Let the leadership journey begin

LeadingPeople@Roche helps all line managers with their leadership journey

Henna Saarialho’s first leadership role came with big responsibilities. As a sales manager for an American pharmaceutical company, she went from having no direct reporting staff to managing a team of 14 sales representatives plus four field secretaries.

“Initially I was a little hesitant,” recalls Henna, now Business Unit Director, Roche Finland. “And some of the fellows I was managing were very challenging – they didn’t want to get feedback. I had to quickly learn how to give feedback that would be clear but polite and to be open and honest in the way I communicated with the team.”

An employee’s line manager relationship has a strong impact on both individual and team performance. With the Leadership Commitments as the foundation, Roche has developed global leadership development programs targeting all levels of leaders at Roche.

In the spring of this year, Roche launched Leading People@Roche, a one-day program custom designed for first-level leaders – managers with teams of individual contributors. Offered at designated sites around the world, it helps new and experienced managers build stronger self-awareness and provides insights on how they can practice effective leadership behaviors in their daily work.

“Becoming a leader – going from being an individual contributor to a manager with reports – was much harder than I thought,” says Ashwin Datt, Senior Director of Genentech Immunology and Ophthalmology (GIO) Pipeline, Marketing and National Account Strategy.

Ashwin adds, “I thought being a manager and being on a leadership team would be pretty easy but when you put those shoes on, you quickly appreciate how big they are. I also thought my technical skills would help, but looking back, in my first six months as a leader, nobody asked about my technical skills. I had a lot of growing to do; I had to develop a whole new set of skills.”

The program also clarifies what Roche expects from leaders and helps managers develop their own authentic “leadership voice,” explains Rebecca Casey, Global Head, Leadership and Employee Development. According to all the participants in this series, authenticity is crucial to success as a line manager and leader.

Henna says: “I want to have a direct and coaching way of leading. I want to be clear in my communication so that my team doesn’t feel like they have to ‘read between the lines.’ I also want them to know they can trust that I will do what I promise to do. I want to lead people the way I would like to be led.”

One of the challenges of being a leader – at any level – is balancing business goals and targets with being mindful of the employee perspective. This means caring about people but still making tough decisions when necessary, notes Fred Zigrest, Global Head of Supply Chain Business Processes and Risk Management. An effective leader, he suggests, understands and implements what he calls the Three C’s: clarity, confidence and courage.

“Clarity means I give clear directions and am clear about our purpose,” Fred explains. “Confidence means that I am confident in what I know and, more importantly, confident in what I don’t know. And courage means I’m not afraid to make mistakes, to hold myself accountable to a high standard, and to give credit to the people who do the work.”

One aspect of the Roche culture makes leading teams easier than in other companies: in general, employees have a strong sense of purpose. On the other hand, with more than 85,000 employees around the world dedicated to doing now what patients need next, it can sometimes feel like every task has to be top priority.

Setting priorities: what’s so hard about that?

It may seem odd that leaders sometimes find it tough to do something most people take for granted as an everyday part of life, but both new and experienced leaders say that setting priorities can be an ongoing challenge.

“This comes from the fact that, in general, as people and professionals, we never want to say no,” Fred muses. “It’s human nature to want to please, to accomplish things.”

He adds, “And if, like me, you were a subject matter expert, you may find it difficult to resist the temptation to step in and do things for people. Maybe doing that would be a little faster, but it’s not really leading – people need the opportunities to do things themselves. I’ve also led teams where I was not the subject matter expert and this allowed me to empower people to make decisions and learn more about the business.”

Henna finds it useful to simply write down what has to be done each day.

“Just like everybody else, leaders have urgent emails and things come up that weren’t on the agenda, so every evening and every morning, I make a checklist,” she says.

A rapidly changing healthcare and business environment can also make setting priorities difficult, Rebecca observes.

“Gary Keller, a best-selling author in this area, says we all need to focus on ‘the one thing’, that is, one primary task, and forget the myths of ‘everything matters equally’ and ‘multi-tasking’. In addition, when setting priorities becomes difficult, empowering and trusting people becomes even more important,” she says.

Despite these challenges, leaders across Roche are enthusiastic about the opportunities to inspire their teams and encourage their professional development. And they are passionate about continuing their own leadership journey.

“As a leader, I’m light years away from where I was five years ago,” Fred says. “And in five years, I should be light years away from where I am now. I’m excited to see what I’ll morph into.”

Tags: Sustainability, People