PULSE: learning and commitment


I recently returned to GSK after spending six months on a PULSE assignment working withAlex's Lemonade Stand Foundation(ALSF), one of the larger childhood cancer philanthropies in the US. Although my PULSE assignment has officially ended, by no means is my PULSE experience over. Which is such a good thing, because the experience exceeded my expectations on many levels.  

Liz and Jay Scott established ALSF eight years ago to carry out the vision of their only daughter, Alexandra, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma just before her first birthday. When she was four, Alex told her parents she wanted to set up a lemonade stand in order to donate money to doctors to help them find a cure for cancer. She raised $2,000 in one day. While bravely fighting her cancer, Alex continued to set up lemonade stands every year--and the nation took notice, with thousands of children, teenagers, and adults following suit. In 2004, Alex died at the age of eight, but her inspiration to help fight cancer "one cup at a time" have resulted in over $50 million to fund more than 200 cutting-edge research projects, create a travel program to support families of children receiving treatment, and develop resources to help people everywhere affected by childhood cancer.

A couple of years ago, ALSF brought together many childhood cancer charities to determine how they could better work together, perhaps share/leverage resources in certain areas, and form an umbrella organization that could help achieve specific common objectives. People across the organizations started talking, summits were held, committees were formed, and work was started. However, the effort was never officially chartered; its leadership was unclear; participants began to realize just how difficult and resource-intensive collaboration can be; and by the second year, the effort had stalled.

My assignment involved assessing the collaboration's work to date, diagnosing barriers to coordinated action and collaboration across the community; analyzing industry collaboration models; and designing a sustainable collaboration solution and developing the associated business plan for the community to implement.*

Going into my PULSE assignment, I knew I'd learn a lot about pediatric cancer and figured I would learn a couple of things about myself and GSK. But would it be enough? I believe this is a common source of mild angst among PULSE volunteers; i.e., to be expected to drive up to GSK on your first day back with a car full of lessons, all packaged and ready to be unloaded in order to begin making an immediate impact on the company and its culture. The fact is, most of the knowledge you gain through an experience like PULSE are deeply personal, and they are realized gradually. Some of these lessons are new; some are validations of existing notions. There definitely are things we can understand better about GSK--and see more clearly--once we are put in a different setting.

My commitments as I integrate back into GSK are to:

·Communicate more personally and efficiently--don't "feed the beast"

·Speak up more to clarify accountability and responsibility

·Work more, meet better and less

·Appreciate more, help out more

Our organization is composed of exceptionally motivated and talented individuals, and our leadership by and large does a terrific job in celebrating team successes, recognizing individual accomplishments, and rewarding strong performance. This is something that may have been more in the back of mind than what it should have been prior to PULSE. But now, I want to ensure that I inquire more and judge less, collaborate more and compete less internally, and take time to give feedback when someone does something really well, not just when someone can do something better. 

A question I'm frequently asked about PULSE is whether the experience helped me "put things in perspective" and if I now have a renewed appreciation for things I may have been taking for granted.  Certainly--I realized this about halfway through the assignment, when I was invited to speak about PULSE at a GSK-sponsored charity golf outing and silent auction to benefit ALSF. After the event, Liz Scott spoke about Alex's legacy, how we can all make a difference in the fight against childhood cancer, and how much she (and the Foundation) appreciate the efforts, time, and, of course, money that everyone in attendance was contributing that day. Then a family who had received assistance from the Foundation spoke. I'll never forget their son Danny, a cancer survivor who is now legally blind due to the side effects of his chemotherapy regimen. As I listened to Danny and watched him read from his paper with oversized script, I was struck by how big his smile was as he read...how happy he is.

He and his family have experienced a frightening type of adversity that I can only hope my family and I never have to experience. But you would never know it by looking at him, listening to him, talking to him. That's in the past. It's done. Look forward. There's much to get done and experience.

That evening, I experienced what it truly means to "be here now"--thanks to the pure gratefulness and happiness that Danny personified and beamed out to us. That evening, I made a commitment to myself always to carry forward with an active (not latent) sense of gratitude--for all the wonderful people in my life, all the things I've been given, all the things I've earned--and a strong conviction for all the good we can do by making the most of every moment.

*It also included running my first half-marathon as part of Team Lemon, a group that raises money for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation. That's me, after the race.