UCB Pharma: A Contagious Culture

For biopharma company UCB, shifting the company’s value creation focus from the industry’s traditional focus on doctors to the end customer—the person taking the prescription medicine—is a huge bet. UCB set out to create a high value experience for the users of its products by focusing on its organizational culture to create an unstoppable, competitive advantage.

“We needed a pragmatic approach to directly address the challenges accountability posed for UCB. Even more, we needed a solution to sustain superior performance.”

JC Tellier, CEO of UCB Pharma


The international biopharmaceutical leader UCB needed a new competitive advantage to sustain its promise of intense growth. Once predictable with 10-year exclusivity and relatively easy access for new drugs, growth was no longer an automatic. If they followed conventional processes in this rapidly changing marketplace, they would continue to be challenged with creating the full-value and maximizing potential of their products. The company’s CEO, Jean-Christophe Tellier, determined that where the user experience was dominating tech company growth, the “patient experience” and patient value had to become UCB’s new hallmark.

That said, shifting from a traditional model of only catering to doctors and clinics to one focused on creating positive, memorable patient experiences would require the hearts and minds of the company’s global employee base of more than 8,000.

As their first initiatives to drive this new focus were complex and intellectual in design, they did not get traction and failed to connect with employees, leading to confusion. Another approach was needed, and UCB leaders turned to us for a solution.


Based on a successful experience with the Accountability Builder Micro Workshop, UCB leaders invited us to join their leadership team meetings in 2014. There, we introduced them to a new way of defining and living accountability across their culture. Our time-tested approach enabled our practitioners to work well alongside UCB executives, address their concerns, and design a customized approach they could deploy across the company’s global enterprise.

As a company that had grown through numerous mergers, the reality of sub-cultures within the enterprise culture was a consistent challenge. One of UCB’s unique challenges was being able to assimilate these sub-cultures into a single unified culture, united under a solid framework of cultural consistency yet bringing with it the strength of diversity across the entire organization. In fact, preserving the best of each merged culture attributed to the company’s track record of innovation and success.

Any approach would need to build on the company’s already-strong culture. Baudouin Michelet, strategy deployment office head, said, “It became clear to us that to lead a change through the culture, you have to build a capability that most companies don’t have—the capability to lead the culture. That sounds obvious, but most companies give it little attention. Each of our leaders needed to learn how to build this competency in themselves and then others. The Partners In Leadership approach struck us as unique in this regard: simple, hands-on, and actionable.”

“Rethinking accountability influences everything you do in your professional life and beyond. It’s something that speaks deeply about the human experience and not merely the business environment.” – Baudouin Michelet, UCB Head of Patient Value

Working alongside the UCB team, our team helped leadership begin to operationalize the company’s C2™ culture—that is the culture necessary to deliver on their patient value principles (the existing culture being C1). Then, certifying 180 internal facilitators (all company employees), UCB began rolling the culture management process out in three waves to the company’s 8,000 employees in Europe, the Americas, and Asia Pacific.

Within nine months, 78% of the team had been trained. The feedback was very positive and a very different experience than most had had with other work of this type. More importantly, employees immediately began seeing the rationale for the new culture and how to act on it in their daily work!

With a focus on creating the capability to lead culture, UCB now has 180 expert facilitators that can continue to steer the culture in their daily work environment. UCB’s C2 culture can be reinforced and sustained internally and over many years to come.


After working together for some time, UCB’s CEO, Jean-Christophe Tellier, said, “It is certainly too early to claim victory or even pretend that the successful completion of our transformation journey is guaranteed. Having had multiple first-hand experiences with the power of the Partners In Leadership approach myself, this is the most pragmatic approach we’ve seen for directly addressing the challenges accountability poses today for companies like ours. It’s already delivering solutions that foster superior and sustainable performance.”

To back this, UCB is achieving impressive results—some with a long-term aim and some more immediate.

  • Shortly after a brief introduction to all employees and fully training just 20% of the employee base, UCB’s annual employee engagement survey revealed that 84% or more of employees understood UCB’s new strategy and 79% saw application of the new Cultural Beliefs in their team.
  • In just one year, UCB jumped 10 places to a #7 ranking in Europe and was noted as a “rising star” (April 2016, PatientView study). UCB takes this ranking with caution but sees here an encouraging sign.

Not satisfied with standing still, UCB continues to administer annual engagement surveys. Having achieved industry best-practice levels of engagement, UCB now aims to exceed cross-industry best practice levels and to become a pharmaceutical company admired for consciously and actively doing what they have set out to do, delivering truly valuable experiences to its real customer: the patient.

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