Unboss your company: Die Novartis-Revolution

Wie erschafft ein Weltkonzern eine Hochleistungskultur? Novartis wagt das spannendste Experiment in der europäischen Firmenszene.

Bilanz – Schweiz

Als Vas Narasimhan im September 2017 mit gerade 41 Jahren zum neuen Novartis-Chef gekürt wurde, suchte er sofort nach einem Symbol, um einen radikalen Kulturwandel bei dem Pharmariesen anzustossen. Da liess ein Bekannter ein Buch auf seinem Schreibtisch liegen. Es stammte von dem dänischen Autor Lars Kolind und hatte einen einfachen Namen: Unboss. «Ich habe es an einem Wochenende ge­lesen – und wusste: Das ist es», errinnert sich Narasimhan.

Was daraus folgte, beschreiben wir in unserer aktuellen Titelgeschichte. Der junge Novartis-Chef wagt das grösste Experiment in der europäischen Konzernszene: Wie erschaffe ich aus einem Koloss mit mehr  als 105 000 Angestellten eine Hochleistungs-Organisation?

Erster Schritt: Stärke die Eigenverantwortlichkeit der Mitarbeiter– make them unbossed! Die bisherigen Chefs sind Coaches und nicht mehr Anordner.


Lars Kolind und sein Buch Unboss

Der langjährige Firmenchef Lars Kolind veröffentlichte das Buch «Unboss» – und schuff damit die Grundlage für den Novartis-Umbau.

Quelle: ZVG

Zusammenarbeit mit Microsoft

Novartis arbeitet dabei mit dem US-Software-Konzern Microsoft zusammen, der vor vier Jahren einen ähnlichen Kulturwandel begann und heute die höchstbewertete Firma der Welt ist. «Novartis wird die führende Pharmakultur der Welt werden», heisst es in den internen Vorgaben wenig bescheiden.

VR-Präsident Jörg Reinhardt unterstützt den Prozess: «Bisher ist die Pharmaindustrie eine bequeme, konserva­tive Branche, und auch bei uns war die starke patriarchalische Führung das Mass aller Dinge. Das reicht heute nicht mehr.»

Unter dem langjährigen Firmenchef Daniel Vasella war Novartis für seine Top-Down-Kultur bekannt. Legendär war Vasellas Aussage, autonome Mitarbeiter entsprächen nicht den Bedürfnissen der Organisation: «Autonomie funktioniert nicht in unserem Umfeld, es ist dafür zu komplex.» Heute gilt: Unboss your company.


Learn more about the Novartis strategy:


Unleash the power of our people

A great strength of Novartis is our people, whose energy and creativity are crucial to successfully implementing the company’s strategy. In 2018, we pursued two approaches to help unleash the power of our people: We embarked on a transformation of the Novartis culture to ensure people can be at their best, and we enhanced our strategy for attracting, developing and retaining talented individuals who will embody this new culture.

Transforming the Novartis culture

The company’s culture is central to stimulating innovation, driving performance and maintaining our reputation. Our goal is to ensure employees feel inspired, curious and unbossed. We are evolving to a culture where leaders set clear goals, serve their teams, and remove obstacles rather than controlling and micromanaging employees. Team members are empowered to take ownership of their work and are encouraged to collaborate across the organization to maximize their impact.

Four steps to transform our culture

The need for change was highlighted in a survey involving nearly 14 000 employees in May. The Organizational Culture Inventory® provided a deeper understanding of the company’s culture, and a baseline for measuring progress. The survey showed that employees overwhelmingly enjoy coming to work and are proud of the company, but it also revealed concerns about competitive behaviors and the desire for a more collaborative style of working.

The Novartis Board of Directors and Executive Committee reviewed assessments of the company’s culture and our plans for pursuing change.

We are taking four major steps to transform our culture. First, we are ensuring that employees understand our aspirations and are inspired to take action. For example, in January 2018 we created a group on our internal social network that brings together more than 120 000 members, with over 94 000 active users and almost 7.3 million messages shared. In May, we organized an online crowdsourcing event called generate.action to gather proposals for implementing culture change. About 27 000 employees participated, submitting 2 400 ideas and casting 158 000 votes on the best ways to unleash the power of our people. A pitch event was held in January 2019 to seek endorsement for the companywide rollout of the most popular proposals, including initiatives to support continuing education and adopt more family-friendly policies. In addition, the way we describe our Novartis Values and Behaviors – innovation, collaboration, courage, performance, integrity and quality – has been refined to encourage an inspired, curious and unbossed culture.

About 27 000 employees took part in generate.action, our online crowdsourcing event seeking ways to implement culture change

A second major step is helping employees apply the new culture in their daily activities. We have made clear to leaders our expectation that they should inspire and empower others, display curiosity and be self-aware. These expectations are reflected in a new 360-degree assessment that forms the foundation for leadership development in the company, and are embedded in our immersive development programs. For our top 350 leaders, we launched a year-long program to build the capabilities they need to transform the culture and meet the new expectations. This intensive leadership journey involves a significant investment of time to benefit from the webinars, simulations, social learning and personalized coaching support.

We also designed an online tool called Team Perspectives to help managers improve their leadership skills by receiving upward feedback from their teams. The company’s top 350 leaders received initial feedback during the Novartis Leadership Forum in September, and formed small networks to provide support as they change their approach. Team Perspectives will be expanded to include all 12 500 leaders in 2019.

The third step for transforming our culture is to ensure the company’s internal environment and processes encourage people to do their best work. For example, the process for reviewing employees’ performance has been improved with simpler, informal check-ins, putting more emphasis on conversation and reducing written documentation. In addition, we have introduced a companywide business performance factor, which is one element used to determine employees’ annual bonuses. This replaced 57 different performance factors based on individual groups or divisions, in a move designed to stimulate enterprise-wide thinking.1

1 This typically excludes sales associates, who have a different incentive system.

Finally, we are taking steps to help employees sustain their energy and impact, both at work and in every other aspect of their lives. An initiative called Energized for Life encourages more flexible working practices and greater well-being through a range of programs, such as health and disease awareness. This includes our partnership with a company that helps people maximize their personal impact. We also launched a program to support employees who are affected by cancer and cardiovascular and neurological diseases. It currently operates in Brazil, India, Italy, Switzerland and the US, and we plan to expand its reach in 2019.

We will measure progress in evolving our culture by repeating the Organizational Culture Inventory® on a regular basis, to track employees’ behavior and engagement as organizational changes take effect. In addition, the previous biennial Global Employee Survey will be replaced by instantly accessible tools to detect changing sentiment in real time – for instance by analyzing internal communications, and conducting simple and frequent surveys to measure and address employees’ motivations and degree of engagement.


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