In the October/November 2015 issue of Biotechnology Focus, the results of an online survey of employees in the Canadian Biotechnology and Life Science sector were published and explored.
The results suggested an industry staffed by generally happy and engaged employees:
- Employees rated their company as providing a “strong performance” on all four key aggregate indices: Job Clarity (77 per cent), Organization Climate (72 per cent), Visionary Leadership (71 per cent), and Recognition & Reward (67 per cent)
- The number one thing organizations do well, is empowering employees to do their jobs in the best way they know how.
- Employees were most engaged by flexible work schedules, strong leadership from senior management, professional development opportunities, challenging employees with greater responsibility/variety, and rewards for performance
The results, while good news overall, do raise several important questions:
- In an industry where employees are generally satisfied, how can an individual company truly stand out to become the employer of choice in terms of recruitment, engagement, and retention?
- How can a company deliver more than great employee engagement; how can it create a strategic culture that is a true “force multiplier” to improve business results over the long term?
This article will explore what employers can do to define, measure, and lead their desired operating culture in today’s dynamic Canadian biotechnology and life science environment.
People are typically the largest single corporate cost. Historically, this drove waves of cost-cutting / employee-shedding. While some leaning down was needed, most companies learned that over the long term, you cannot cut your way to growth. Successful leaders realized that certain companies have no obvious technical, structural, or cost advantage, and yet they nonetheless consistently outperformed their peers, driven by people and culture. Culture and employee engagement became the new, sought-after competitive advantages. Unfortunately, the focus on engagement, while important and highly measurable, has led some companies to miss the mark on three key points:
- Culture should be a strategic choice;
- Measurement only works if you measure the “right” things; and
- Actions speak louder than surveys.
In our experience, companies that understand these principles and undertake a carefully planned and executed approach to implementing them, can strengthen their organizational culture to further increase team productivity and sustainably accelerate business performance. In our Thrive Culture process, the path to successfully building a strategic culture has three deceptively simple but actually quite challenging steps:
Culture should be a strategic choice. We view culture as the collection of values, beliefs, and behaviours that collectively define “who we are” and “how we do things around here”. Some suggest that culture is effectively an “accident of history” – something that comes to be over time based on leadership behaviours, personal experiences, etc. At Thrive, our belief is that we are products of our experiences, but effective leaders deliberately and actively plan and shape culture, evolving it over time. Importantly, leaders must avoid the pitfall of attempting to define their organization’s desired culture from only their perspective. Closed door executive team vision & values defining sessions tend to yield wonderful plaques for the wall but often miss the mark, because they fail to take into account what internal and external stakeholders see, believe, and want. Therefore, the process must include careful stakeholder identification, stakeholder understanding, and structured data review, values definition, and selection. “Typically, we engage all stakeholders and work with the executive team to craft Core Values/Behaviours. This is done through interviews, group discussions, work sessions, measurement tools and processes, and balance checks between global/local issues and corporate/department differences”, shares Dr. David Jamieson, Chief Scientist at Environics Research, analytics partner of The Thrive Partnership Group.
Careful planning and defining of culture must also be actively linked to and reinforcing of, business strategy. Culture cannot exist in a vacuum. The slow-moving, risk-averse bureaucratic culture of a large bank would cripple a Silicone Valley start-up. At the same time, that start-up’s free-wheeling, innovative, non-hierarchical, risk-taking culture might bankrupt the large bank. Even within the same industry, companies pursue different strategies, and their cultures should reflect and align to the differences. This is also where employee engagement can be an inadequate measure. Being highly engaged to a strategically wrong and ineffective culture will not drive positive business results.
The culmination of this first step is typically a statement of the desired Operating Culture based on 1-3 Core Value drivers to optimize employee engagement and performance, and customer engagement.
Common culture fallacies – The traps many leaders fall Into versus the ideal approach
|Culture just is. It is the accidental sum of history.||Culture is actively planned and crafted by leadership.|
|Leadership alone can define culture.||Stakeholders, both internal and external, are crucial inputters to the definition process.|
|Culture and business strategy are separate.||Culture is actively linked to and reinforcing of business strategy.|
|Engagement is the goal.||Engagement to the right, strategic culture is key.|
Measurement only works if you measure the “right” things.Having defined their ideal strategic culture, companies must periodically measure and benchmark how they are performing versus their culture goals. As the saying goes, “you manage what you measure.” At this stage, we would suggest customized measurement – if you have defined a unique culture, you should measure the variable that you defined as important. That is not to say that you cannot also use more generic engagement surveys or similar tools. These can be valuable, particularly as they can often be benchmarked versus other organizations. That said, “We recommend seeking highly tangible and actionable data; taking regular pulse checks on both employee and stakeholder experience and perspective on your specific appropriate Values and Behaviours. This is achieved through the right blend of standard and customized measurement and research tools and includes the input of both internal and external stakeholders”, explains Robert Seguin, Partner Thrive Partnership Group.
Actions speak louder than surveys. To optimize their culture, organizations understand they must ensure the behaviours of their leaders and employees are aligned to the stated core values. Influence and results flow from individuals outward; they level and shape values, behaviours and culture, which drives employee and client engagement, which deliver results.
Crucially, many organizations drop the ball at this stage. After measuring where they stand versus their desired culture (or level or employee engagement, etc.), they fail to take a deliberate and planned approach to action. Worse, we often see that the best leaders and managers take measurement results to heart, seek to improve, and take action (even if they need to change the least), while the average and worse leaders often do not. In our experience, it is crucial to “develop action plans to optimize performance at the ‘macro-level’ (organizational) and at the individual or ‘micro’ level” says Glenn Busby of the Thrive Partnership Group. “In particular, companies need to identify the ‘game changers’; people who are the de-facto key influencers and leaders in the company and often set the tone on culture by nature of their role and/or charisma and personality, and help them see their impact on the culture, good and bad. Then, most importantly, companies must help them adjust their behaviours to make a positive contribution, rather than a contamination, of the desired company culture”. To be successful, this process can require a great deal of coaching and facilitation, as results flow not from theoretical understanding, but from self-awareness and specific, relevant behaviour changes.
Culture change and business results. In our experience, companies following these three steps rigorously have seen results that have been extremely meaningful. Here are two industry leaders who have to lead their organizations through the Thrive Culture 3-step process describing their outcomes:
- “Culture is a hallmark of Genentech’s corporate strategy. To ensure we maintain our competitive advantage, we are using the “Thrive Culture” process in our Franchise to augment our internal engagement data to really understand the root causes of our successes and to identify areas where our leaders can make adjustments. We really appreciate the depth of understanding we receive and the practical tools the “Thrive” process provides to help us to better role model the behaviors that have the most impact on employee performance and customer value.” — Warner Biddle, Vice-President & Franchise Head – Genentech
- “We’ve used the “Thrive Culture” process to help us define, measure and lead the culture we want to have here at Otsuka Canada. Not only has it helped us achieve unsurpassed levels of employee engagement in the Canadian life science industry, but to achieve global best-in-class results”. — Joanie Michel, Associate Director Human Resources – Otsuka Canada Pharmaceutical Inc.
In a challenging competitive environment, with often limited ability to differentiate, Life Science leaders should look increasingly to building a strategic “Thriving Culture” to generate competitive advantage.
By The Thrive Partnership Group (Glenn Busby, Jon Rogers, and Robert Seguin) and Environics Research (Dr. David Jamieson, chief scientist)
Click on the image below to open up the latest issue of Biotechnology Focus
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