Why People are the Bedrock of Roche’s Transformation Journey

Healthcare is an industry where nothing stands still. New technologies, changing patient demographics, economic shifts, and the ongoing global pandemic have all inspired healthcare companies like ours to adapt the way they work.

Roche is used to embracing change, of course. With a history that spans over 120 years, we understand the importance of being agile in responding to our patients’ needs. However, what has not changed is our mission and commitment to driving innovation, improving sustainability, and delivering better outcomes for patients. While our old ways of working delivered strong results, we recognise that achieving our bold vision of increasing the benefit to patients by three to five times, while reducing the cost to society by half, would need a fresh, innovative approach.

To achieve our goal, we needed to find new strategies that would allow Roche to adapt more quickly to the changes in public health and beyond, enabling us to deploy our learnings at scale and continue delivering results for patients. Across the organisation, we have sought to embody that adaptability by moving away from a traditional top-down approach, towards new, agile ways of working. 

Agility – an enabler for scale and impact
Our aim is to embed and grow agile capabilities within the organisation, and we believe these new ways of working will enable exponential scaling and impact. Against a background of rapid change, introducing agility means we can empower our colleagues to deal with the challenges they face as they see fit. With a more agile approach, employees are empowered to take decisions faster, to experiment and learn, and to become more entrepreneurial. As a result, we’re now more aligned to what employees now want, and expect, from their employers.

Accomplishing our goals is not just the work of a small subset of leaders. We believe that, across the organisation, our people have the answers we need to co-create our transformation journey. To unlock that rich capability in our employees, the HR function – or People and Culture (P&C), as it’s known at Roche – created a different talent proposition; one that allowed us to demonstrate just how much we trust the skills and abilities of our teams and which left behind the top-down approach.

Embracing agility has meant that we have had to let go of the traditional levers of business management, and accept that our ways of working may become less ‘controlled’ as a result. For us, however, that has not been a problem. Because of our laser focus on our North Star of ‘delivering better outcomes for more patients, faster’, we have a strong guiding purpose that informs the decisions our employees take across the business.

With this approach, we don’t dictate how countries, leaders, teams and employees have to reach their goals. Rather than prescribe actions, we leave it to their judgement and experience to decide the best ways to pursue our North Star.

Freeing employees to follow such bold targets also makes a difference in how Roche is able to attract and retain talent. We have seen how potential employees, in particular younger people, are increasingly looking for an employer that’s purpose-driven and can benefit wider society, whether that’s through addressing issues such as tackling climate change, embracing diversity and inclusion, or increasing sustainability – all priorities Roche is actively addressing within our organisation.

Adopting a networked approach
Alongside introducing increased agility into our ways of working, we have also benefited from the adoption of a networked and enterprise approach within Roche.

This approach has been vital in breaking down silos and building relationships across teams, enabling colleagues to focus only on what is really important and adds value to our customer.

We have seen how employees – and potential employees – want more diverse experiences and learnings, to be able to focus on the projects and skills that matter to them, rather than being tied to a fixed track in their career journey. With a networked approach, people can gravitate towards the projects where they feel they can learn or contribute most effectively. By allowing them to work in this way, we can provide them with a wider range of development opportunities, and the freedom to pursue work that allows them to broaden their skillset and that they find most meaningful.

In a more networked organisation, we have adapted our approach to performance management as well. Instead of just supporting an individual employee, we now focus on the team as a whole, rewarding short-term success while still keeping in mind long-term deliverables. We are experimenting with initiatives that focus more on whole teams, including team retrospectives, peer performance pods, and shared goals. By highlighting teams as well as individuals, we try to ensure that, collectively, we are improving our impact for our customers, stakeholders, and patients.

Evolving our way of working to embrace a more networked dynamic has other benefits too. A networked business is one where people can ‘swarm’ towards projects or initiatives that are not necessarily based in their location. Projects can become location-agnostic, allowing us to bring together a group of people with the right capabilities, no matter where they sit, in order to co-create solutions with patients and customers. This has also facilitated new and bolder career moves across the business.

It pays dividends in recruiting too: an increase in virtual working means there is much more flexibility in how and where work can be done, and so recruitment has a far wider pool of candidates to draw from. By tapping into that more diverse talent pool, we make sure we are an organisation that’s rich with unique expertise, cultures, and thinking styles. This diverse mix is crucial in supporting our drive for creative approaches and innovative solutions.

Our recruitment has changed in other ways too: we have configured our recruitment process to focus on finding the right mindset among potential employees – which is just as critical as finding the right CV.

Reimagining leadership
At Roche, we are constantly challenging ourselves to reimagine how we think about leadership – and believe that leadership can come from any seat. Colleagues don’t have to be in a senior position to have their voice heard and make decisions. Instead, colleagues are in control of their own work, becoming one of thousands of owners who can shape the company’s vision, how it achieves those aims, and define their role in supporting those goals. Not only does that let them work in a way that creates the most impact and value for our organisation, it also means there is a shared purpose and stronger employee engagement as a result.

Our senior leaders, too, see their role in the organisation as network enablers – individuals that remove barriers that employees may encounter. Through role modelling this new form of leadership, country leadership teams have begun shifting their work towards enabling and coaching people. We created forums where these ‘enabling teams’ come together to think about how they could leverage the power of collective leadership for the benefit of our patients.

We found that rather than directing, controlling, and planning, our leaders have stronger impact as architects, visionaries, catalysts, and coaches. For us, coaching is an effective way to help our colleagues build their skills, adapt to new tasks, and enhance the behaviours that enable them to succeed in their role.

To make that happen, over the past 18 months we have invested significantly in providing leaders with advanced coaching skills to facilitate the conversations they have with co-workers around transformation. We have built a cross-functional community, the Creative Leadership Network, of over 200 internal leadership development experts. Their passion enables us to sustain the momentum of leadership development throughout the Roche enterprise. We are enabling employees to develop their own functional and behavioural competencies by ensuring access to the widest range of best-in-class development resources and networks to help them level-up their skills, wherever they are in their career trajectory. Through measures such as moving from a traditional top-down style to a more agile one, adopting an enterprise view, and most importantly, by co-creating a shared vision of the future, we have changed how Roche works and the speed at which we can adapt and innovate. With no swift end to the pandemic in sight, we know that the next few years will bring significant change both within our industry and across public health more widely. By putting in place measures to hire, retain, and lead the best talent, we are well-placed to bring meaningful innovations to patients faster than ever before and shape a purpose-driven future that we are all proud of.

About the author

Rachel Frizberg

Rachel Frizberg

Roche, Area Head APAC, Pharma International

Rachel Frizberg has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 20 years and held various positions both in the UK and Globally.  She started her career at Glaxo Welcome in the UK in 1993 and subsequently moved to Ferring Pharmaceuticals and then Sanofi Aventis, where she gained extensive product launch and strategy development experience with specialist hospital and primary care products.

Since joining Roche Pharma in May 2006, she has worked in more than 10 different therapeutic areas. Rachel moved to Asia in 2012, supporting Roche’s mission to make healthcare more sustainable and medicines more accessible in the region. While working in Hong Kong in 2014, she was the President of the Hong Kong Association of The Pharmaceutical Industry and successfully launched an Oncology Innovation Study Group to enable a Cancer Strategy being put in place for Hong Kong.

Rachel spent 5 years in Asia working with decision makers to develop strategies to improve healthcare systems. She moved into her current role as Area Head in 2018 where she enables and supports regional healthcare systems to adapt a patient-centric approach. She is passionate about igniting cross-sector, international collaboration to drive a personalised approach to health that will deliver improvement in patient wellbeing and ultimately have an impact on population health.

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