Leading by Example

Publish Date

11 MAY 2022


Global Communications


When it comes to bringing the Enterprise Priorities to life, managers are called upon to set an example. Three of them discussed with Belén Garijo, CEO of our company, about the best way to achieve this.

The Enterprise Priorities are integral to our company´s Mobilize for Growth strategy. But how to ensure they reach all 60,000 employees worldwide? “By starting where everything starts: culture,” says Chief Executive Officer Belén Garijo. But what kind of culture does our company aim to have? Which obstacles have to be overcome? And how to make sure everyone can play an active role? These questions took center stage in a virtual talk between Belén Garijo and Beate Burkhart, Head of Materials Innovation Pipeline within Electronics, Hong Chow, who leads China & International within Healthcare, and Abdelraouf Metawee, who oversees HR in the country clusters of Europe, Middle East and Africa. Leading teams of different sizes across the company, they shared their perspectives – on how to reduce complexity, the difference between being nice and truly caring, and how to create an organization free of fear.

Belén Garijo (BG): Thank you so much for joining me today to discuss the Enterprise Priorities and especially culture. This topic is so important to me as the foundation to make all four priorities part of our daily work. First of all – let me ask you how do you see those priorities?

Beate Burkhart (BB): When I first heard about them, I thought: Yes – culture, digitalization, performance, sustainability – these priorities make sense and I really feel I can get behind them. It is clear to me how we need to act on a management level. But what happens next? How does this trickle down to the entire organization?

BG: For me, it all starts by thinking big, dreaming and inspiring others to dream. By speaking to people about the outcomes we’re envisioning, telling them how things will look in five years, how to make the company stand out as the best employer, the fastest growing, the most competitive, more innovative, more sustainable. You have to help people dream, so they say “yes, I want to be part of the most sustainable company.”

BB: Absolutely. And overall, my feeling is that people are proud to be working here right now. But I think when we get to the team level, we need to become a lot more concrete. We need to take everyone’s individual experiences seriously. I’ll give you an example. Recently, a technician told me, “I ordered a chemical four months ago at one of our subsidiaries and I still haven’t gotten the chemical – I haven’t even heard back.” Day-to-day problems like this can really hinder growth and performance.

BG: I fully understand, and I see two issues here. How can you perform without the resources that you need? Not supplying something to a lab hinders its performance! At the same time, I see a certain ‘culture of acceptance’. Sometimes we don’t seem to challenge problems enough and just accept the status quo. But we really need everyone on the team to feel they can take initiative! So let me ask you, what should we do in this kind of situation? How do you encourage people to act as owners and create that sense of urgency?

BB: I tell people, if you don’t get the answers you need from person A, go to person B. If you don’t get it there, go to person C – or do it yourself. We need to work out what the difficulties are for technicians and many other experts and empower people so that they don’t just accept problems but take ownership of any situation and fix things. We really need to give people the power to act at every level of the company.

​Hong Chow (HC): In Healthcare, acting with urgency is what we must do for our patients. Maybe a four-month delay in a product launch does not seem that long in some areas, but for life-saving medicines, a delayed launch could mean that patients might no longer be alive. It was heartbreaking for me to read a social media post on a product launch, “I wish your medicine had been available months earlier; maybe my mother would not have died from that disease.”

BG: When I led Healthcare, I emphasized that every single minute counts for a patient. Now I say: Every minute counts for each of our customers. We really need to generate a sense of urgency that is linked to the bigger purpose: Looking beyond my everyday work, my own contribution: What are the big challenges we want to help our customers, patients, even the whole society, tackle? That is very, very important. Consider how these kinds of delays can damage our reputation with customers.

Abdelraouf Metawee (AM): I think we are already making progress. I have seen a lot of change since I joined in 2009. Today, within HR and within the business we feel really confident. It’s not only thanks to our history, but also having seen what happened through the pandemic. We are really serving the world’s needs in terms of patients, digitalization and our contributions to the fight against Covid-19.

HC: We are indeed a great company. I joined only recently and there are so many great things about this company that attracted me and others to join. But I feel we still need to raise the bar in terms of innovation, speed and decision-making. We need to be confident, but also restless as an organization because the world is changing so fast.

BG: Yes, we cannot afford to be complacent. I always keep myself on my toes. We need to make sure that our teams understand that yes, we have grown, yes, we are successful. But to make sure we remain successful in the future, we have to set ourselves ambitious growth targets for the longer term. We cannot rest on our laurels. We need to continuously raise the bar. What do you think, do employees feel the same kind of energy and excitement about the strategy?

HC: In my view, people really like it because it’s simple. But I also observe some change fatigue. People have seen a lot of change initiatives recently in our organization. They are not sure whether the High-Impact Culture is just a new campaign or really here to stay. As people leaders, we need first to ask ourselves: How can we be role models to live the new behaviors?

BG: People may be skeptical because leaders are not always walking the talk. To me, these six behaviors are key to bringing the High-Impact Culture and Leadership to life Be obsessed with customers and patients and serve them in the best possible way. Act as the owner by taking things into your own hands wherever it’s in your control. Be curious and innovate boldly. Simplify and act with urgency. Raise the bar. And finally, disagree openly, decide and deliver. The most difficult to practice in our company, I feel, is the last one, to “disagree openly.”

HC: But what makes it so difficult to make these changes, and why do things sometimes get so complex?

BG: That’s an important point. We need to find ways to reduce complexity. It is a cultural issue and it will take time. But we need to keep asking: Are we creating complexity? Or can we make it simpler? What can we stop doing altogether? For example, do we really need all those meetings? We also need time to think and have fun to be able to do great work!​

AM: We need to find ways to highlight good examples of simplicity and make them visible across the organization.

BG: Yes, and that includes the Executive Board. When we asked for input or an update on a topic, we realized we may be creating a lot of complexity by putting people under a lot of stress, generating countless preparatory meetings and PowerPoint slides before they meet with us.

HC: Yes, Belén, I was wondering about this. I know you personally don’t like presentations with many slides and I have heard the same from other Board members. Yet, compared to other companies I’ve worked for, I have hardly ever seen so many slides! Why is that?

BG: I think people are fearful. Afraid they might not know an answer. They feel safer with many slides, to include every detail, to be able to answer every possible question right away. But you see, we on the Board are always being challenged every day, by our markets, by investors – and we can’t possibly always know the answer. So, why should we expect this of anyone else? I don’t mind at all if people say, “I don’t know the answer right now, I will get back to you tomorrow.” I’m not looking for perfection, I’m looking for competence. So now, we have started calling people spontaneously in order to ask them for their thoughts in an uncomplicated way. Too much complexity gets in the way of having a real discussion. We need to create a safe environment so that people lose their fears.

BB: Many people have never seen a senior manager admit that they don’t know something. They simply don’t have a role model of someone saying, “That’s a good point, but I can’t give you the answer right now.” Senior managers should probably say that more often.

HC: At the same time, as someone who is fairly new to this company, my observation is that we spend lots of time on internal alignment, often avoiding conflict to be nice to each other.

​AM: Niceness and harmony are deeply established in our culture, but we also need to focus more on performance. When people give very long presentations, we are typically too nice to interrupt and say, “let’s get to the discussion.” That’s the other side of our companies cooperative culture, which is otherwise a strength.

HC: Giving honest feedback is also a form of genuine care. If you genuinely care for your colleagues, you will give them open feedback in the same way as you do with people you truly care to develop, such as your children.

BG: Absolutely. Honest feedback has helped me develop and grow a lot. But giving honest feedback can be tough. So, we have to walk the talk. Otherwise, if we say one thing but do another, people will just say, “Never mind, it’s just another initiative.”

BB:  I would like to mention another aspect of caring. You can only contribute, make the right decisions and raise the bar if you look after yourself. So if people are very motivated, always running at full speed, true high performers, how can we make sure they continue to look after themselves in the long term so that they don’t get too stressed out?

AM: I think it is important for people to take care of themselves and really make that a priority. I make a point of encouraging my team to nurture their own personal development. “You need to plant the seed of your personal and outside-work life; it will not grow alone,” I tell them. As leaders, we have to ask our teams to reflect on what they do personally for themselves.

BB: Belén, how do you personally nurture your energy?

BG: We want everyone to be their best – so we need to make sure we all have time for ourselves. I know for myself, to be at my best I shouldn’t work too late; I need to switch of and sleep well. It is important to take breaks. We need to put great emphasis on well-being. We want our company to become an irresistible workplace and the health and well-being of our teams are key topics.

AM: Nurturing our own energy is so important, and let’s really bear that in mind as we cascade our Enterprise Priorities to everyone. Let’s also make sure we cascade our sense of energy and confidence in these priorities because we really have every reason to be confident.

BG: Absolutely. Starting with our leaders, we need strong ambassadors for our priorities, so we can truly breathe life into them. For now, though, thank you all so much for sharing your time, your ideas and input so openly and generously.

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