I am a Novartis associate. The views expressed in this article are my own and are not endorsed by Novartis.
“The greatest success we’ll know is helping others succeed and grow” -Gregory Scott Reid
I firmly believe that we truly grow, when we can be a tool for others to develop and grow. At Novartis, we have some guiding principles that enable us to do this – Inspired, curious, unbossed, empowered, psychological safety & servant leaders. Let’s Begin this article by defining what these terms mean to me.
Inspired: To me, this word is a feeling, and it is something that wakes me up in the morning excited to go to work. I’m eager for the innovation that awaits me, the stories of the patients that motivate me, or the journey of my colleagues’ successes. There is always inspiration waiting for me at the door. But honestly, what inspires me will not be the same for the next person, but that’s okay and even better. It’s what makes us unique, and it’s something to be fostered.
Curious: It’s something that fizzes inside me like bubbles rolling to the surface of boiling water. It fosters and helps us question how, why, what, where, and when? It can be the fuel to fire our inspiration. And, like boiling water, if you take away the heat source, the bubbles will cease. It’s easy to kill the curiosity, so we must be extra careful to nurture it.
Unbossed: The feeling of freedom, responsibility, and accountability to make your own decisions but in a protected environment that celebrates your successes and supports your risk-taking even if it doesn’t lead to a positive outcome.
Empowered: This is an outcome of unbossed when done right. It makes us stronger and more confident to keep moving in the right direction. With the proper support, we all succeed.
Psychological Safety: It’s the type of environment where employees can show their strengths and vulnerabilities at all levels and openly work on improving without fear of negative consequences or judgment. In the best work environment, your peers are there to support your growth. And to be clear, we are all peers at Novartis, and there are no boundaries to that definition.
Servant Leadership: When a leader puts the growth, well-being, and development of others first, magic happens! People feel empowered, which produces innovation and performance at their best. It’s a fantastic concept that puts others’ success directly tied to your success as a leader.
To me, these words in action form the right environment to engage employees and truly support each other to develop and grow. So how do I know these words so well, and how do they relate to Novartis?
The culture of Novartis starts at the very top with our dynamic CEO, Vas Narasimhan. He publicly announced in 2018 the importance of unleashing the power of our people as a strategic priority to reimagine medicine1. Vas planted the seeds of change in the company to ensure all employees feel inspired, curious, and unbossed. In turn, it has been up to every Novartis employee to take those words and drive them into action.
Several years since the initial commitment and the adoption of the terms, I personally have witnessed the growth of our organization at all levels. Gone are the days of traditional leadership centered around hierarchy, competition to get ahead, and micromanagement. In its place are servant leaders, peer mentoring circles, and empowered teams. I genuinely see Novartis today as a collaborative group of innovators working toward the same goal to best serve our patients.
I have benefited from the investment Novartis has made into the leadership and each other. In this article, I will share my experiences within Novartis on how we take this culture to heart and support each other to develop and grow every day. Additionally, I will share my experiences highlighting that these concepts have been trickling into this company since the formation of Novartis in 1996. The opportunities to grow and gain exposure to new development experiences at Novartis are endless and are only restricted now by our self-induced boundaries!
In my twenty-three years at Novartis, I have worked in many areas spanning research, development, quality, compliance, and technical operations. In those years, I have consciously made moves in the company not based on a prescribed career ladder but on my desire to learn, grow, and expand my skill sets. In turn, I now share my knowledge with others to teach them to focus on the experience, competency, or skill they are trying to build rather than a movement on a ladder. Today I select my roles on how I can best support my organization but also and just as important on how I can help the peers around me.
I started in 1998 as a research scientist, and at the time, my mind was focused solely on the lab and the exciting and innovative work we were doing trying to discover the next small molecule to change the face of medicine. It wasn’t till four years later, when I moved to the development side of Novartis, that my mind began to open up. During the following years, I learned to formulate compounds to the need of the patients and clinical trial, but it still only focused on the state my drug product was in and not the whole picture.
My craving to understand the entire clinical landscape overtook my desire to work as a scientist. My curiosity to know more about the clinical trial landscape drove my need to grow and develop beyond my current knowledge bank. I still remember, the resistance I got from my peers at the thought of a chemist leaving science to understand the operational side of the business better. On the other hand, the receiving side of my transfer, drug supply management, understood my desire to remove my blinders and see the bigger picture. They were excited to teach me all the unique elements of clinical trials, like why we perform different studies and what the individual needs of the countries around the world are. I felt like I went from a small vacuum of knowledge from my formal education to an expansive universe of constant learning. Even though, I had no prior knowledge about drug supply planning or study management when I moved into the role my unit leaders still encouraged me to learn my job while absorbing knowledge to expand my understanding of the clinical landscape. Those leaders empowered and inspired me to learn in a safe environment that fostered my growth.
After three years in this role, I was encouraged by my leadership to stretch myself further and to choose to go on a two-year sabbatical to learn new skills. This opportunity was not only for my development but also to bring back the learnings to grow those around me. This sabbatical was my first experience thinking beyond the bubble of only my growth and considering what others could gain from it. My unit did not dictate a specific focus area for my learnings but instead left it up to me to select—my first introduction to the concept of unbossed. When I returned from my assignments in quality and project management to drug supply management in 2011, I reveled in bolstering the others around me by sharing my learnings through trainings and coaching. It was a fantastic experience to help my peers utilize the new skills and watch them grow. And it was also my first experience with servant leadership.
Another example from my career of Novartis’s commitment to supporting each other to develop and grow came in 2019 when my leadership helped me take an international assignment to Hyderabad, India. We had higher than expected female talent attrition rates at the time, and we were looking for ways to invest in our people. I remember thinking to myself that I wish I could go to support the unit simply by role modeling, mentoring, and coaching. At the time, though, there was no precedence of sending leaders on this type of assignment with the sole intention of supporting others to develop and grow. An international assignment is a significant investment not only financially but also in the unit’s resources. However, with great leaders supporting me throughout the organization, the sabbatical was granted within months of the original concept. I spent nine months in India supporting my peers and fostering the growth of our female talent. I’d be neglect in saying that my peers in India were the only colleagues afforded development from the assignment. An experience like this has a beautiful trickle-down effect in sharing the benefit. It allowed my successor to develop by taking on the team’s leadership in the US, allowing them to stretch and grow new skills in a safe environment set up for supporting success. In addition, I presented to leaders on my experiences and shared my learnings with my colleagues around the globe. These presentations and posts precipitated many great conversations and experience sharing. Lastly, India allowed me so much time to reflect and grow professionally and personally, learning things only the stretch of our cultural quotient (CQ) can teach.
My newest inspiration comes from my current role as Portfolio Strategy Management for Technical Research and Development Cell & Gene Therapy (CGT) organization. I have never worked on drug products so close to the patients, and my colleagues’ deep dedication moves me. Many of them have been onsite throughout COVID to support our patients and the clinical trials. It is incredible to be part of game-changing and lifesaving science. I focus on helping the department’s people, operations, and strategy in my new role. There are many aspects in this job where I can add value already, but there are also tasks for me to learn.
Hopefully, in this article, you see a theme in my career: I like taking jobs where there is a stretch for me to learn new things. Statistics show that most female applicants do not apply for a job unless they are 100% qualified for the new role2. However, employees at Novartis are supported in a psychologically safe environment to embark on new adventures with confidence even if they don’t meet all of the qualifications – independent of gender. An excellent concept, the opportunity to start your new position and add value from day one, but you still have the chance to grow in the role. What an empowering experience it is, to have the trust that even though I may not know something, I can get the support I need without judgment, and together we will be successful.
One of the great ways I in turn could support my new unit from day 1 is by spending time every week supporting my colleagues to drive their work experiences. I have a global view of the many activities and ongoing projects so I help to match peers development desires to opportunities to either learn or test their skills. There is nothing more fulfilling than to see others successfully add a new skill to their repertoire.
I hope this article has helped provide you with examples and opportunities that stem from the culture of unleashing the power of our people. My intention was to show you practical examples of how Novartis puts the words Inspired, curious, unbossed, empowered, psychological safety, & servant leaders into practice every day!
At Novartis, we support each other to develop and grow! Interested in finding out more about careers at Novartis? Come join our team: Careers | Novartis
Jennifer Snyder is Director, Portfolio Strategy Management for Technical Research and Development Cell & Gene Therapy at Novartis Pharmaceuticals. She has been with the company for twenty three years and has worked in many areas spanning across research, development, quality, compliance, and technical operations. Currently her role focuses on supporting the people, operations, and strategy of the Cell & Gene Therapy organization. She is happy to have the opportunity to role model unbossed, curious, inspired & servant leadership for the numerous people she supports. For Jennifer, life is a balance between career and family and she is able to strike that balance at Novartis. Interested in knowing more about careers at Novartis? Careers | Novartis
Jennifer is driven by making a difference in the world through the work she does and by inspiring others around her to have a positive impact. She shares her curiosity, experiences, and lifelong passion for learning in an effort to help others. With these principles in mind, Jennifer coaches and mentors others both within Novartis and through the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) which is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the advancement of women in healthcare worldwide. In addition, Jennifer is a Regional Lead of the HBA’s affinity group Women in Healthcare Give Back (WIHGB) which won the HBA Global 2021 Innovation Award for bringing together a global network of volunteer leaders to support underserved communities around the world with medical equipment and supplies. If you’re passionate about leadership development and giving back, join us on LinkedIn: tinyurl.com/WIHGiveBack.