making the rounds at the top food companies in the US featuring innovative and healthy food ingredients.)

These not only remain part of our current reality, they necessarily impact any preparation we do for the future - certainly any budgeting and forecasting. It's so difficult to get ahead of the game with all the shifting dynamics, which also necessarily include consumer trends and scientific and regulatory developments. The larger the organization, the more refined the planning process (presumably), but even smaller organizations need to view ahead, even if 'only' for cash flow purposes.

Sounds pretty intimidating and nigh impossible. What's a smaller company to do? And how do you 'buffer' for uncertainty, contingency or spontaneity? And can you afford the latter?

In our industry, I'd propose that even in the most rigorous corporate environments, a mechanism for contingency planning needs to exist. The same holds true for smaller organizations, although obviously less structured. In the US, we don't know when we'll see GMP's. In Canada we don't know the product approval schedule. In general we don't always know when the next study will either support or refute a current key product. And we don't know when a small symposium will give us unrestricted access to 8 or 10 key potential movers in a small industry sub-sector. Yet the dynamic company must be prepared to both plan and respond effectively. For GMP's, presumably companies have been allocating additional funds over the past few years for compliance and QA. (without even knowing the detail of the final regulations). There are also phase-in periods intended to allow companies to budget and allocate accordingly. These generally prove inappropriate for many companies, especially those with inadequate contingency planning. And if large companies struggle to comply, what are small to mid-size companies to do?

Informal pooling we have done of our own network has generated the following list of possible activities:

  • Proactively engage in scenario planning to identify potential needs and wants in various circumstances
  • Determine the criteria to differentiate between needs and wants (mandatory or discretionary)
  • With each item that comes up, categorize it as a need or want
  • In each of these cases, determine a milestone or trigger that activates the scenario
  • Actively establish and continually develop an intelligence structure and network, cultivate it at every opportunity, and make this activity part of your corporate culture
  • Solicit and organize information flows to gather tidbits, leads etc and communicate these through the organization
  • Develop and manage a scenario matrix

Company approaches and level of structure on this issue will vary. If your organization might be affected by some of the things I've pointed out above (GMP's, new research, a new key event that you must attend, then just maybe some of these activities are worthwhile.

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