Team Excellence. Chairman’s Circle. Spirit of the Bone Cardio Business Unit (BCBU).
Leigh Ann Colvin, recently promoted to lead one of the new key accounts teams for tezepelumab, has won each of these awards, some of them multiple times. But ever since joining Amgen in 2015, she’s coveted Coach of the Year (COTY). “I watched the recipients take the stage that first year and said to myself, ‘I want to win that award,’ because it really speaks to what your people think of you,” she recalls.
This year, Leigh Ann achieved her dream. For her work as district sales manager in the Bone Health team, she was among only four leaders in Bone Health to be named Coach of the Year (2020). And making it all the sweeter? She shares the honor with her spouse, senior district manager Kim Colvin who won the award from the Cardiovascular team. This is the first time that a married couple ever received the award during the same annual recognition event, according to the Global Commercial Operations leaders. “The award recipients have demonstrated peer leadership and commitment to organizational excellence and given the amount of challenges over the past year, I applaud Leigh Ann and Kim for going the extra mile in helping their teams both personally and professionally,” said Ian Thompson, senior vice president, regional general manager, U.S. Business Operations.
Rising to the COVID Challenge
Exceeding performance targets is always a challenge for sales teams. But 2020 was a year like no other. With the pandemic closing entire hospital systems to sales representatives, field work as they knew it ended overnight. In-person meetings with customers—and with each other—were all but impossible.
So Leigh Ann and Kim stepped up team member support, checking in with their reps one-on-one at least once a week to see how they were coping. They also set up weekly video conferences to discuss strategies on how to “meet customers where they were,” as Leigh Ann puts it, using video conferencing, telephone calls, texts or a meeting outside hospital doors to have clinical discussions. Leigh Ann focused her nine reps on brushing up their videoconferencing skills, pairing the tech-savvy with the tech-challenged to get the team up the curve quickly. Kim’s 10 reps polished their virtual interactions through role-playing and stoked team spirit by sharing their successes as well as challenges. Kim also hosted virtual happy hours to which everyone’s spouse was invited.
Yet meeting the challenges that COVID imposed went well beyond coaching mastery of the online environment. With daycare closed and no in-home support, one of Leigh Ann’s representatives found herself unable to juggle infant and client care. Leigh Ann, a mother of two grown children and 12-year-old daughter Madison, worked with the new mother to set up a plan to manage both work and family. She also rescheduled team calls to align with the rep’s availability and increased her weekly touchpoints to provide moral support. The rep stayed on course, met her targets—and managed to balance work and family commitments. “She realized she could be a mom and do her job, too,” says Leigh Ann, who was managing her 12-year-old’s virtual schooling as well as her team’s performance throughout 2020. “It was helpful for her to see that things were difficult for all of us.”
One of Kim’s top representatives lost her husband during the COVID pandemic. To give this team member time to heal, Kim took things off her plate and put them on her own. She also checked in weekly. The Colvins’ intensive coaching paid off. Kim won Chairman's Circle (Kim’s third), and her entire team won Team Excellence for the third time. Leigh Ann’s group won Team Excellence for the third time, and this year missed winning Chairman’s Circle for the third time only “by a few syringes.”
Leigh Ann believes the pandemic made her a better coach. “My team’s virtual presentation skills improved, but so did my listening skills, because I wasn’t multi-tasking or running from office to office. I was able to focus on them,” she says. “No matter what, that’s something I will carry forward.”
The Personal Informs the Professional
Kim and Leigh Ann amply demonstrated they could “Lead in Times of Uncertainty”—an additional criteria for the 2020 COTY awards. They also met a daunting list of other selection requirements, from “Leveraging Business, Industry and Technical Knowledge” and “Communicating with Impact” to “Motivating and Energizing Others” and “Driving for Results.”
But what distinguishes them as superlative coaches is the trust and respect they foster on their teams as a result of the empathy they show each team member—an empathy borne of their struggles as gay women to be understood and respected for who they are.
“For a long time, I was someone who didn’t have a lot to share with my colleagues because I didn’t want others to know me, to get close to me,” Kim explains. “That made it hard to get to know and understand others.” Leigh Ann likewise hid her sexual orientation from colleagues for decades, even as she sought to empower others to be their true selves.
But at Amgen, both women felt safe enough to come out of hiding—and fulfill their potential as coaches. Pregnant with Madison, Kim made the decision to come out to her district and regional leadership team. “I wanted my daughter to have confidence, to be comfortable in her own skin,” she explains. “If I were trying to hide who I am, what kind of role model would I be? I decided to be who I am, and if I lose folks along the way, then I do.” But she didn’t lose anybody. On the contrary, she says, her relationships evolved, and her impact as a leader deepened.
Today, Kim shares personal things with her team: her struggles and slip ups, as well as her wins. “Because making myself vulnerable is what builds trust and understanding,” she adds, “and to be an effective coach, it’s so important to understand others.”
Changing Patients’ Lives
Grateful to leaders who modeled the deep caring that defines them, Leigh Ann and Kim are keen to use the COTY limelight to foster inclusion and belonging well beyond their own teams. Active in PRIDE, Amgen’s LGBTQ employee resource group, they are also founding members of the diversity councils for the national Bone Health or Blue team (Leigh Ann) and the Southeast Region Cardiovascular team (Kim). “Celebrating diversity extends beyond my region, beyond Amgen,” says Kim. “It impacts how we interact with our customers, too.”
Leigh Ann hopes to use the recognition that COTY brings to continue building an inclusive culture and elevating the success of others. But what excites her most is the power the award confers to improve patient access to Amgen’s medicines.
“If I’m a better coach,” she explains, “and I create an environment where people feel safe and heard and respected? Then they will go through firewalls for me. They’ll be better with their customers. Which will ultimately be better for our patients.”
She adds, “I have the awesome opportunity and responsibility to impact the lives of others—and I never lose sight of that.”