Have you ever wondered about these company departments with “affairs” in their name? They’re usually called public affairs, regulatory affairs, medical affairs, government affairs, legal affairs, environmental affairs, external affairs, corporate affairs, and there might be more … In my view, an “affair” has a somewhat negative connotation. It is a topic of concern. It is something unwelcome that needs to be addressed. It is something that forces you into a defensive attitude. It is something that is outside of the natural way of doing business. I have carried “affairs” in my title for many decades now, and it still sounds a little bit odd. True, it has a certain ring to it, a diplomatic ring even, but nothing more …
And maybe it can be explained historically. These “affairs departments” were created to solve unexpected issues that arose outside of the traditional value chain of research-manufacturing-marketing-sales. These value chain departments never deal with “affairs”. They are typically at the centre of an organisation’s activities. “Affairs” are at the fringe. They are outside this value chain.
This explains why there is no such thing as a “research affairs” department, or a “marketing affairs director”, or a “sales affairs manager”, or a “vice president financial affairs” (“… no, no, no, that won’t work. We don’t have “affairs” in our departments. What are you thinking? We only move forward, onward and upward. Look at our charts, look at our plans and projections, our peak sales and LTBPs! If we don’t get there, if we don’t reach these goals, it’s because of the affairs that you guys are dealing with. They slow us down. They detract us. They side-track us. They block us. They cost us. So deal with them! Get rid of all this stuff that’s slowing us down, that’s pulling us back, that’s blurring our focus”).
The “affairs departments” deal with the stuff that nobody understands but that needs to be cleared up, cleaned up, annihilated, destroyed, dealt with, like the algae on a ship’s hull, because it slows down the natural flow of things, the forward movement to revenue, to top-line income and bottom-line savings. The “affairs guys” are some kind of secondary category, the ones that deviate from the straight arrow between research and sales, the ones that are active in the zone of turbulence dealing with external forces that move us away from the beautiful ideal trajectory that we had planned on our slides. The “affairs” departments have to get rid of all these inevatible by-products of business activity, of this perturbation by the real world.
Medical affairs was created to deal with safety issues of products.
Regulatory affairs was created when regulators started questioning study protocols and results.
Government affairs was created when politicians and legislators decided to change the rules of the game. (“That’s so unfair!”)
Public affairs was created when stakeholders started questioning some business practices (“Why don’t they mind their own business”? “Don’t they have anything better to do?”)
Legal affairs … well, you know. Maybe we didn’t always do the correct thing.
The “affairs” are the unwanted things, hurdles erected by such stakeholders as politicians, regulators, payers, interest groups and healthcare professionals who all have very good ideas about what is best for society in the interaction between company and consumer/citizen/employee, so companies needed internal staff to deal with all these affairs, with this fouling on the company’s ship. (“Who are these external stakeholders who make our lives miserable? What do they know about our business to bring things into question? How dare they? We know what to do ourselves, we don't need any outsiders for that. Why do they bother? I don’t want to know! Shove it to our Affairs Department. Let them solve it! All this gobbledygook that nobody understands, this legalese with verbage from the Napoleonic era, this regulese with more abbreviations than actual words, these policy texts of more than ten pages! Regulation, legislation, legal objections, safety issues and what else? I want to sell my products! Now! What are our Affairs departments doing? Why is this not solved yet? What do I pay them for?”)
And as the ship moves forward, the public affairs, regulatory affairs, medical affairs, government affairs, legal affairs, environmental affairs (and maybe also internal affairs), have to move into action.
The Affairs departments are there to clean up the mess. They are like the Harvey Keitel character in Pulp Fiction : “Hi, I’m Winston Wolfe. I solve problems”, decisive, professional, in control. That’s what affairs departments do. Metaphorically hosing off the blood, getting rid of dead bodies and other unhealthy evidence.
But all that’s of course old-speak, all that is now history. The “affairs” departments no longer only work on the negative side. In the meantime we have become more professional, and we use our "affairs departments" to proactively shape our external environment, to facilitate market access, to facilitate compliance and business integrity. We no longer sit there at our desks, waiting for the affairs to drop in our lap. We go out of our offices out of our own free will! (Yes, of our own free will) We have a positive role, we think ahead, plan, avoid problems and anticipate changes so that obstacles do not arise. We are now the Winston Wolfe of the 21st Century, who not only avoids that there are dead bodies in the first place, but who also brings together all the different gangs to have a springtime picnic in the park, just to make friends and exchange pleasantries and avoid bloodshed.
So the word “affair” in our department’s name no longer makes sense to me, the subject of our work is no longer covered by the title.
So here is a suggestion: instead of addressing negatives, do away with the origins of your departments and change “affairs” with “leadership”.
That will give your department a much stronger sense of purpose and direction.
The Medical Leadership Department! Doesn’t that sound better than Medical Affairs Department?
The Public Leadership Department! Doesn’t that sound better than the Pubic Affairs Department?
The Regulatory Leadership Department! Doesn’t that sound better than the Regulatory Affairs Department?
The Environmenal Leadership Department! Doesn’t that sound better than the Environmental Affairs department?
Yes, yes, yes and yes.
The only problem arises with the Government Affairs Department ("Why Am I Not Surprised!?). The Government Leadership Department sounds a little presumptious. So change it in to the Policy Leadership Department! There we go!
Feel the difference. Feel how suddenly your department gets a new vibe, a new thrill, a new life even. Think about how your staff will be motivated, how your stakeholders are suddenly willing to engage in a more open way.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!