A Global Pharma learns how to engage their whole organisation

A global pharmaceutical company had the courage to face the fact that they needed help with engagement and leadership.

Transforming the leadership culture in a large organisation can be difficult but this Client accepted WorkSmart Australia’s Leadership Challenge and achieved remarkable results, far exceeding their expectations.

The Client

The Client is a multi-billion dollar international corporation, in the Top 5 in its field of pharmaceuticals, with branches all over the world.  With a long established presence in Australia, the Client has over 700 employees across the country, with the majority based in Sydney.

The Challenge

Across the Client’s industry, there is a relatively high rate of staff turnover, with a churn rate of around 15%.  However, the turnover for the Client’s Australian division was well above the average, running as high as 22%.  The costs to the company were considerable, with the HR department rating the cost of each person who left at twice the value of their annual salary.  This figure, although alarming in itself, did not fully take into account the inevitable impact on the morale, team continuity and productivity of departments and divisions that were losing important members.

Clearly, action needed to be taken. As the CEO put it before WorkSmart Australia was appointed, “We are bleeding.”

Adding impetus to the urgent need to change was a global directive from the worldwide Headquarters that required all the divisions to change their organisational structures to address the new more competitive landscape and realise the full potential of the product pipeline.  Pressure was building and decisive action was required.

The Client’s international management team runs a global survey of its employees every two years.  In 2011, the survey results showed that there were multiple issues around engagement at senior leadership and management levels.  This gave some insights into where the challenges were and what might be done to overcome them.  A new HR Director was appointed in the Third Quarter of 2011 with a specific mandate to change the company culture.

In collaboration with Senior Leaders, middle managers and employees, a deeper analysis of the issues was carried out.  The survey scores that were given were very revealing about what was not working well.  The problem was real, expensive and needed urgent attention.  Some key areas were focussed on:

  • Retain top talent
  • Improve senior leadership capability
  • Build people-management capability
  • Reduce the complexity of the decision-making processes
  • Improve the IT platform and data access

The first three fell within the remit of HR and this was where WorkSmart Australia was invited to provide expert help.

The Solution

WorkSmart is Australia’s only master certified trainer in The Leadership Challenge®, the most highly researched leadership training model in the world.

There are fundamental elements to The Leadership Challenge®, known as The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.  After many years of exhaustive research, studying real-world situations, what is crystal clear is that leadership is not as much about who you are – it is about what you do (or fail to do).  Effective leaders inspire their teams to do the things they would not otherwise do on their own.  In order to create the desire for team members to do the extraordinary, five behaviours have been conclusively shown to be the keys to leadership:

Model The Way – leaders lead by example. First, find your voice by clarifying your personal values; then set the example by aligning actions with shared values.

Inspire A Shared Vision – leaders envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities. Then, they enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.

Challenge The Process – leaders challenge the status quo and search for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, grow and improve. They lead their teams to experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from mistakes.

Enable Others To Act – leaders foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and trust Strengthen others by sharing power and discretion, allowing their teams to have ownership of projects and initiatives.

Encourage The Heart – leaders recognise contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence and celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community in their teams and organisations.

WorkSmart began working with our Client’s group identified as their top talents; this was the cohort who were most important for the Client to retain.  They were also the group most likely to leave if something was not done.  The Client’s root cause analysis revealed that career acceleration and development were key drivers for these individuals.  The core strategy implemented was, therefore, a high quality, long-term leadership and personal development program.

Something standard or off the shelf would not be enough to fully engage these high achievers: a transformational program was needed, something that would engage, inspire and fully challenge the top talent in the organisation over the longer term.  A specialised leadership program was developed for the group and included a large range of leadership competencies. This program was given the name, ‘Redwood’.

Crucial to the success of the Redwood program was that it was delivered in depth over a 2-year time frame.  The program consisted of offsite programs, leader-led sessions, ongoing assessments and personalised individual coaching.

Because of the overwhelmingly positive feedback from the top talent group, the Client’s Executive Team made the decision to undertake their own program with WorkSmart.  Seeing the progress of the top talent group, the CEO and HR Director had quickly come to realise that in order to support their highest achievers they needed to understand the training and to become mentors to the top talents, speaking to them in the new language that they were now learning.  Courageously, they also faced the painful fact that the undesirable behaviours in the company were a direct result of their own leadership.  They understood that organisational transformation must be underpinned by personal transformation at the most Senior Leadership level.

The Executive Team began with a 2-day intensive called The Leadership Challenge Workshop.  As a result of this direct experience, they unanimously voted to run themselves through a longer term leadership development program.  It was at this point, when the current and future leaders of the company fully committed, that the program truly became embedded in the organisation and was able to support significantly positive behavioural changes.  Subsequently, three more programs were launched in the company to train the leadership level beneath the Executive Team.

The Internal Stakeholder Support

The commitment of the Executive Team and, in particular, of the HR Director was outstanding.  Progress had to be measured and tested frequently, but in a way that was unobtrusive. As the HR Director put it, “These are lead indictors, not lag indicators….you need the results for HR …you must prove you are making a difference and create accountability.” In effect, the original LPI was broken down into five mini-360 degree assessments especially created for the program. This gave WorkSmart the capacity to shape the program, teaching modules directly related to the survey results. When any resistance to the necessary changes being taught came up, the HR Director and WorkSmart were able to maintain momentum: “We had tons of reports, monitoring, feedback and results…we are in business – we want results!”, as the HRD said.  The surveys to show those results were designed to ensure a very low “survey burden” on the leaders and direct reports.

Any truly transformational leadership program is challenging. It is designed to help leaders change long held habits and beliefs. It is not a tick the box exercise, and it is not about tools and techniques: it is about personal growth, mindset changes and habit changes. The HR Director had to repeatedly check in with the executive team for their buy in through the process.  There were several pivotal moments where it was literally put to a team vote to continue or to stop the program. This strategy proved very powerful as it ensured the program and process were given a constant buy in / buy out option. Ultimately, this helped the Executive Team to engage with the program more and it also supported WorkSmart with real time feedback for improvement. WorkSmart was thus able to learn alongside the Client, remaining flexible, responding to their needs and issues, improving and refining the program whenever required throughout the process.

The Achievements

  • Staff turnover dropped from 22% to 12% – significantly below industry norms.
  • Retention rose by 9%.
  • Overall engagement lifted significantly from 78% to 85%.
  • Innovation and change rose by 7%.
  • The Client went from “bleeding high potentials” to not losing a single high potential from the beginning of the program up to the time of writing of this case study.
  • Most of the high potential course participants have now achieved more senior roles within the business.
  • The executive team is now a model of a high functioning leadership team. Honesty is at an all time high, effectiveness and cohesiveness are exceptional. It is a team that trusts each other and leads the organisation based on its core values.
  • All of this progress was achieved even though survey ratings for salary and benefits did not increase – the process appealed to deeper values and was effective because of that.

Another very important change was that all Senior Leaders re-prioritised their business objectives, making engagement a top objective of their leadership efforts.  For a corporation with such a strong historical emphasis on commercial results to reframe their understanding of how to achieve those results was a remarkable achievement for everyone involved.


Companies are made up of the people in them.  In the War Room in the Ford Motor Company’s HQ is a sign that says: ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ As Michael Bunting from WorkSmart said to a client, “We have a way to teach very deep and meaningful material in the logical language of an engineer and still not lose the human element. The process stands up to the greatest cynic because it is logical. This is key to buy in for transformational work”.

To change the company culture, changing some procedures or practices has little impact.  The people have to change.  WorkSmart Australia is in the business of personal transformation.  That personal transformation is how the companies we work with change their culture and achieve their new, more ambitious goals and greater levels of success.