The Gatehouse Blog

Using Communications to mobilise employees around a new strategy

Paul Tester, Corporate Affairs Manager at Roche, explains how he reshaped his communication approach in order to pioneer a new corporate strategy.

Looking ahead at the new challenges and opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry, Roche’s UK leadership decided to embark on a new strategy.

We wanted every employee to buy into the new strategy, but wanted to engage and inspire, rather than dictate and regulate.

In the absence of absolutely specific direction and exact metrics, we wanted to find a way to inspire engagement across all levels.

The framework of a new corporate strategy

In 2015, our Pharma Leadership Group (PLG) came together and decided to
roll out a new corporate strategy, shaped by the employees themselves. All 600 employees in the affiliate, both field- and office-based, travelled to Dublin for a three-day conference in February 2016 to launch ‘Ambition 2020’, a vision of where we wanted to be in five years’ time.

During this first event, the Managing Director set out his vision for the company and explained how he and the board planned to achieve it. Next, he outlined four Strategic Objectives and painted a picture of what our organisation must look like in five years’ time – all in very simple terms.

The big difference was the emphasis on ownership. Each person across the company would be responsible for making the corporate strategy happen. While the previous strategy was very prescriptive with lots of metrics and targets, it was clear that the board didn’t want Ambition 2020 to follow the same structure. They wanted to paint a broad picture but let employees figure out how to actually make it happen.

The board arranged for four working groups to get together, one for each of the Strategic Objectives, to come up with some further thinking, which became known as the key priorities – a little more detail and nuance to the overall vision presented by our MD.

Asking questions rather than delivering instructions

A few months later, those same working groups presented the Strategic Objectives along with their associated Key Priorities at a town hall event attended by the whole company. At this point, we used the occasion to turn the traditional prescriptive model on its head by asking: “This is where we need to be. Now what will you do to help achieve it?”

The board continued to ask questions rather than deliver instructions, which is a cultural shift for us at Roche. In the pharmaceutical industry, there is a lot of regulation, instructions and procedures, so some colleagues were a little unfamiliar with this approach. Occasionally, we’d get the feeling that people were thinking, “What do you mean what am I going to do? I’m waiting to be told what to do!”

Storytelling is quite an important part of this. Since we’ve explained the detail around the Strategic Objectives, we’ve been talking to colleagues and helping them share their stories through publishing news articles, recording videos, and inviting colleagues at all levels in the business to present their stories at subsequent town-hall events.

At the most recent event, where speakers from across the business shared their stories about contributing to Ambition 2020, we got some strong feedback that the audience really enjoyed being inspired by their peers – rather than listening to a ‘top-down’, more ‘directing’ approach.

This was the best possible confirmation that the approach of empowering everyone to own the strategy and participate in the sharing of successes was the right path.

A shift in mindset

In December, nearly a year after the launch of Ambition 2020, we are delivering a big company-wide event. This will be a milestone event and allow us to reflect on what we’ve achieved – together and individually – across the business.

One of the key achievements this year is the beginning of people changing their mindset. People are still adjusting and getting to grips with the idea that they can just say, “We should do this (or we shouldn’t!) because it aligns (or doesn’t!) with our Strategic objectives and our key priorities.”

Empowering people to make decisions – initiating projects or stopping them – by referring to the principles of Ambition 2020 rather than having to consult or wait to be told what to do is a shift in mindset that is still underway.

Using Trendsetters to inspire engagement amongst peers

From a communications perspective, our challenge has been to move away from simply articulating instructions from the board to the business, toward ensuring systems are in place for colleagues to take ownership of inspiring others by sharing their stories.

While the event in Dublin at the start of the process was ‘high impact’, we needed to make sure that the energy and enthusiasm would be sustainable throughout what is a five-year process. One way we did this was through the concept of Trendsetters – a group of well-respected peer-nominated individuals that could help embed Ambition 2020 by ‘living and breathing’ the values of this new corporate strategy.

To underpin the idea of moving away from the typical top-down approach, the role of the Trendsetters is to help embed the principles of Ambition 2020 and to keep it at the forefront of people’s mind. They weave Ambition 2020 into their team meetings and internal discussions to help guide decision-making, and prioritisation.

Every couple of months, the Trendsetters get together to share stories and ideas with each other so that they can each go back to their teams and say “Have you heard about this? How about this for an idea?” We rely on them to use their initiative and different ways of getting their respective teams to engage with the strategy, and make Ambition 2020 a reality.

Trendsetters are helping us achieve our Ambition 2020 goals by inspiring their peers, reminding their teams about the Strategic Objectives and occasionally challenging cynicism. Advocacy at all levels of the company – rather than just from the PLG – is working well.

Over the next few years, we will continue to evolve the way we embed Ambition 2020 in the business, but the sharing of stories and the use of Trendsetters have certainly given us a strong start.

BIOGRAPHY – Paul Tester

Paul Tester has worked as Roche Product’s Corporate A airs Manager since March 2015. Formerly an internal communications contractor working for clients in the private and public sector, Paul’s main background as an internal communications specialist is in the military environment. He was formerly a Regular Officer in the RAF.