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Executive Spotlights

Lesson’s Learned from Building out the Commercial Organization

If there is one thing we know in the life sciences, it’s that innovation is born from necessity. CovInnovations was no exception. And at the helm, Jamie Jones - a life science leader with over 30 years of experience under his belt in leading and growing organizations - proved just that. The secret sauce to making it all work in every situation, he says, is a strong company culture that permeates out.

Jamie started his education at the University of Central Florida earning an MBA in Marketing and a BS in Finance. He then made his way north to complete the executive education programs at Drexel University and the Wharton School of Business. Having held senior leadership positions at DoubleRainbow Biosciences, Kalos Therapeutics, Alnylam, Gilead, and Novo Nordisk, Jamie has led the development and implementation of strategic partnerships, joint ventures, alliances, and platform technologies as well as playing a key role in the successful launch of several pharmaceutical products, including ONPATTRO® (patisiran) at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Victoza at Novo Nordisk.

One of his biggest strengths is in the creation and growth of new businesses. This brings us to his current post as the CEO of CovInnovations, a company focused on bringing several COVID-19-related technologies to market, including a treatment for hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19, a rapid RNA test, and a susceptibility test. His strength lies in a keen awareness of how to “create a genuine corporate culture, not just superficial appearances.” With the goal of sharing his wisdom, Jamie has boiled down his commercial success learnings into four key lessons: Building a Commercial Community, Navigating Potholes, Bringing Together a Confluence of Skills and Inspecting what is Expected. These lessons have come from a career of consistent commercial successes and heavily rely on his walking through the fire at Alnylam.

Building a Commercial Community where Everyone is a Sergeant of Arms for Culture

Peter Drucker once famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and data supports this. According to Forbes, companies with strong cultures experience a four times increase in revenue growth, while those with poor cultures face 18% lower productivity and a 37% increase in employee absenteeism. A strong company culture is the foundation upon which successful organizations are built. It refers to a shared set of values, beliefs, behaviors, customs, and attitudes that shape an organization’s social and psychological environment. A strong company culture can bring many benefits to both the employees and the organization, making it a crucial aspect of any business strategy.

When employees are aligned with the company's purpose and mission, they are more likely to feel motivated and engaged in their work. Resulting in higher levels of job satisfaction, productivity, commitment, and goal-oriented decision making. This starts with hiring individuals who share the company's values and beliefs, to reinforce and strengthen the company's culture. When employees are inspired by the company's purpose, they are more likely to be creative, to come up with innovative ideas and to stay with the company for the long-term - reducing turnover costs and improving stability at, Alnylam he started the “OTOG: One Team, One Goal” podcast - a moniker taken from Alnylam’s long term President Barry Greene. Jamie interviewed coworkers from a diverse background of functions and disciplines, recording and distributing company-wide more than 60 shows over the course of 12 months. The idea came from a need to build a stronger and more sustained connection between field and office-based teams.

To forge that bond between people that were unlikely to work together directly, he set out to “capture how it felt to live the culture” both in and outside the Cambridge office walls. The conversations were funny, honest, and full of insightful inquiry that led to a deeper understanding of the employee as a person, as a colleague, and as a contributor to the company’s overall success. In doing so, they helped to foster an environment of shared goals. A community of people all working for the same purpose.

This creates an environment where everyone, from top to bottom, is a sergeant of arms for that culture, which is especially important in a start-up that can grow rapidly from 100 to 500 to 1000 employees. A “Sergeant of Arms” responsibility is to uphold and reinforce the company's values. No matter the title or seniority level, everyone should ensure the understanding and adherence to the company's cultural norms, and that any deviations are addressed promptly and effectively. There is a myriad of advantages to engraining this philosophy into the ethos of a company including maintaining consistency, cohesion, promoting accountability, encouraging positive behavior, and fostering a sense of belonging to the larger community. The old saying, “you don’t need a title to be a leader.”

A strong company culture can also increase an organization’s competitiveness. We must “give people the power and ownership in knowing they can make a positive difference” explained Jamie. Because in today's fast-paced business environment, it's more important than ever to have a clear and consistent set of values that guide our behavior and decision-making. When everyone is working towards the same goals, the organization can respond quickly and effectively to new challenges and opportunities. When employees feel valued, supported, and engaged, they are more likely to go above and beyond in their work, leading to increased innovation and internal growth. And externally, a positive reputation which attracts new customers and business opportunities.

From another perspective, Jamie explained, a strong culture can also increase competitiveness, which inspires engagement and growth. For example, Gilead did an excellent job at measuring and communicating these metrics. Other departments began to see that the commercial team always rated high with workplace satisfaction and overall engagement. So clinical borrowed the best-practices from the commercial organization and began to improve their own engagement and overall job satisfaction. Like the commercial teams, Clinical Ops began to focus on building career paths within the company. On mentorship programs and individual development.

It's surprising to know that approximately 80% of employees claim that their companies measure employee engagement. This is a missed opportunity for the other 20% to understand perspectives on the company culture and find ways to better meet their needs. Team leaders should make use of a combination of surveys and in-person feedback sessions and do so on a regular basis. While annual culture surveys are useful, they should be supported with frequent check-ins to track the progress of your initiatives and find new ways to improve processes and systems.

Having a strong company culture is essential for the success of any organization. It helps to attract and retain top talent, promotes teamwork and collaboration, increases competitiveness, and contributes to overall growth and success. By investing in and nurturing a strong company culture, organizations create a supportive and productive environment that benefits everyone.

Navigating the Potholes

When it comes to describing company culture, it can be tempting to use generic and overused adjectives like "high-performing," "collaborative," "innovative," and so on. However, a study by Gartner found that these labels do not result in any significant advantages, as they often clash with how the company operates on the day to day. This creates a "say/do gap" where employees view leaders' cultural aspirations as hypocritical.

Instead of using any one thing to describe company culture, it’s better to illustrate it by acknowledging important tensions within the organization. For example, recognizing the tension between sales’ steadfast drive to meet goals and brand marketing’s desire to execute strategies, can be more effective than simply claiming to have a "culture of innovation." Acknowledging other tensions - such as balancing short and long-term goals, prioritizing results and accountability while also caring for individual well-being - avoids disillusionment among employees.

The data obtained from employee surveys alone is insufficient to accurately gauge corporate culture. Such assessments commonly depend on metrics like employee involvement and departure rates, which may lead to misleading results. To have a clearer understanding, organizations should include open-ended questions in their surveys and solicit candid feedback. Additionally, it is crucial for leaders to foster a secure environment where employees feel free to voice their opinions without repercussion.

It is worth noting that company policies should align with the desired cultural change. For example, if a company wants a collaborative culture, they should avoid using a forced-curve performance management system that encourages competition among employees. To be truly customer-centric, the company should not restrict expenses needed for sales representatives to meet with customers.

Changing the culture of a company can be a complex and challenging process, and it often leads to a variety of problems. Some of the most common issues that arise during a cultural transformation include resistance to change, loss of morale, difficulty in aligning employees with new values/objectives, and decreased productivity.

Resistance to change is one of the most significant obstacles faced by companies undergoing a cultural shift. Employees who have been with the organization for a long time may be resistant to the new norm. They may see the changes as a threat to their comfort, stability or even job security. This resistance can take the form of passive opposition, such as resistance to learning new processes or active opposition, such as actively sabotaging new initiatives.

At a highly regarded company in which he held a leadership position, there was a drastic change of focus away from the traditional business that generated material revenue – the “keep the lights on” revenue – for a new business division that had tremendous blockbuster appeal. The problem wasn’t in the pivot itself but in how the organization shifted its resources, tone, and tenor of communication that some saw as disrespectful. The tactics were demeaning and uncharacteristic of the businesses’ traditions.

It led to a mass exodus of employees and discouraged potential candidates from working within the original business unit. In time, it changed how customers perceived the company as the unceremonious shift toward new business left them in the wake while competitors carved out unprecedented share gains.

Another significant issue that can arise during a cultural change is a loss of morale. Employees may feel disillusioned, disheartened, and disconnected from the company as they see changes in the values and traditions that once made the organization unique. Aligning employees with new values and objectives can be challenging. Companies often fail to effectively communicate the reasons behind the shift, leading to confusion and misunderstandings. Employees may struggle to understand the vision and may feel uncertain about their role in the new landscape. This can result in a decrease in employee satisfaction and engagement, leading to higher turnover rates and decreased productivity.

It's also important to remember that cultural change will be time-consuming and distracting. Employees may spend a significant amount of time adapting to new processes, procedures, and ways of working, leading to decreased focus on their primary responsibilities. The company may also experience decreased productivity as it diverts resources towards the cultural transformation process.

An evolving company culture can be a challenging process that often leads to a variety of problems. From resistance to change, loss of morale, difficulty in aligning employees with new values/objectives, and decreased productivity, companies must be prepared to face and overcome these challenges to successfully transform. To minimize these problems, companies should involve employees in the process, effectively communicate the reasons for the change, and provide ongoing support and training to help employees adjust to the new norm.

A Confluence of Skills – Commercial Meritocracy vs. Clinical Knowledge-ocracy

Bringing different skills together within the disciplines and marrying the cultures is key for any organization in the life sciences. Jamie draws from his experience at Gilead, where clinical ops and other functions outside of Commercial, looked to their Sales and Marketing counterparts to brainstorm ideas on how to effectively facilitate execution and collaboration and. In this way, the analytical minds can lean on the emotional intelligence of their coworkers, which is crucial to successfully lead customer facing initiatives and customer engaging teams. And that pathway of interdependence goes both ways.

Another key factor here is Commercial Meritocracy vs. Clinical and Science Knowledge-ocracy. Meritocracy and knowledge-ocracy are two systems of governance that are often discussed in the context of organizations and businesses. While both systems aim to promote excellence and productivity, they differ in their approach to achieving these goals. Meritocracy focuses on individual achievement and a reward system based on personal ability and accomplishment. While knowledge-ocracy emphasizes the collective knowledge and experience of the organization.

Meritocracy, often the basis for a Commercial organization, is a system that emphasizes individual merit as the primary criteria for advancement and success. In a meritocracy, individuals are evaluated based on their abilities, accomplishments, and results, and the best and brightest are selected for leadership roles and promotions. This system encourages competition and individual achievement, leading to a highly motivated and driven workforce. Meritocracies are often seen as a fair and efficient way to allocate resources and rewards, as they reward those who demonstrate the most potential and ability.

However, meritocracies can also lead to several negative outcomes. For example, they can create an environment where individuals focus on their own interests and accomplishments, rather than the common good. This leads to a lack of collaboration and teamwork, and a focus on individual success rather than the collective. They can also result in a lack of diversity, as individuals from varied backgrounds may not have the same opportunities to demonstrate their abilities and compete for leadership roles.

In contrast, knowledge-ocracy, often the basis for non-Commercial organizations, is a system that values the collective knowledge and experience of the organization. In a knowledge-ocracy, decision-making is based on the collective intelligence and expertise of the organization, rather than individual merit. This system emphasizes collaboration, teamwork, and sharing of knowledge, leading to a more cohesive and cooperative work environment. Knowledge-ocracies also promote diversity, as individuals from diverse backgrounds can bring unique perspectives and ideas to the table.

However, knowledge-ocracies have their downsides as well. For example, decision-making can be slow and cumbersome, as it requires collaboration and consensus-building. Leading to indecision and inaction. Additionally, the focus on collective knowledge can lead to a lack of accountability, as individuals may feel that their contributions are not valued.

It’s common in life science organizations to have two performance systems. Commercial is built on generating results with finite values. Science rests on investigation and the validation of results with ambiguous and sometimes entirely unknown values. The two take rigor and determination. The ways they get there are diverse, and they always juxtapose one another when done right. Uber successful companies like the Pfizers, Gilead Sciences and Alnylams of the world, understand this conundrum and work to create environments where they can thrive.

Alnylam’s opening of their scientific advisory boards to the entire company for Q&A and using all-company meetings to share advances across functional spaces and business boundaries was pivotal in building the cohesive culture that they have today.

Both systems of approach have their strengths and weaknesses. Organizations must carefully consider the pros and cons of each and determine which approach best aligns with their goals and values. Ultimately, a balance between meritocracy and knowledge-ocracy may be the most effective way to promote excellence, productivity, and success. Combining meritocracy and knowledge-ocracy can provide organizations with the best of both worlds, promoting excellence and productivity while avoiding the negative consequences associated with each system. Meritocracy focuses on individual achievement and rewards the best and brightest, while knowledge-ocracy values the collective knowledge and experience of the organization. By combining these two systems, organizations can achieve a balance that promotes both individual achievement and collaboration, leading to a more effective and efficient work environment.

In a combined system, individuals are evaluated based on both their abilities, accomplishments and their contributions to the collective knowledge and experience of the group. This system recognizes the importance of individual excellence and the value of collective knowledge. By combining these two perspectives, organizations can create a more balanced and effective system.

It also promotes diversity and inclusiveness. By recognizing the value of both individual achievement and collective knowledge, organizations can create an environment where individuals from every background are valued and have opportunities to demonstrate their abilities. Resulting in a more diverse and innovative workforce.

However, combining meritocracy and knowledge-ocracy is not without its challenges. For example, leadership must ensure that the balance between individual achievement and collective knowledge is maintained, as too much emphasis on either side can lead to negative consequences. Additionally, organizations must be diligent in promoting open and honest communication, as collaboration and sharing of knowledge is essential in a combined system.

Inspect what you Expect (Execution)

One of the most important aspects in leading a team is ensuring that your expectations are met. In other words, you need to inspect what you expect. This means checking in regularly with team members to ensure they are meeting the goals and objectives you have set for them.

Inspecting what you expect helps maintain accountability. When team members know that you are checking in on their progress, they are more likely to stay on track and complete tasks on time. It also helps to build trust between team members and leaders. Team members will see that their leader is invested in their success and that their work is valued.

Inspecting what you expect allows leaders to identify and address issues early on. If a team member is struggling to meet expectations, regular check-ins can help identify the issue and provide an opportunity for the leader to offer support and guidance. This can prevent small issues from turning into larger problems that could impact the larger team's performance down the road. Addressing issues early on ensures that the team is working efficiently, effectively, and ultimately leads to greater success.

Inspecting what you expect helps leaders adjust their expectations. As the project progresses, leaders may realize that the original goals and objectives are unrealistic or need to be adjusted. Regular check-ins can help to identify areas where these tweaks need to be made and do so in a timely manner. This ensures that the team's efforts remain aligned with the organization's goals and that the project is completed successfully.

Inspecting what you expect helps leaders to recognize and reward team members who are exceeding expectations. Regular check-ins provide an opportunity for leaders to identify team members who are performing exceptionally well and recognize their contributions. This can help to boost team morale and motivation.

Inspecting what you expect is a crucial aspect of leadership. It helps to keep team members accountable, identify and address issues early on, adjust expectations when needed, and recognize and reward exceptional performance. Leaders who prioritize regular check-ins with their team members are more likely to achieve success and build a strong, motivated, and productive team.

Building out a commercial organization can be a challenging task, but there are some key lessons that can be learned to make the process smoother and more successful. Here are a few lessons that may be helpful:

1. Hire the right people: One of the most crucial factors in building a successful commercial organization is hiring the right people. Look for individuals who have experience in sales and marketing, are passionate about your product or service, and share your company’s values and mission.

2. Develop a clear strategy: Before you start building your commercial organization, develop a clear strategy that outlines your target market, value proposition, and sales process. This will help you ensure that everyone on your team is aligned and working toward the same goals.

3. Provide ongoing training and support: Sales and marketing tactics are constantly evolving, so it’s important to provide ongoing training and support to your team to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

4. Measure and track performance: Set clear performance metrics and regularly track progress against them. This will help you identify areas where your team is excelling and areas where there is room for improvement.

5. Foster a culture of collaboration: Building a successful commercial organization requires collaboration between sales, marketing, and other teams. Encourage open communication and collaboration between these groups to ensure that everyone is working together toward a common goal.

6. Be adaptable: The business world is constantly changing, so it’s important to be adaptable and willing to pivot your strategy as needed. This may involve adjusting your sales approach, targeting new markets, or developing new products or services.

7. Focus on customer success: The success of your commercial organization will depend on your ability to deliver value to your customers. Make sure that your team is focused on delivering a great customer experience and building long-term relationships with your clients.

The saying "innovation is born from necessity" means that when faced with a problem or challenge, people are often driven to come up with creative solutions to overcome it. When something is needed or required, it can inspire people to think outside of the box and find new ways of doing things. This happens faster and more effectively in a cohesive and focused community.

Throughout history, many great innovations have been developed out of necessity. The printing press was invented because there was a need to produce books more efficiently. The telephone was developed to solve the problem of communicating over long distances. And more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a wave of innovation as people have been forced to find new ways to work, learn, and connect remotely. Organizations have had to pull up their bootstraps and brainstorm like never before. And to do so, their foundations must be unshakeable, firmly rooted in a shared vision.


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