Change from the perspective of a healthcare company

In a VUCA world, change is constant. Many aspects of our everyday lives become increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Over the last year, this trend has accelerated. A virus changed our day-to-day lives, the country’s entire economic activity, education, culture and healthcare. Everyone learned about the production of vaccines and medicines, about the importance of diagnostics and medication. The COVID-19 pandemic reminded people of the fundamental importance of health and healthcare. They also realized that one of the key factors in overcoming the crisis is digitalization. Indeed, it is the key to the future of medicine. Digital solutions allow management of a disease throughout its entire course, from diagnosis and therapy decision to monitoring the progress of treatment. Data management and advanced analytics are helping us take healthcare to a new level. This naturally brings change that affects us as a healthcare company.

What do the patient journey and agile working have to do with change management? As a biotech company at the forefront of medical and diagnostics research and development, change is part of our DNA. We relentlessly progress science to find new treatment options for patients, for example in oncology, Alzheimers, ophthalmology or rare diseases and many other areas. At Roche, we have adapted to the changing needs and requirements of patients and partners with the “OneRoche” approach: patients are the focal point of our thinking, and we are structuring our own organization in an agile and networked way throughout the entire patient journey. In practice, we collaborate in small interdisciplinary teams that are driven by a specific patient need – at the Vienna sales site this also means across the pharmaceuticals and diagnostics divisions. This allows our organization to fluidly respond to changes in the environment and in the market with customized solutions for patients.

Staying fit for change by collaborating with others. Change is not just a reaction to external influences from the business environment or the market. It also comes from within: I will be a different person next year than I am today because I am gaining experience, learning from colleagues, and building on my own learning. Working together with a curious mind makes us more innovative and productive. In a purposeful and inclusive team, and with a high degree of individual autonomy, we can contribute our unique individual strengths. That is why we promote an agile approach to work at Roche. With the contribution of experts across functional borders and a strong focus on digital tools, self-empowered teams are working on joint solutions. In our lean organization managers act as coaches and provide support, helping to remove barriers whenever needed. This way of working is very motivating: It leaves room for individual talents and provides for diversity of thought which leads to better outcomes.

It is the people who drive change. Change management in the narrower sense means moving from the current state to a desired state in a structured way. However, it is not “the organization” from which change emanates, or “the executives” – it is the people who engage in change and drive it forward. Successful change cannot be dictated “from above.” A leader does not simply delegate tasks, but provides a purposeful vision, sets direction, empowers, and allows a lot of space for solutions, action and errors. The implementation of change needs the active engagement of those who are actually involved in the relevant work process. In this context, the so-called ADKAR approach is a helpful tool for implementing change. It recognizes that each individual needs to go through a journey to embrace change. The model distinguishes five stages on this journey and it helps to identify what is needed at each of these stages (A…awareness, D…desire, K…knowledge, A…ability and R…reinforcement). The advantage of ADKAR is its goal-oriented and integrative approach, both in planning and when the employees implement the change.

Outcomes instead of activism. We all know the phenomenon from change processes: people talk a lot about the individual steps of change implementation and work through task lists with hundreds of activities. But actually it is unclear what is supposed to be better afterwards. If, for example, we as a healthcare provider want to bring innovative therapy options to Austria more quickly, then we have to move beyond the abstract with this vision. We need to think in actual scenarios, identify specific hurdles and define the appropriate solution in each case to achieve outcomes. This requires a clear idea of who I am doing something for and why. In our case, the question might be: “Is this a topic for physicians or patients?” We need to ask ourselves “what?”, “for whom?” and “why?” and answer these questions in specific terms. When I initiate a change process to speed up the introduction of innovative therapy options in Austria, every person in the company who is involved should be able to say: “I have understood why it is more difficult for doctors to bring a particular therapy to patients in some regions of the country. We have learned from this observation and know how we can help to overcome the difficulties.” At the beginning of a change process, we take the time to understand the change: “Why do we need to change? What is the goal? What do we want to be different afterwards, and why?” This exercise needs to be repeated regularly, in a disciplined way, so that we do not slip into activism, despite our clearly formulated outcomes.

In a change process, focus on the future instead of dwelling on the past. Initial enthusiasm for change is sometimes followed by disillusionment. The cause is usually to be found in our own tendency to describe things in black-and-white terms. Excitement about the prospect of change can lead us into badmouthing the present: “We have been too slow, too conservative,” the list of possible criticisms is long. The fact that companies need to change rapidly today does not mean that the status quo is bad per se. Most people work well and have been successful in terms of today’s requirements. It is the world around us that’s rapidly changing. This is where the learning culture, the agile organization come into play again: in processes of change, it is important to recognize the positive experiences and strengths we can build on. We are unique individuals with strengths and abilities, not deficient beings. Change processes are learning processes, to evolve and rapidly adjust to changing needs, not a correction of something that is “wrong.” Change should always combine appreciation of the current state with the purposeful urge to turn into something even better.

About Susanne Erkens-Reck 2 Articles
Susanne Erkens-Reck is General Manager of Roche Austria GmbH, the Austrian pharmaceutical business of the global healthcare company Roche. She joined Roche over twenty years ago, after studying mathematics at the University of Freiburg, she held various global positions of increasing responsibility in Finance and Digital. She is frequently involved with aspects of change management.

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