Culture Transformation Ignites Digital Innovation Within a Global Pharma Powerhouse

People, process, and tech

Operating within a deep-rooted company with more than 100,000 employees, the technology services division within this global pharmaceutical giant holds a heavy responsibility when it comes to driving innovation. And challenge is a constant, motivating state.

However, the division faced a major hiccup prior to the pandemic. A new system supporting the entire supply chain had been implemented for manufacturing and distribution. It’s important to understand the scale of this change: the division is itself a large-scale organization, accountable for all technology from data used to develop new medicines to manufacturing operations to critical patient safety data. And they were seeing what any tech professional in any organization dreads to see: systems issues.

Division leaders knew they had to act quickly. Products must leave a warehouse in time, particularly when, for example, the product is for a next-day surgery. When patients are impacted by supply chain issues, stress level rockets. Finger-pointing and blame seeped in within the tech services team, and leaders needed clarity for how to turn this tide and remedy issues immediately.

Finding clarity in times of stress is incredibly difficult on a personal level. When clarity is needed across individuals working within a global multi-organization company, with stress and pressure to help patients across the globe running on red alert, it can be nearly impossible to see how to make change — the right change — happen.

The Right Change

But these tech services leaders quickly made a case to gain that clarity with outside help. Working with Culture Partners, the division leaders opened to a deep search for clarity. They located the finger-pointing and blame: normal, human Below The Line behaviors that happened to be undermining processes and preventing a necessary team mentality from forming. No one was taking accountability for system issues when everyone needed to be.

The head of the division reassessed through the lens of people, process, and technology. They knew they had industry-leading tech. They knew, process-wise, they had robust business processes. And then they considered people — and that’s where they identified a lack of accountability and culture as the root cause of challenges.

Using the lens of people, process, and technology, with a new focus on people, the tech services division embarked on a Culture Journey. For the next six months, they worked with dozens of leaders in accountability with Culture Partners, internalizing a step-by-step process of alignment for seeing the issues, owning the issues, solving the issues, and then doing what’s needed to move forward into growth.

Leaning on and leading with culture for transformative change

As the tech division continued on their Culture Journey, they realized something crucial: that an organization can have all the PowerPoints and strategies to work on, but at the end of the day, it’s about people and culture. They arrived at a distinction:

If we focus on improving strategy, we will make incremental change.

By activating our culture we will make transformative change.

Digital transformation, driven by a transformative culture shift, was in full gear when COVID-19 hit. With a focus on accountability they did not only survive the radical external shifts brought on by the pandemic, but thrived. And with supply and communication demands such as clinical trials in progress, the need to thrive was urgent. They ensured that networks and digital capabilities were ready, remote working enabled, and all infrastructure prepared. 

Aligning transformation and tradition

As a company with a long history and thousands of employees, it can be overwhelming to consider what transformation and innovation means. Within the tech services division, one internalized belief they found working against them was “We are too big and too established to change.” Articulating this belief as a myth was key to shifting the cultural mindset. 

Setting aside beliefs that were impeding the innovations that they were responsible for driving, these leaders committed to tradition and transformation aligning. The ability to change with agility requires more than words: bravery, sight, and process must be engaged. And even within a dedication to tradition, culture needs to change, as the entire division experienced directly and immediately with pandemic reality directly impacting the pharmaceutical industry in many ways.


Culture transformation within this tech service team created a seismic culture shift within the organization at large: and a lessening of resistance to change. In the first six months they saw a radical decrease in issues and an increase in stability, all driven by the fact that there was more teamwork, ownership of issues, and a changed culture of the team.

Prior to the pandemic, this team had to make the case for digital transformation. Today: other divisions come to them asking how to invest to make sure they accelerate digital.

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