July 29

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LivingWell in Zambia, chapter 4: getting down to business

Live Well is a sales business. It’s very different to my experience in GSK; in primary manufacturing, I jump from thinking about the realities of making the active pharmaceutical ingredient to safety and supply for the patient and the sales and distribution elements pass me by. Live Well also doesn’t feel like a PULSE assignment. I knew this was going to be a bit different to other NGO-based assignments, but the focus here is entirely sales and not the social impact, which is not what I had expected and has definitely been a challenge for the first few weeks to shift my expectations for my assignment. Watching re-runs of the Apprentice would have been more appropriate training! Being with another volunteer has been really helpful as we have both had similar feelings and have been a great support to each other. I’m hoping the impact aspect is something I can focus some of my efforts on as the months go on, but to begin with, I started by looking critically at the business. Though not an expert in sales, I’ve learnt in my time at GSK that it can often be peripheral factors that are an obstacle to getting the day job done, whether that is getting a batch of thioacid made in Montrose, or selling a case of Aquafresh in Chongwe.

In order to understand the business, Audrey and I first worked together to visit the field operations and the selling process (see chapter 2). We’ve taken the approach of business consultants; scrutinising all aspects of the procurement and warehousing systems, and talking to all staff. Then we examined all the figures to look at ways to grow the business within the current structure (ie. without the need for new premises, staff or equipment), by looking at the sales, margins, the product portfolio and the sales achieved per community health entrepreneur, in order to understand where we can best add impact. We pulled together a presentation to share our initial findings with the managing director.

The purpose of my PULSE assignment was to develop Live Well’s warehouse processes. However two weeks of watching and participating in the existing processes showed me that – though very manual and not slick – they are well managed and appropriate for the current size of the business, with capacity within them to tolerate sales growth. As it felt to me that there was little point in me investing my energies here, I had a discussion with the managing director and she was really pleased I thought warehousing systems were in such good shape. We agreed there were other operational gaps to focus on, so the plan is now to take a more generalist operational management approach.

Live Well have key performance indicators (KPIs) however these are not a focus for the staff day to day. Use of sales targets is not yet embedded and everyone works heavily with numbers rather than translating these into charts or graphs, so performance is difficult to see.

So I started by implementing some simple improvements, including developing some standard work in the team, to standardise our sales and KPI reporting, pull together some visual reporting templates and create a tiered accountability structure. Audrey meanwhile is focused on procurement aspects such as pricing and negotiation with suppliers.

What has been great is how well received I’ve been into the Live Well team. I am working closely with Carey, our adviser from Living Goods (who run a similar model in Kenya and Uganda) and the managing director. My ideas have been really well received, and aspects like the tiered accountability meetings have already been implemented. It’s really encouraging to see I can make some impact already.