GSK Consumer Healthcare
Soon after Roger became President of GSK US Consumer Healthcare business (CHUS) in spring, 2008, he knew the business needed something radical. The unit had not been particularly successful for four years and people seemed stuck. Roger had been a general manager for 20 years and has no problem with traditional change; i.e.; make a quick assessment of what needs to be done and do it which has almost always meant re-structure and cut headcount. So that’s what he did within his first few months. But he recognized that they needed more.
The business had lost its swagger. Associates sometimes felt like victims and seemed to be in the dark about the true state of affairs. Silo mentality was pervasive and although people were working hard, misalignment was wasting effort. Roger knew the culture had to change, and change fast, but didn’t know what path to take. Then Diane Mairone, his internal OD consultant, introduced him to me and to AI. Our phone call in September, 2008, started the business on an incredible journey of transformation.
September, 2008: A Fateful Phone Call
I will never forget that phone call. I was in Alaska with another client when Diane and Roger called me. After hearing more about AI and how it could be applied, Roger said that he wanted to bring his entire business together in January to work on creating a new culture. That meant 750 people from the cafeteria workers to the leadership team. As far as I knew this would be only the second time that AI had been applied in this way at this scale.
In the year post-summit, they have modified their business model and completely re-organized and have downsized by another 15% (in a work-stream separate and distinct from the AI effort). In addition, because of the foundation they laid with a large Summit focused on Culture Change, they have grown an empowered organization of pride, performance, and possibilities. And they are making their numbers.
The CHNA Journey through the Five Ds
Rebuild Team: In late summer 2008, a 20% staff reduction had left the business reeling. Roger chartered a “Rebuilding” Team to develop plans to help move the business forward. In a September meeting with the extended leadership team (ELT-top 65), the team identified 12 “burning issues” and later grouped them into four areas: Business Simplification; Strategic Alignment and Focus; Empowerment and Accountability; and, High-Performance Culture. They also started planning a January, 2009 “Launch Meeting” intended to kick-start the rebuilt organization (tentatively planned for Las Vegas with 300-350 attendees).
Define: Choosing the Positive
The define phase involved both choosing the Appreciative approach and choosing an inquiry topic. Roger’s desire to create an empowered culture was a good starting point for the latter and he was clearly committed to the former. On October 16, Neil and Diane met with the Rebuild Team to introduce the group to AI, field their reactions about its applicability, and plan next steps.
The team experienced an inquiry first-hand, and heard about the underlying theory and practice. They saw how 3 of the 4 Burning Issues groups (all but simplification) could fit easily within one Inquiry. Roger then expressed his desire to bring everyone together in January in a large AI Summit. There was a great deal of interest in the idea and some concerns. (Note: this was shortly after AIG had been in the news for accepting a large government bail-out and taking executives to Las Vegas.) Someone raised the issue of how it would look. Remember, this business had not made its numbers in four years and had just laid off people. Roger’s reply said it all. “I don’t know exactly what will happen, and I am committed to doing this. We have to do something different.”
After a lengthy discussion, the group decided to move ahead with an Appreciative Inquiry Summit with the theme BEAT (Build Empowerment, Align Together). They also approved forming a Core Team to help plan the inquiry. In addition, they decided to modify an upcoming meeting of the ELT so that that group could experience an inquiry and understand the new approach being taken with the burning issues.
At the October 30 ELT meeting, Neil and Diane introduced AI and facilitated the group through an Inquiry titled “Leadership for Cultural Transformation”.
With this background, and the personal experience of an inquiry, the group strongly supported moving ahead on the all employee AI Summit in January. In addition, because of the inquiry, they had a deeper appreciation for the personal leadership necessary to create the cultural change they wanted and the business needed.
The core team served as an integral part of the Summit. This diagonal cross-section of 22 employees met for the first time on November 13-14 and then regularly to plan both the Summit and the follow-up. Their first task was to refine the topic choice. They quickly galvanized around “Creating an Empowered Culture of Pride, Performance, and Possibilities.” This elegantly described the future they (and Roger) wanted to see. It defines the results of the ideal culture in sufficient depth to focus the inquiry and still provides ample room for all stakeholders to make it their own. Working with Neil and Diane, the group spent the next two months creating the detailed agenda and participant guidebook (which included the Discovery interview questions) to be used at the Summit.
Building on the generosity of the AI community (and in particular, Mo McKenna, Jim Ludema, and Caryn Vanstone), the Summit Agenda, Participant Workbook, and project plan came to life (in a VERY short time, I might add). And then 750 people showed up at the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas for a week of hard work and great fun. With a facilitation team of Bernard Mohr, Jim Ludema, and Caryn Vanstone, and seven internal OD practitioners from GSK, the Summit proceeded flawlessly. Of course, there were surprises every day (as with any emergent process) but with superb logistics and AV teams, tireless hotel staff, and a bit of creativity among the facilitators, participants simply carried on with their activities, ignorant of any changes.
Highlights of the Summit:
•The Leadership team Fishbowl: Near the end of the Summit, the leadership team gathered for 1 hour in chairs in the middle of the Ball Room, surrounded by their entire business. With almost no preparation, they simply had an open conversation about what they had observed during the Summit, what they noticed about their Associates, and their plans for following through on what had happened. A number of Associates entered the fishbowl (two empty chairs) to ask questions and make comments. Nothing like this had ever happened here before so you can imagine the impact of the LT candor and authenticity in this live conversation.
•The Summit produced 85 projects/prototypes designed to help create the ideal culture at GSK.
•750 seems small in a large enough room
•The process is the same from 2 – 2000; all that really changes are logistics
•Facilitation experience counts
•This was a great learning opportunity for internal OD folks
•Build relationship with logistics team first
•he agenda gives the appearance of organization and structure. All the planning disappears as soon as the first room change happens. (And it will!)
•Treat people like adults and that is how they act. We started every session on time with all but a few stragglers in their seats ready to go. And no one was in the halls herding them in.
•Minimal instruction and maximum guidance. Be clear about the outputs required and turn the group loose.
•Sometimes, in the “process heavy” parts (e.g., presenting and selecting dreams) more hands-on facilitation is needed. But in the conversational part (which is most) stay away. Spend your time picking up coffee cups or anything that will keep you away from the