A new culture

Alex Blyth finds out how Bayer Diagnostics embedded a new corporate culture across the organisation

The business

Bayer Diagnostics is one of the largest manufacturers of medical diagnostic equipment in the world, selling laboratory testing, molecular testing and patient care diagnostics systems and services to customers in 100 countries. Its headquarters are in Tarrytown, north of New York, US.

The challenge

In 1999, the company was suffering from lacklustre sales and was being out-performed by its competitors. Staff morale had been sapped by years of failing to meet sales targets and the lack of a unifying corporate vision. At the same time, Bayer Diagnostics was acquiring Chiron Diagnostics, a smaller company with a more entrepreneurial culture.

Madeleine Accardi, manager of organisational development and training, recalls how this was the final spur to action: “Our president, Rolf Classon, recognised that this was also the ideal opportunity to reinvigorate the whole company.”

The solution

Classon hired an organisational development team and set about creating a new culture for the unified company. One hundred and twenty of the new company’s leaders were brought together to define a corporate mission, vision and a set of values.
In the six years since then, these values have become imbued throughout the organisation, and have provided the foundation for a dramatic turnaround in the company’s fortunes.

Accardi believes there are three reasons why they proved so influential. “They were devised by the company’s 120 leaders, not by consultants; the implementation of the vision was led by a strong, charismatic president; and in the roll-out we did more than just put up a few posters.”

Over a year, all 7,000 of Bayer Diagnostics’ employees across the globe attended one-day workshops entitled ‘Living our vision’. These were run by around 90 in-house facilitators, and were designed to establish a common language around which the new culture could be built.

The behaviours associated with the vision and values were integrated into the recruitment process, performance appraisals, succession planning, rewards and recognition procedures, and leadership development.

Around 1,400 managers have been through the leadership programmes run by the Centre for High Performance Development (CHPD).
Accardi chose the CHPD training agency because of its diagnostic and development capabilities. “This means we have been able to assess our leaders relative to our desired behaviours, and then further develop them,” she says. “CHPD provides a wide range of services and a global scope that allows us to accomplish a lot with only a few staff in the in-house organisational development department.”

There are three levels to the leadership development programme: the leadership foundation programme; the leadership development centre; and the executive development centre. The theory is that as the company’s leaders become more immersed in the values and associated behaviours, so this will trickle down throughout the rest of the organisation.

The outcome

In 1999, the company ran its first Vision Survey, an annual census of all employees. Just 50% of employees responded. In 2004, 76% responded, an increase which Accardi believes is indicative of greater employee engagement.

“We’ve had four different presidents and many organisational changes since we started the programme,” she says. “But throughout all of this change, the values and vision have remained embedded in the culture and have been a steadying influence,” she says.

Accardi also believes that the programme has been a significant factor in turning the business around. In 2004, Bayer Diagnostics’ sales growth exceeded that of its market, and the return on those sales has increased by 14% since 2000.

“At any one time, around 300 managers are on the programme, and this has been a major investment by the company in terms of money and time,” Accardi explains. “It has also been tricky keeping it all going during so much organisational change. However, we have proved that by being bold, it really is possible to change things for the better.”

Learning points for HR

  • Accardi offers three tips to anyone considering setting up a similar scheme:
  • Don’t wait for the perfect time, as in today’s business environment there will always be change. Don’t wait for things to calm down before embarking on a project like this, because they never will
  • Follow up from the initial workshops. I wish we had done something to build on them, such as running a second one, or sending all attendees reminders a few weeks later
  • Make sure you get complete support from the top. We were lucky that we had a leader with vision, as I’m not sure this would have been possible otherwise

Employee perspective

Dave Hickey is vice-president for global strategic marketing – immunology at Bayer Diagnostics. He is currently on assignment in the US from the UK, and has been through all three stages of the leadership development programme.

He was nominated for the leadership foundation programme in 1998, while in the UK, and found the two-day course a useful start on his journey up the leadership ladder. In 2001, he was nominated for the leadership development centre, an 18-month project, involving five modules, each lasting between two days and a week, focusing on two or three leadership behaviours.

Having now completed the executive development centre, he believes the whole programme has been very useful.

“It has grounded me in leadership principles and behaviours. I know that if I exhibit them, I’ll lead well. Eventually, all of our high-potential employees will have been through the process and this will give us a shared language, shared concepts, and a common understanding of how to lead the company forward.”

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