The new working model amid the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing organizations to rethink the rewards and well-being of employees. But how are top organizations doing it? What strategies and frameworks are they using to assess employees’ performance? To find out more about this, we have an interaction with Steven Baert, who is the Chief People & Organization Officer of Novartis.
Baert joined Novartis in 2006 as Head of Human Resources Global Functions in Switzerland and served in this role until 2008. He has held other leadership positions at Novartis, including Head of Human Resources for Emerging Growth Markets within Novartis Pharmaceuticals from 2008 to 2009; Head of Human Resources for the United States and Canada within Novartis Pharmaceuticals from 2009 to 2012; and Global Head of Human Resources for Novartis Oncology from 2012 to 2014. Prior to joining Novartis, he held HR positions at Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Unilever. Baert serves on the board of WeSeeHope charity USA, and from 2015 to 2018, he represented Novartis on the board of GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Holdings Ltd.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
How do you see the impact of coronavirus pandemic on the healthcare sector?
I’m extremely proud of the way Novartis has mobilized on multiple fronts to support the global pandemic response at this time of crisis, including leveraging our R&D capabilities, clinical trial expertise, and philanthropic aid.
The pandemic has spurred an unprecedented level of collaboration across the pharmaceutical industry, with businesses using their collective innovation power and global footprint to work toward ending the pandemic as quickly as possible. Novartis is playing a leading role in these efforts, for example through our collaboration with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a consortium of life sciences companies to accelerate the development, manufacture, and delivery of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments. We are also working with researchers at The University of California, Berkeley, and other pharmaceutical companies to study antiviral compounds that may help to suppress future coronavirus outbreaks.
We continue to support the wider public health response to the crisis, including by pledging to donate millions of doses of our medicines to enable patients to access a potential treatment and responding to increased demand for essential medicines like antibiotics and respiratory treatments by expanding production capacity and keeping prices stable. At the same time, we continue to advance our clinical research in the fight against COVID-19.
Finally, we have made significant contributions – upwards of USD 40 million – to over 60 projects around the world that support local communities impacted by the crisis.
During this current pandemic, the things employees need most are connectivity and clarity. The performance management approach we plan to implement centers around frequent check-ins, having regular conversations on a human level recognizing that all of us are dealing with significant changes
Is COVID-19 accelerating innovation opportunities for the healthcare industry? What are the top priorities of Novartis right now?
This is an unprecedented time for our business and for the world. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the health and well-being of millions of people, sadly taking many lives too soon, and damaging healthcare systems, economies, and livelihoods.
In these challenging times, the importance and urgency of the Novartis purpose - to reimagine medicine to improve and extend people’s lives - has come into sharp focus. We continue to provide value to associates, patients, healthcare systems, and communities while ensuring business continuity and advancing a comprehensive set of efforts to support the global pandemic response. Finding innovative solutions to the world’s biggest healthcare challenges is what we do best.
For us at Novartis, this is a moment that matters to demonstrate our culture of curiosity, inspired by our purpose, with the conviction that unbossed teams will find solutions to new challenges. Millions of people depend on our lifesaving medicines and we are balancing the need to get these medicines to them while also protecting the health and well-being of our people. That’s why we’ve implemented a range of measures to support our associates and their families as they adapt to new ways of working and family commitments.
Our progress in cultural and digital transformation at Novartis over the last few years has helped us enormously in responding successfully to the crisis. Our ‘unbossed’ leadership style enabled associates to react quickly in shaping their new work environment. Our people embraced new ways of working with healthcare professionals, patients, and each other, and we used digital tools to limit disruption. Our field-based associates are equipped to serve customers 100% virtually and in our clinical trials, we have achieved more than 10,000 remote monitoring patient visits.
This is the time and opportunity for managers to assess where their people most need support and to revisit objectives or goals that might need to be adjusted in light of COVID-19. In terms of rewards, we need to think holistically and continue to recognize and reward our people who are working towards our priorities and to further our purpose
Do you think performance management and reward systems across organizations should change amid this crisis?
During this current pandemic, the things employees need most are connectivity and clarity. A performance management approach like the one we plan to implement, centered around frequent check-ins, will help us maintain that sense of connection and also allow conversations on a human level recognizing that all of us are dealing with significant changes.
This is also an opportunity for managers to assess where their people most need support and to revisit objectives or goals that might need to be adjusted in light of COVID-19. In terms of rewards, we need to think holistically and continue to recognize and reward our people who are working towards our priorities and to further our purpose.
How should talent leaders go about redesigning performance and rewards framework to adapt to the changing times?
We have found performance management is more effective when the numerical rating is removed and the focus is on other elements. We have conducted experiments involving ~16,000 associates, across 8 countries and 7 business units where we removed the rating and concentrated on 1) self-authored objectives aligned with organizational goals 2) Frequent check-ins and feedback both between employees and managers and within teams 3) Ongoing and timely recognition for important moments both inside and outside of work and 4) reward for collective and personal impact as opposed to just completing tasks. Getting these four elements right is the key ingredient to a successful performance management strategy.
In terms of assessing employees on functional responsibilities alone during the pandemic, this is an interesting question. I think we have switched to a virtual world very well and of course, we have to remain flexible and consider how the crisis affects different employee segments (i.e. those who can work remotely and those, in labs or manufacturing, who can’t, as well as those working in the field who must adapt how they engage with our healthcare providers).
Novartis fully recognizes that there may be a need to consider the impact that this could have on agreed objectives. Managers are encouraged to conduct regular check-ins with their team members to provide an opportunity to review and revise objectives and timelines as needed.
How are you embracing remote work and mitigating some of the risks of COVID-19 for the welfare of your employees?
The last few months have demonstrated in ways we could never have foreseen the true value of our Inspired, Curious, and Unbossed culture.
Our shared purpose to keep on delivering life-saving medicine to our patients has inspired us to overcome significant challenges together. Our curiosity and willingness to learn have enabled us to pivot and adapt to new ways of working.
I want to emphasize how proud I am of all of our Novartis associates for the care, resilience, and positivity they have shown one another during these difficult times and their outstanding commitment to continue the vital work of delivering life-saving medicine to our patients. In turn, it’s our role as a company to care for our people and help them support their loved ones as they adapt to new ways of working and juggle family and childcare commitments.
We’ve put multiple measures in place to support our people, including additional paid days off, enhanced childcare, extending our online learning resources to family members, expanding our mental health resources and even providing free access for associates and family members to our Tignum X app, which provides advice, strategies, and support in areas like nutrition, movement, mindset, and recovery.
The global pandemic has accelerated the need to revisit our working models. There is no going back to the pre-pandemic “normal”, and our associates have expressed a desire for greater flexibility in how, where, and when they work. We have therefore begun to implement a future working model that combines more choice with responsibility – a natural evolution of our culture transformation as we further unboss our associates to optimize individual and business impact. This will be a multi-year journey and we will continue to gather data and insights from our associates, experiment and evolve.
Do you see a change in terms of employees' expectations of how the company will reward them?
Employees want real-time feedback, we live in a world where advice and opinions are readily given in our private lives, and this is becoming expected in our professional lives. It is important to keep the lines of communication between employee and manager open, allowing for the exchange of ideas and information.
As we have seen with COVID-19, there are circumstances that we cannot plan for in advance and our performance management approach needs to account for that -- employees want to be able to continuously reassess priorities and objectives.
We have also found that self-authored objectives that are in line with our priorities are important. People are more invested in the goals they set for themselves.
Empowerment and trust of individuals and teams are also motivating. Our employees have expressed the wish for a boss that acts as a “coach” than a traditional manager. People like having a certain degree of leeway to accomplish their goals by their own means and have their manager guide and advise, but not instruct them.
From our experiments, we have learned that while increasing the emphasis on team performance and recognition is important, it is also critical to have some level of differentiation at an individual level for those who create an exceptional impact in the organization.
Associates are also looking for more choices in terms of reward and recognition. So, while the monetary reward is still important, acknowledgment for their contribution is also key. Our colleague recognition scheme allows for peer to peer, team, and individual recognition.
What are your future plans as you go ahead amid this pandemic and how do you envision the future of healthcare as we come out of this COVID-19 crisis?
As the immediate crisis subsides, we are entering a ‘new normal’ phase of the pandemic marked by deep uncertainty. The pharmaceutical industry and scientists around the globe are racing to find therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19. It is vitally important that we follow the science in these efforts:
Only data-driven scientific trials will answer the question of which therapies are beneficial in treating patients with the disease. In the near future, we face the possibility of a different kind of health crisis: the impact of a sharp reduction in visits to hospitals and clinics for almost every disease area unrelated to COVID-19. As the immediate crisis subsides, our most urgent focus is on getting patients safely back to the care they need.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the ongoing digital and cultural transformation at Novartis. It showed that our people are most creative and productive when leaders are ‘unbossed’.
Another key learning from the crisis is how the digital preparedness of healthcare systems has influenced their ability to respond. We can seize the opportunity of this crisis to pinpoint where technology can help healthcare systems be better prepared to predict, prevent, respond, and recover from future health crises.
I am optimistic. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that not only do we live in an era of unparalleled scientific capabilities, but human resilience and capacity to innovate is remarkable. When we listen to one another and partner, we can overcome obstacles, learn in the process, and above all, come out stronger.
Read more such stories from the August issue of our e-magazine on 'Performance and Rewards in the New Normal’