…PERFORMANCE: Led by COO Wolfgang Fischer and CFO Angus Smith, Performance is exemplified by a thoughtful and collaborative approach to our strategy with a focus on delivering exceptional results.
Performance can mean different things to different people and as a value, can often be overlooked. At Affimed, performance is exemplified by a thoughtful and collaborative approach to our strategy with a focus on delivering exceptional results and is meaningfully interwoven and supported by our other values of TEAMGEIST, PEOPLE, PASSION, and INNOVATION.
The champions for this value are COO Wolfgang Fischer and CFO Angus Smith—two leaders from two different countries, backgrounds, and frames of experience—yet powerfully united in their passion for the multifaceted and far-reaching expression of performance as collaborative, process-driven, and ultimately life-changing. Simply put, our mission is to eradicate cancer from patients’ lives.
The Q and A below is personal, thoughtful, and the continuation of an evolving dialogue where every voice matters as we create a supportive culture based on shared and tangible values.
What does the value of performance mean to you and how did your background influence that?
Wolfgang: From my perspective, performance as a value is often misunderstood, so I am excited to be one of its champions as the COO of Affimed. As a value, its power reaches far beyond just focusing on deliverables or KPIs. It is about translating knowledge and expertise into tangible benefits for patients and our organization.
During my Ph.D. thesis, I read hundreds of papers, published several, and was driven to acquire even more knowledge and expertise. At a certain point, I realized it was pointless unless I could translate that knowledge into value for others. This is where my passion for performance began.
What drove that point home for me was working as a Medical Director in the emerging growth markets in Asia and seeing what happens when people—due to economics—don’t have access to much-needed drugs. I saw patients splitting the dose of a medication to make it last, sacrifice their kids’ educations, or sell their car and house simply to afford treatment. The stories were everywhere. That experience underscored the importance of translating knowledge into real-world value so patients everywhere could benefit.
Angus: My background in banking and finance has given me insight on how the value of performance— from a financial perspective—impacts people’s lives, both positively and negatively. I began my career as an investment banker and had a lot of exposure to health care companies and what happened to these companies during the downturn in 2008. I saw that performance has to do with learning from our failures as much as learning from our success. Those experiences gave me the passion to help companies—like Affimed—achieve our strategic objectives so we can deliver value to our patients, employees, and shareholders.
For me, high-level performance means that we set high expectations for ourselves; we measure ourselves against those expectations, and then we make adjustments as we face the inevitable challenges along the way. To do that, it’s necessary to have a process in place that allows us to measure ourselves against these objectives, and the most successful companies do that consistently while also looking two to three years down the line and that is what we are tasked to do at Affimed. It is the tangible implementation of performance as a value.
How do you start to incorporate the value of performance into the culture of work?
Wolfgang: Implementation is essential. When we first began the conversation around values, many didn’t see how performance functioned as a value. However, we were able to connect the dots to see that performance as a value is supported and driven by our other values of TEAMGEIST, PEOPLE, PASSION, and INNOVATION. This illuminated how to implement performance meaningfully within the value matrix—and we saw that it needed to be incorporated all along the way.
Angus: In so doing, you differentiate the value of performance from performance as simply output. Performance needs to be incorporated as a process supported by a string of activities for each function, person, and team. This also means enabling people with the tools they need to perform—whether it’s in the form of coaching or advice or something else. We’re already beginning to have some of these granular conversations throughout the organization and in our role as culture champions, we are going to be tasked with maintaining that as we continue to grow.
What are some of the challenges of incorporating and sustaining the value of performance in an organization?
Wolfgang: Over the last three years, we have continued to build our organization while at the same time, broadening our development approach and programs. Essentially, we worked on the airplane while it was flying. Being at this inflection point has involved a lot of continuous change and a high workload for all employees (in addition to the stresses and realities of a global pandemic). This, along with our fast growth at Affimed, presented many challenges, particularly when bringing new colleagues on board with our values and culture—a culture that we were in the very process of defining and creating, all while developing new medicines for patients. Despite this, the teams demonstrated strong performance and commitment toward fulfilling our mission to deliver new treatments to change the meaning of cancer.
Angus: One of the key learnings from 2020 has been how easy it is to get lost in strategy and objectives. When we recently received feedback that our employees felt overwhelmed and overworked, we saw a need for more interaction with other layers of the organization to understand how we can support them better. That valuable feedback led us to launch an internal survey called the Pulse Survey, and our hope is that as we go through the survey responses, we will be able to incorporate learnings that will make the value of performance stronger, supportive, and more resonant throughout the whole organization.
This is an evolving, living, and breathing process. We have made good progress, and for that, we should be proud. However, until performance as a value is supporting every facet of our organization, we will continue our work.