Season 1, Episode 4
How EI helped a patient-centric pharma company enhance vision and workplace culture.
Marie [00:00:00] Why would a pharmaceutical startup focus on EI early in their business journey? Marlene Tanner explain it to us today. She is a Senior HR and organizational development executive in the Pharmaceutical Space, and a Genos Certified Practitioner. She implemented a program that transformed behaviors and enhanced patient-centric vision at the pharma startup she worked for. She shares how this was rolled out, and the impact it had after just 18 months.
Marie [00:00:40] Hello again, Ben.
Ben [00:00:41] Hi, how are you, Marie? It’s great to be with you.
Marie [00:00:43] I’m good and hello, Marlene, how are you?
Marlene [00:00:47] I’m good, thank you.
Ben [00:00:52] It’s great to have you on the on the podcast. Thanks, Marlene.
Marie [00:00:54] Let’s start at the very beginning. You ran a successful E.I. programme for your pharmaceutical company that you were working for at the time and it was still a very new company. Can you tell us the context of the business and why you felt E.I. was so important at the time?
Marlene [00:01:18] Well, thanks, Marie, the business had newly formed from its parent and was trying to establish a unique and a separate identity. And central to this was the establishment of a very patient-centric vision. And with that, some new ways of working and leadership attributes to really support this new vision. And the behaviours were at the centre of all what was considered critical performance and talent processes and the talent philosophy by which the company’s approach was to really look at how it developed its people and how we could embed those behaviours within it. And after the initial training on these behaviours, it really became apparent that to really help leaders at the time to bring out the best of themselves and those around them, they really needed a set of skills and a language per se that would really help them embed these new behaviours. But also importantly, they needed some frameworks and frameworks that they could fall back on to really help role model these new ways of working. And so for me that’s where the Genos model was really a natural fit, the ways of working easily mapped to these Genos competencies. And this was important if we were going to launch a leadership development programme on the back of this.
Marie [00:02:04] And was this something that triggered the need or was it just a vision that you had for the leaders of the organisation?
Marlene [00:02:11] It was quite organic. And we already had a training programme that we got from global at the time. And we’re rolling that out from a behavioural perspective. But you could see that the how to go about this new way of working still needed some support and guidance. And that’s where the competency framework that the Genos model provided really helped turbocharge what we were trying to do when we’re rolling out the training on all of these behaviours.
Ben [00:02:44] That’s what I love about this is that I often talk to our clients about emotional intelligence being the vehicle being something that will help you achieve your ends as opposed to the end in itself. I think it’s one of those things that gives emotional intelligence purpose, if you like. You want to improve leadership; it’s a vehicle for leadership. If you want to improve sales, it’s a vehicle for that. It’s a framework. It’s a language. It’s a set of know how, if you like, that helps you turn up in ways in which an organisation is asking you to in some ways.
Marlene [00:03:15] And what I liked about the actual competencies is that was still pitched in everyday language. They weren’t something that was difficult to understand so even the labels of authenticity, self-awareness, awareness of others, self-management, they’re all areas that we know and we can already resonate with but what was really, I guess, underpinning all of that was the attributes that supported those and once again that language was every day. So you could actually use that in your discussion in terms of the workshops but also when you were doing one-on-one coaching.
Ben [00:03:54] I think that’s good advice for people out there who are looking at the concept of emotional intelligence. Is it accessible when you look at it? Does it resonate? Can you instantly see the connection between the model, the behaviours of it and what you’re trying to achieve? Because, again, you should be thinking about E.I. like Marlene’s positioning with it now as a vehicle to achieve something.
Marie [00:04:17] So who participated in it and what was the response to it?
Marlene [00:04:22] Well, one of the most critical parts about any new programme is that you actually have very senior leadership support and sponsorship of it. So without that, it’s really hard to implement. So what we did is that we actually had the senior executive team go through the same but truncated version of the programme and then also regularly review the participation rates of the first line and second line leaders that were going through that programme. So the curriculum was initially set up as a foundational management skill development and that was not at E.I. at this stage. And then after we cemented some foundational management skills, we overlaid the E.I. leadership programme and all managers, regardless of their level, were expected to attend.
Marie [00:05:12] And how did they find it?
Marlene [00:05:14] In terms of participation rates, obviously very high because they were asked to do it. But we found when we looked at the feedback forms; there was a 90% satisfaction in terms of the programme itself, the content but also importantly the applicability back into the workplace. Because as you heard at the start, it was the frameworks that we utilised as part of the programme that people could fall back on and utilise afterwards.
Marie [00:05:44] So what exactly did the programme entail at this very early stage anyway?
Marlene [00:05:49] So when we launched the E.I. component of the leadership development programme, it was a three-part series, which focused on how E.I. showed up in the workplace, how you can specifically utilise E.I. to lead change but also importantly how you can manage yourself through difficult times and we call that resilience. And this was way before the pandemic and the focus was really on how executives who were really 24/7 type mindset, how they could learn to switch off and really bring in some very proactive to support their own self-management and from there be able to support their teams as well.
Marie [00:06:33] And so how many people went through that?
Marlene [00:06:36] So at the time we had between 80 to 90, almost 100 people going through.
Marie [00:06:44] Wow and from a practical sense, how many days in total did the programme run for and did it run over a certain period of time?
Marlene [00:06:52] Everyone had the opportunity to complete the programme over an 18-month period. When you’re talking about time commitment, all up it was about five days when you looked at the management part of it, their foundational programme and also the E.I. component, which laid over the top of it. And for those leaders that wanted to know more after they’d been through the programme, we really encourage them to take the 360 assessment. We have them to really review their own, I guess, self, against those competencies, invite their peers to comment. Also their manager and also anyone else within the workplace as well. And it was very much positioned as a developmental opportunity and that’s really important to do because this is not about performance management. This is about really supporting a new leader or an existing leader’s capability to grow and develop and to really find their own sense of leadership through that. And I was one of the coaches also that did the debriefing and I found that they really accepted the coaching in the way it was intended. And how I set that up was really asking them to segment the feedback in four quadrants to really think about what they were hearing is was it expected what they were hearing in terms of the feedback? Were they surprised by what they heard? Could they have been a little bit unclear about the feedback and what draft actions they need to take as well because of that very four simple framework that we use to actually help them digest the feedback, it was very empowering. They really could see the feedback as a gift rather than seeing it as a threat, which some could have done if we didn’t give them that really strong guidance.
Ben [00:08:53] If I could just jump in there, I think one of the things was talking about there is using something that we called the Johari window methodology and it’s just a way of allowing people to locate where they’re at in terms of their experience, if you like, of their results. Actually, this is really clear, it’s in my, to use Johari window parlance, it’s in my open area. This is something I know about myself that others also know about me or it’s in my blind spot. I got a surprise because this is not something I was expecting or it’s not part of my own self-concept, if you like, or it’s in the hidden area, so to speak, of the Johari window. So it’s a methodology where you sort of say, if you like, here are the common experiences that you might have with your result so that people don’t feel like they’re not duck out or whatever they can actually resonate and locate themselves in the common experiences that you have with feedback. And it’s those little things, isn’t it Marlene that really polish up a programme and make a difference to them, minimising people, feeling attacked through their feedback, maximising their opportunities from it and so on. I think the other thing that was a lot in that programme, Marlene, the real science of behaviour change getting, you know, cascading from the top down. I mean, that’s about getting the senior management group across the concept, telling the organisation, we’ve been through this. This is how it’s benefiting us. I mean, all those sorts of things, really very important for real behaviour change.
Marie [00:10:45] One of the things that I enjoy hearing about people who’ve experienced E.I. development and assessment is the benefit that they get personally. And so, my next question is two pronged. I never claimed to be Oprah so just bear with me as I get the question out. But what do you think were the results from an individual point of view? You must have had some really great feedback about how some people felt personally about applying these new skills, not just at work, but in life at general. And then my second question is, what then was the impact or the results you saw on an organisational level?
Marlene [00:11:23] So it takes me back to the time that we were running the resilience phase workshops. And there was a particular slide that we were using which actually showed the balance, the delicate balance between too much work and not enough work and getting that sweet spot that Goldilocks point around having the right load of work. And there was a lady in the class that all of a sudden just sat back and realised how she was missing the point not only in work but at home and how she was trying to do too much and splitting her attention and way too many ways and not having the focus that she needed. And I’ve never seen anyone just sort of go through such a period of realisation in such a short amount of time, really and she just stopped and realised that she needed to make a change there. And then for herself, she was just trying to take on too much and not being effective as a mom, as a worker, as a sister or as a partner. And it’s those sorts of aha moments that you see through these sorts of programmes that you realise that you’re doing much more than just simply lifting the capability of the leader. You’re actually helping them move away from that sort of like surviving to more thriving phase of their life.
Ben [00:12:54] I’ve seen that happen a few times myself, even with little activities we do, one of them is called the 24-hour emotions exercise. We just get people to reflect back on the last 24 hours and we give them 60 seconds to try and recall as many feelings they can recall feeling over the last 24 hours. And people just write them down on the list, Marie. And of course at the end of it, we get them to add up how many feelings we’ve got and then we get them to think about how many unpleasant feelings they’ve had and how many pleasant feelings they’ve had over the last 24 hours. It was surprising to me the first time I did that activity. I think it’s surprising to a lot of people, Marlene, you would have seen it yourself that even just that simple exercise of reflecting on the 24 hour period, how it raises people’s awareness of, look at my ratio of unpleasant to pleasant feeling and it gets really people to think about their world, their day and what they’ve been experiencing. And of course, then de-coupling that with a bit of the science of emotions. You know, unpleasant feelings tend to narrow and limit the way you think, behave and perform, pleasant emotions tend to broaden, to build, think about what you like at work when you’re in your best mood. What do you like to be around? I think all these sorts of things that are used around a simple activity like that help bring about sometimes the realisation that Marlene has just given us in her example there in the workshop, activities like that, that can really be not only a cathartic conversation but a real awakening for some people. You know, when you’re so stressed, sometimes you don’t realise what’s been going on until a little exercise like that gets you in a more contemplative and reflective mode.
Marie [00:14:27] So what then is the impact on it on an organisation such as the pharmaceutical company you were working with, Marlene, what results did you guys see?
Marlene [00:14:36] Well, there’s a real knock on effect because when you change any aspect of an organisation in this situation, we’re talking about workplace behaviours. It really can impact the way you experience the culture within the organisation and also the way you experience the process and the systems. But also it can really have an impact on creativity and innovation. And that’s actually a really key driver of success with business today, being able to ensure that we don’t shut off that part of our mind and that we’re open to possibilities wherever they come from and so this particular organisation that I was working with were absolute thought leaders in innovation and year on year, we’re continuing to build their muscle in this area and continuing to have breakthrough innovation strategies at a small level and a large level. And the leadership around this actually was a stimulant for this sort of environment. Diversity of thought to me is the key outcome of emotionally intelligent leadership.
Ben [00:15:48] And there’s a lot of science behind that too. The science behind innovation is pleasant feelings on average tend to broaden and build the way we think. We see more opportunities. We think more laterally and more creatively. So if you want an innovative culture, you’ve got to have the ratio and the balance of emotions tipped in the pleasant emotions direction. Having said that, we’re not trying to create utopian workplaces. I mean, this is not about, you know, Kumbaya. This is not about sitting around and being nice to each other. In fact, sometimes it could be nothing worse than an overly nice corporate culture where people go into conflict and don’t speak up. But what we are talking about when we’re talking about innovation is saying sometimes we learn a lot from the toughest situations we’ve been in in life and sometimes we learn a lot when we’re feeling really good. What the science suggests is you need a mixture of all that but on average, you want to be experiencing more pleasant kind of emotions, particularly for that lateral creative thinking.
Marie [00:16:50] I did read somewhere once that if you want someone to use half their brain at work, put them under stress.
Ben [00:16:57] Yes and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. And there’s a lot of truth to the notion that sometimes we learn the hard way, sometimes lots of hardship bring about some of the most innovative, creative kind of solutions and so we shouldn’t discount that either.
Marie [00:17:19] Marlene, did you have measures in place before you embarked on this programme? Did you and your team sit down and go, okay, well, this is what we’re working towards and this is how we’re going to measure what success is. What was that measure?
Marlene [00:17:32] We always wanted to be considered a great place to work. And so year on year since the inception of the company back in about 2013 that was a core goal underpinned by a strong patient-centric focus, as well as a highly innovative company as well. And so that was the pinnacle, achieving year on year improvement in great place to work. And as you can appreciate, not one thing does it. It’s a combination of things but it was clear, a clear focus of the organisation. So to do that, you needed to look at the leadership capability. You needed to look at the structure. You needed to look at the impact of creating mentally healthy workplace. All of those really important factors together really help this organisation reach the number two position within the great place to work. And so that was a core goal not specifically of this programme but in general of what the executive team was looking for because we know that once you are moving in this direction, you’re creating, as I mentioned, cultures that thrive, but in essence, a place where people want to come. They want to come and work even in a situation where you can’t physically go there. You’re still feeling so connected to the values and that since the organisation is wrapping its arms around you and caring for you. And I just wanted to bring up that point then about this potential concern about a nice culture. One of the things when you actually dig into the data around the E.I. aspect, we were starting to see some of that and that when you rolled up all of the E.I. assessment data, there was some gaps around being courageous in the way people gave feedback and were asking for feedback. And so this is the area where the company still needed to work and is continuing to work and specifically looking at the programmes to help address that because it’s not about being nice. It’s about actually being an organisation where you feel that you can bring your whole self to work and be authentic in the conversations, which is a core pillar of emotional intelligence.
Ben [00:19:59] Absolutely and I think there’s a couple of lessons in what you’ve said, Marlene, that are really valuable to reflect on and think about if you’re thinking about bringing emotional intelligence into an organisation. Firstly that just an E.I. development programme in and of itself is great but it doesn’t necessarily create the bang for the buck that you might be looking at. You need to also align other organisational development components to it, like mental health and wellbeing, flexible work, diversity, inclusion. When you wrap those things together with emotional intelligence, you achieve really great outcomes. Reminds me of my very first consulting assignment with ANZ Bank, which was about cultural change as opposed to just behavioural change and that wasn’t just a programme that was based around emotional intelligence. It was changes to the look and feel of offices. It was getting boardroom tables out and putting beanbags in, in some of those, not all of those rooms. In other words, it was a really big, broad initiative that both involve the systems and processes of the bank together with the learning and development. So that, I think, is the first lesson in what you’re talking about there, Marlene. And the second thing on here and that which I think is also just as valuable is sometimes an E.I. development programme can cause unintended outcomes. And one of the unintended outcomes here, I think you’re pointing to a little bit, is the culture may become overly nice. When we delved into the data a little bit deeper there what we found was that people who were quite high on E.I. weren’t necessarily being the ones who were being overly nice. They weren’t applying necessarily the concepts, I think in that way. It was more those we were lifting up that were still stuck a bit in that area of the journey and perhaps even still are. If you looked at those who score in really high questions like, you know, encourages others to express themselves, expresses their own selves effectively that were scoring high on those items where there are some, who are still coming up, weren’t. But yes, I think it’s a good lesson that an E.I. development programme is a little bit like the more you study it, the more you realise you are just at the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of depth to it and you can you can keep going with it year on year and often have to pivot into other areas of an organisation that are important, like leaning into conflict, calling each other out, recognising the culture might be overly nice and then doing something about it.
Marie [00:22:21] Well, off the back of that Ben, you roll out this programme for your leadership team and managers about a 100 of them and that goes for 18 months, then what?
Marlene [00:22:31] Very, good question, thank you. Thinking about what actually happened, at the time, we kind of come to the end of that programme. The company was approaching some major business challenges and was looking for ways to further improve their agility and speed of problem solving. And as the organisation grew in this capability, it became apparent that the next evolution of this was in areas such as growth mindset. And the reason being was to really help solve these bigger organisational challenges and many of the principles of neuroscience that underpin the way we show up in an emotionally intelligent way, we utilise to support the evolution of this growth mindset capability and specifically examining our triggers. So our triggers and in the way our language influences how we perceive challenges and problems was really at the heart of what we were trying to do. So the simple act of reframing our fixed mindset statements into growth mindset statements allowed our teams and in fact whole functions to seeing new possibilities to the way they actually solve problems and organisational challenges. And as a result, it really helped unlock a lot more creativity and more options for people to find better solutions.
Ben [00:23:57] Yes, so some fixed mindset statements, you might find yourself saying this more often than you’d like to admit. Things like, oh, we can’t do that, that won’t work, no, I don’t think we’ve got the capability to do that and then fixed moving those into growth set mindset so what might be possible, what parts of this could we do? What capabilities could we bring in to help us achieve that, just making those kinds of shifts. And I think once you’ve got a foundation of emotional intelligence, they are the next higher order kind of conversations that you can really start to have, where you can start to have that self-awareness of when you’re saying those words that are indicative of a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset or if you are crazy brave and you should be after a good E.I. development programme, Marie, you know, saying to your colleague, I’m finding your words to be those of a fixed mindset. How would we be thinking about this or what words and phrases would we be saying if we’re in a growth mindset?
Marlene [00:24:57] And one of the most powerful words, Ben, to use is yet. There is something in the word, yet, I can’t see how to do this yet. Putting the word yet after it really helps remove the full stop and make it into a more open sentence. And it’s something that we found very helpful to help reframe people’s language. And it’s almost like there was one particular sort of like slide we’d always use. It was straight out of a kindergarten class where all of these kindergarten have put up these little phrases that they can’t read very well, that they have trouble tying the shoe laces, that things aren’t working so well with their writing. And that was all in white paper with black writing. And then their growth mindset words or phrases were, which really helped reframe that and get them seeing it quite differently. And that was one of the most powerful slides to help people realise the power of language and the power of it in helping them realise the possibilities that they won’t get seen.
Marie [00:26:10] Well, speaking of kindergarteners, I hear the words not yet a lot at home, my way of dealing with it is to just say go to your room, which I will work on, obviously over time while we’re in lockdown, I will work on that. So Marlene that next phase, so it was 18 months and then it sounds like the programme just continued to develop over time. I mean, how long had it been? You’re no longer at the company but at the point that you left, how long had you guys been rolling out E.I. programmes across the company?
Marlene [00:26:40] Oh, good three years in terms of how it evolved. So it started off as that three-part series, as I mentioned, moved into the growth mindset. And the final aspect of this, which was in lockdown last year, was when we really evolved into a virtual learning situation and each of those competencies we really looked at from a leadership perspective. So, for example, if we were talking about the self-aware leader that’s really looking at how you show up in terms of your individual strengths and how you might adapt. The awareness of others was the empathetic leader and a really strong part about that was uncovering your biases and really digging in to find out what was getting in the way of demonstrating your empathy. And the third one in the series that we had at the time was really cool. The resilient leader and it was really digging into some of these triggers. What was triggering you to be in these less productive states? So it really asked people to dig deep and all of those went to our workshops. So that’s the evolution from the big phase growth mindset and then into these virtual short, sharp, bite-sized workshops.
Marie [00:27:59] Are you Genos certified yourself?
Marlene [00:28:01] I am.
Marie [00:28:01] And you develop these and ran them for your company at the time?
Marlene [00:28:05] In partnership with Genos so we worked together and the virtual sessions were facilitated by the partners within Genos but we had the opportunity to make some of them very bespoke. So they were contextualised to our own company so you can have it either way. You could have gotten off the shelf product, which is perfectly okay. Because of the maturity of our audience, we wanted to customise and make them really tailored to the situation and also because we wanted to cater to some of the mental health issues and the context that we were working at so that we really spoke to the people that were there rather than that generic sort of approach that you can also take but didn’t work as well for us during lockdown.
Marie [00:29:02] Great, thank you so much, Marlene, for sharing that story with us.
Marlene [00:29:05] That’s a pleasure, Marie.
Ben [00:29:07] Thanks, Marlene, it’s been great to have you on the show. Marie, as always, thank you.