The life of a First Line Manager

SO FIRST LINE MANAGEMENT is no easy task, as Jacky so eloquently outlines. This feature on first line management in the pharmaceutical industry will look at the role of a first line manager today and in the future. It will examine on a day-to-day basis what a first line manager typically does in order to make sure the business and the people at the sharp end are as productive as possible. The upsides and down sides in terms of hours and pay of being a first line manager will also be reviewed.

The job itself
First line management is about managing a team of people to produce a set of business outcomes, which are at least, acceptable to the employing company. Essentially there are two types of sets of skills and competencies that are needed to produce the requisite results. The first sets of skills are those that involve being able to understand and act on, from a commercial perspective, the business and the environment you are working in. Skills and competencies like planning and organisation, negotiation, decision-making and judgement; customer focus and commercial awareness will all fall into this first category. The second set of skills and competencies are around being able to manage a team to produce the required results. These tend to be skills and competencies such as motivation, interpersonal skills, communication skills, and leadership, developing others, working with people and performance management.

These two skill sets are very different and not everyone manages to combine successfully both sets of skills. Some people hate the management aspects of a manager’s job. The sheer effort and sometimes patience needed to manage people, ends up just not being some peoples cup of tea. Others hate the commercial analysis and administration angle of a line management role. Pouring over spreadsheets, writing reports, and looking after up to 10 peoples administration does not push the right buttons for everyone. Due to the variances of the skill sets necessary to be a first line manager it also follows that not everyone will have the appropriate skills or indeed can develop the appropriate skills. The best representatives in the industry may be excellent communicators, who have a strong eye for a commercial opportunity, but put them in a line managers position where their success is not dependent on predominately their own efforts, and indeed where they for the most part cannot do the thing they love most, ”sell to customers” and they may well falter.

Being a first line manager is demanding and stretching, often physically and mentally and as the filling in the sandwich between head office and the field it can often be an uncomfortable place- as you can get squeezed from both sides.

Activity Benchmarking Ltd, who supply the pharmaceutical industry with benchmarking data gathered from their member companies, have some interesting statistics about what first line managers actually do on a day to day basis.

Probably not surprisingly, the data shows that in 2002, the biggest proportion of first line management time was spent on field visits, at 39 %. Working on a 228-day working year (sickness is included in the data given) it is interesting to convert this data into how many days per month are spent on each activity

The number of days per month spent on field visits is 7.4 with the second and third biggest slugs of RBM time being taken up by administration at 4 days a months and meetings and conferences at just over 3 days a month.

Salary and Hours
Most representatives will acknowledge, that when they think about their manager’s job, the job seems to entail working long hours, especially if managers have large geographical territories.

Data from the PF company perception and remuneration survey provides an insight into the typical hours of a working day of a first line manager compared with other jobs in the industry. It also allows us to look at the comparative rates of pay versus the number of hours worked for a variety of jobs. The survey data shows that first line managers do earn more than representatives (this was one of the most important factors sited by our representatives in last months feature as why they wanted to become a first line manager). However they do work longer hours for their pay. The table below shows the average salaries as disclosed in the last PF survey. The average representative length of service in this data was 4 years.

The range of salaries in field based jobs increases as representatives reach managerial level positions. With the average first line manager’s salary being £16000 higher than the average and £8000 higher than the average representative with greater than 8 years experience.

However it is worth taking a look at the hours worked each week in order to reach these higher salaries and therefore in reality the rates of pay per hour.

First line managers work more hours a week than any other job surveyed, they on average reported working typically 54.5 hours a week versus a representative working on average 41 hours, i.e. a 12 hour days versus 8 hour days. So on a pay per hour basis the average first line manager with less than 8 years experience achieves the same pay per hour worked as a representative with eight or more year’s experience. It could be argued therefore that from a quality of life perspective first line managers get a tough deal working an extremely long working day. Even as managers get more experienced whilst they do manage to cut down their working week, managers with over 8 years experience still report working a 50+-hour week.

The Future First Line Manager
So first line management is no easy option as a career step, it is a long hours job with many demands. The evolving NHS will also cause the job role to become more critical in the pharmaceutical sales chain and as each locality works up its individual local delivery plan. Jackie Williams, National Business Manager, Baxter Healthcare Ltd says, “ Already Managers are becoming more involved in developing local and creative value added strategies. They will also need to enhance their coaching skills because sales calls have and will continue to change from the walking, talking brochure to a consultative problem solving partnership with customers.”

Mike Stowe, Ethical Sales Manager of Amdipharm, a new UK ethical pharmaceutical company, also feels the new structures of the NHS will drive further the importance of the first line manager’s role, “The NHS is anything but unified. A good regional overview is required to allow appropriate direction to be given to representatives or account managers so that the buying chain is fully covered. Regional Managers need to be able to understand the micro market within their regions to adequately tackle local issues.”

Despite the challenges of first line management, is a job that often gives great job satisfaction and can be immensely enjoyable. The variety of the tasks undertaken in the role makes it continually interesting and challenging. The people and leadership aspects make it demanding but very rewarding when it is done well. It is also a role that is critical to the pharmaceutical industry from a sales and marketing perspective and often a “must do” job on the CV of anyone who wants to climb to senior pharmaceutical positions. A succinct summary of what is necessary to be a successful manager came from Steve Tarpey of Boehringer- Ingelheim. Steve said, “ The role of the RBM today is to juggle lots of balls, but you do have to make sure that they are the right balls you are juggling”. Never was truer word spoken.