As one of the world’s largest life sciences companies, Novartis is making a significant investment in Asia. While customers and business opportunities are plentiful in this area of the globe, the same cannot be said for leaders. Consequently, Novartis must consider not only how it builds business in the region but how it builds leaders.
In the health care industry, China and Asia-Pacific have come into their own. Their political leaders and markets recognize their strengths and continually seek ways to grow their economies. At the same time, established Western companies and organizations are making a concerted effort to increase their market share in the region as well.
East and West are aligned in their desire for success, and this can be achieved through partnership and business planning, but it needs to be supported by strong talent development and leadership education. But according to a 2012 Deloitte survey, “Talent Edge 2020: Redrafting Talent Strategies for the Uneven Recovery,” Asia-Pacific companies have some urgent needs, with significant shortages anticipated in operations — 64 percent — and strategy and planning — 62 percent.
The main challenges organizations operating in Asia face today are threefold. First, there is a lack of mature management and leadership skills in the local talent pool. Second, there are capability gaps. Lastly, competition for the existing talent pool is fierce, leading to very low employee retention.
With the right learning tools and a commitment to learning as a strategic advantage, regional business challenges can be overcome. To address these problems, life sciences company Novartis created its China University and Asia University in 2009 and 2012, respectively. These two business schools develop local talent for today and create a leadership pipeline for tomorrow.
The Novartis China University
While emerging markets produce many college graduates, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates only 10 percent of Chinese university graduates are suitable for employment in multinational companies. To mitigate that, Novartis will invest $1.25 billion in a pair of Chinese research and development (R&D) centers; $250 million into a new R&D center and manufacturing facility in Changshu and another $1 billion to add 1,000 researchers at an existing center in Shanghai. That investment will make Shanghai one of its top three global research bases.
“We want our Chinese leaders and associates to become more effective in China and in the overall global organization,” said Betty Lau, head of Novartis China University.
Novartis China established a training center in 2006 and upgraded it to Novartis China University in 2009, then rejuvenated the portfolio in 2013. Internal statistics reported in 2012 for the prior year show a 49 percent increase in individual participation and an 82 percent increase in training days — 110 to 200.
Further, instead of just offering leadership development programs, the university is now a strategic partner that offers targeted interventions to support business growth by upgrading commercial capabilities of all seven Novartis divisions in China.
The university has a varied curriculum in two learning categories: leadership development and functional excellence programs. The objective is to develop key talents at all levels to support business and organizational growth and practicality.
“We emphasize how associates can bring what they learn immediately into the workplace,” Lau said. “This is true for every program. In this way they see and apply the relevance of their classes and workshop learning to their jobs.”
The leadership development curriculum provides cross-divisional programs for talent at all levels. Offerings include accelerated development programs to prepare those with high potential for their next job, leadership and management programs for all managers and personal development programs for all associates.
“Personal development programs are probably the most important, because it is a strategic tool for us to upgrade the core capabilities of our 7,000 to 8,000 associates in China,” Lau said.
Core skills taught include critical thinking, problem solving, negotiation, influencing skills, presentation and communication. Under the functional excellence curriculum, learning programs cover areas such as development, medical, market access, marketing, commercial and key account management.
To create work-pertinent modules, Lau first meets with business function heads for input about their functional strategy, business challenges, key business processes, employee skill gaps and capability building ideas. She also speaks with associates to get a complete perspective. “With this information, we design target interventions, focusing on improving one single skill at one point in time,” she said.
Take the marketing team as an example. Before the budget season, Lau’s team held a workshop about brand profit and loss to refresh marketers’ understanding of key financial figures, which helps them to better prepare budget proposals. Further, right before marketers submit their brand plans, they attend the Marketing Mix & Execution workshop where they revisit the most effective brand mix they should aim for, in accordance with the brand strategy and objective.
Since the product development function is present in China, the university exposes commercial associates to scientific activities. It offers associates a better understanding of Chinese patients as well as market dynamics to ensure associates develop products in China, for China. The idea is to enhance the understanding of different functional teams and create platforms for open discussions, while exploring possible collaboration opportunities along the business value chain.
Further, each year every functional team gets a one-hour orientation about the macro business environment. For example, one focus for 2013 is cost containment because major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have different cost containment measures. “We want to create a common sense of urgency and understand why we need to change and why we need to do things differently,” Lau said.
To this end, employees attend learning programs such as the Digital Acceleration workshop to learn how to reach Chinese physicians and customers in new ways, leveraging iPads and different data platforms to access sales data more effectively.
The Novartis Asia University
Novartis operates in 13 Asian countries with vastly different cultures. It is a highly dynamic and complex environment with much diversity relative to market size and how the market operates. Company leaders realized there was an immediate need to develop agile leaders to operate in the different environments; one day this pipeline will supply the company’s global leaders.
The Novartis Asia University was opened in 2012 to support this talent development vision. Prior to this, corporate learning spent eight months querying various division and country heads to understand key Asia issues, guide program development and help the university gain local support and attendee nominations for learning programs.
There are two main learning categories in the Asia University: leadership development and specialized skills. Within the leadership development program there is a transitional leadership journey, which focuses on management and leadership training for first-time managers. There are three phases in this program.
The first phase is called Setting the Wheels in Motion (SWIM). It is the key leadership program for Asian talent transitioning from individual contributor to first-time manager. The program teaches students about the importance of self-awareness as a leader and exposes them to Novartis’ leadership competencies.
The second phase of the transitional leadership journey is a company-wide, globally established leadership module called M1: Leading at the Front Line. This maintains consistency among Novartis leaders in Asia and other regions. If SWIM is “What is leadership?” then M1 is the “How?”
“We are equipping managers with tools and skills to be an effective manager through this module,” said Chris Yap, director of Novartis Asia University.
The third phase is called Gaining Your Momentum. This module begins one week after completion of M1. Participants get short homework assignments to help them practice what they learn and strengthen their leadership skills.
Concluding the transitional leadership journey, participants meet to share their learning and developmental achievements.
Other leadership programs offered at Asia University include M2: the Role of the Leader, for middle- and senior-level management personnel. And, for Novartis’ key talents in the region, it has the upcoming PEAK program, which was created in conjunction with faculty members from Harvard Business School and Center for Creative Leadership.
“We named it PEAK because in the long term we hope to establish it as the flagship of the Asia University,” Yap said. “Participants identify business opportunities and explore ideas for collaboration across the different divisions during the three-day engagement and interactive workshop that will eventually contribute to the long-term growth strategy of Novartis in Asia.”
Novartis also has programs that address employee capability gaps for middle- and junior-level associates. One such offering is the TEAM program. TEAM represents four important factors: teamwork, effectiveness, accelerating execution and managing stakeholders. Existing teams are required to attend together. They learn how to implement change initiatives more effectively, accelerate the implementation and manage their stakeholders using real projects.
“In our last TEAM program, we had eight teams attending with different projects from different countries and divisions within Asia,” Yap said. “Two of the teams were working on very similar projects. So, even though they were from different countries, TEAM provided a platform for them to share their experiences, and they were able to leverage cross-country learning.”
Project teams in the TEAM program have reported high satisfaction. Participants said they were able to apply the tools and reported an increased acceptance from their stakeholders. One process improvement team reported increased productivity of 11.97 percent.
There are other positive indicators of Asia University’s success. The average rating of all the programs delivered to date is 4.7 on a scale of 5. For the SWIM program, Novartis had to organize an additional class to meet demand.
Novartis started with programs targeted at junior managers. Later this year, it will transfer know-how for developing junior managers to local trainers in the region and refocus its energy on senior managers and key talent.
Filling Gaps, Building a Foundation
A 2012 Manpowergroup Talent Shortage survey reveals that significant gaps exist throughout Asia. Many Asia employers report difficulty in filling jobs — 81 percent in Japan, 47 percent in Taiwan, 37 percent in Singapore, 35 percent in Hong Kong and 23 percent in China.
With this in mind, Novartis’ China and Asia universities teach its participants leadership and fundamental business skills to address these gaps, but more importantly, they create leaders who can build the business in these growth markets long into the future.
Frank Waltmann is head corporate of learning at Novartis. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.