Animal health execs talk hybrid workplace, working with startups – Kansas City Business Journal – The Business Journals

From navigating a hybrid work environment to collaborating with startups, area animal health executives shared their insights Monday as part of the Animal Health Corridor’s Animal Health Summit. 
A panel discussion featured: 
Here are the highlights:
Switching to a remote environment early on during the Covid-19 pandemic was easy, because everyone went home, Hooker said. But as the pandemic dragged on, people’s lives changed and they wanted to work differently. Employees want more flexibility on where they live, but there’s also value in retaining some face-to-face collaboration not only to bolster productivity but to foster networking and company culture, he said. 
“I think it’s an ongoing process for all of us,” he said. “Everybody is trying to figure it out.”
There’s not an easy answer, he said, and a hybrid plan will vary across teams based on their locations and responsibilities. 
It’s not a “one size fits all” situation anymore, Bettington said. 
Shell said MWI Animal Health recently hosted its first in-person national sales meeting in more than three years. It was therapeutic for the team, he said, and was a welcome break from virtual meetings. 
“It’s just a different environment to be able to get back together and reconnect with people,” Shell said. “We’re making great strides, but we have a long way to go. … We’ve figured out how to work remotely, but we have to figure out how to get back in front of each other.”
For Boehringer Ingelheim, maintaining culture in a hybrid work environment has required a different leadership style, including being more empathetic and better listeners, Hooker said. Management tries to remove roadblocks for employees when they head to the office and works to cultivate collaboration, he said. 
When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, Boehringer Ingelheim takes an internal and external approach. It’s important to create a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable asking questions and addressing concerns, Hooker said. As part of that focus, the company started “courageous conversations” to cover tough topics that affect different employees. The virtual event helps employees understand one another better and gives them an opportunity to raise concerns or discuss how external events are affecting them at work. 
Boehringer Ingelheim also has business resource groups to foster diversity of thought and belongs to boards and is involved with industry organizations focused on diversity.
With consolidation in the animal health industry, companies are looking to outsiders, like startups, for innovation, Bettington said. 
“To all people working on innovations, just keep pushing and keep knocking on doors, because sometimes you might not get to the right person (at first),” Bettington said. “It might take three or four attempts to get to the right person and to get to the right story. If at first you get a ‘no,’ don’t stop. Keep going because you will often get to ‘yes.’”
Sometimes a startup needs to advance further in the development process, so the founders can better explain the offering, he added. Bettington also said startups should try to influence more than one person at an organization. 
Large companies and startups need to be approachable, Baty said. It starts with attending conferences and events, such as the Animal Health Summit, where attendees can network and make connections. 
“We love it when people stop by our booth. It’s easy to then redirect someone (to the right person) to engage and talk about those ideas,” she said. 
Hill’s Pet Nutrition US also has a partnership with Plug and Play Topeka, which runs an accelerator program for startups in industries such as animal health. The partnership helps Hill’s Pet stay attuned to new innovations and opens the door to collaborating with startups. 
Sometimes a startup has a great idea, but it’s simply not the right timing or the right fit at the moment for a company, Baty said. Don’t get discouraged, she said. 
Founders also should keep in mind that it’s an iterative process, Royal said. 
“During the first conversation, we’re not going to solve the world’s problems, but we may figure out what gap are you trying to solve for? What’s the value proposition that you’re bringing?” Royal said. 
As a corporation, Merck Animal Health also is thinking about what it would take to bring a product to market, the related costs and how a product could target multiple issues. 
“As you’re networking within that company, make sure that you have your listening hat on for what our needs and what our gaps are, because it may be that you just need to make that right connection for us, so we can see how the big picture will come together,” she said. 
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