Transforming Work – Novartis’ Operations Simplification | Interview with Viviane Minden

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Viviane Minden is currently the Change and Communication Head eOS at Novartis. In this role she leads change management and communications across the enterprise to help drive the successful implementation of eOS process simplification powered by automation and digitization.

Viviane will be a speaker at The Digital HR Innovation Summit, presenting a session in the Organisation and Culture Track on Transforming Work – Novartis’ Operations Simplification.

A few weeks back, The Digital HR Innovation Summit spoke with Viviane in more depth about the current status of the transformation programs at Novartis, their lessons learned, and some advice for organisations and HR professionals in a similar position.

Digital HR Innovation Summit: So, thank you Viviane for joining me today, it’s a pleasure to have you with me.

Viviane Minden: Thank you so much, it’s my pleasure to be here!

DHRIS: To kick things off, can you please explain what you’re currently doing at Novartis – as an organisation – and why these particular change initiatives are required?

VM: So, Novartis has a five pillar strategy which includes ’to embrace operational excellence every day’ and ’to go big on data and digital’. Enterprise Operations Simplification wants to bring these pillars of our strategy to life by simplifying cross-divisional global processes powered by automation and digital solutions.

To make this happen with our strategic focus to „unleash the power of our people”, Change Management and Communications are key in making simplifications a success. In my role, I am ensuring that from the initial problem statement to the actual sustainable adoption of new processes, our associates stay engaged and involved whilst co-designing quick-wins and solutions that work for them, to make their work simpler.

DHRIS: Is there a particular reason why Change and Communication, especially within Novartis, are so closely related, and how does this impact your role?

VM: Classical Communications is rather one way, top-down. With this close alignment, we ensure that we are seeking and taking feedback from the organization through Change Management tactics, we then continuously learn and adapt our communication strategy. In my experience, managers of transformations, including myself, assume how much and which information through a multitude of channels is useful for associates, biased by their own preferences and working styles. However, if you actually spend time speaking with, for example, internal end-users, you will be surprised by the questions and feedback, including the way communications actually lands. Therefore, all of our involvement tactics in Change Management inform us how to improve communications.

Simply put, communications is one of the key elements of Change Management; when done excellent, it can be the foundation for change.

For unleashing the curiosity and innovation of associates, bureaucratic repetitive tasks are a barrier

DHRIS: So, the interesting thing for me, is that technological transformation as a term brings with it both some positive and negative connotations. How do you approach starting a transformation program from the perspective of “people first”?

VM: First of all, people are first! Please let me explain that: for the end-to-end process re-design we start with a problem statement coming from people, valued associates in Novartis, who see a need to simplify a process they are working on. When we re-design processes, we automatize the parts that don’t require creativity, tacit knowledge and trustful collaboration, which are so crucial for our industry. For unleashing the curiosity and innovation of associates, bureaucratic repetitive tasks are a barrier.

Thinking about the big picture, beyond Novartis and the Pharma industry, I understand of course where the negative connotations are coming from. Historical technological disruptions were observed with fear that human work will be replaced with machines, be it the industrial revolution or the introduction of the personal computer or now artificial intelligence. In the past however, productivity increase through technology has ultimately also increased the number of paid employment. I expect this to be the case in the future, too. To be ready for the technologies that we are implementing and anticipating, Novartis has put enormous resources into continuous learning for our success as an organization as well as the success on an individual level for all associates.

DHRIS: This is obviously a huge and nuanced topic, and it’s something we can talk more about on-site because I think it’s important we communicate clearly about these change areas.

Now, I wanted to pull out a quote from your session description and ask you to clarify it a little more. You’ve written that you are undergoing a change to develop ‘a less hierarchical take on leadership’ – so, what does this mean in practice?

VM: You might have read about Novartis’ culture transformation, which we call „unboss”, named after the book by Jacob Botter and Lars Kolind. What we mean by that is that we want associates to experience Novartis as a place where it is safe to challenge and speak up, where we as leaders are continuously required to develop further in order to serve our teams better, by listening and learning through their feedback. A culture that inspires associates to be curious and deliver transformative innovation.

When you really listen to feedback from associates and teams, you are on a continuous steep learning curve

DHRIS: Are there any aspects of the current transformation programs or the processes that have surprised you – whether they’re good, and or bad?

VM: That is actually the best part about working with people, especially in transformations. When you really listen to feedback from associates and teams, you are on a continuous steep learning curve. The most recent example for me is a transformation that has some overlap with another initiative. It took quite some effort and alignment, but it seems now everyone is excited about a win-win solution and working closely together. Only a few weeks ago that wasn’t the case, and I didn’t really understand why. After each one-to-one discussion with various different stakeholders, I pieced together another part of the puzzle of how to make it work in the best interest of users, creating at the same time a win-win for both program teams. However, we sometimes don’t take the time to dig deeper and find the win-win.

DHRIS: Can you please quickly summarise what your session at The Digital HR Innovation Summit will address?

VM: There are libraries full of books about Change Management, however no-one has completely figured it out yet. Maybe it would be actually quite scary if someone did figure it out completely… still there are some concepts that we all tend to repeat, a lot of them not taking more recent research in behavioural science into account.

We still create slides with statistics to convince rationally, when rationally we are already convinced, but our habits are in the way or we actually are incentivized to continue with the old approach.

One everyday example would be that we rationally know we should eat less sugar and exercise more, but how do we actually change our habits? There are a few ideas I would like to share, based on behavioural science. Most importantly though, I would very much like to challenge the audience to at least start to think differently about some of the dogmas of change management. Ideally, we collectively throw out of the window one outdated dogma and agree to change change management.

DHRIS: Great! So how can people reach out to you if they want to learn more about you and what you’re doing at Novartis?

VM: So, always love to hear from colleagues via LinkedIn, and would of course just love to meet at the conference itself over a sugar-free coffee.

What’s happening next in The HR Congress universe? The 3rd Digital HR Innovation Summit in The Hague, April 27-28, will feature a selection of sessions that will explore the ongoing implications of digital technologies on HR and the business in general (including more on operations simplification). Make sure you follow The HR Congress LinkedIn page to stay posted on all the latest news, updates and content from the world of work!

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