The OKR Podcast
The OKR Podcast

Episode 31 · 1 month ago

Innovating & Mobilizing Faster at AstraZeneca

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Cindy Hoots, CIO at AstraZeneca sits down with Deidre to share her unique perspective on driving innovation at speed and scale. Cindy shares the importance of operationalizing the strategy and how it helped get everyone aligned and focused on outcomes.

You're listening to the okay our podcast. We talk about the power of lateral alignment and outcome mindset and empowering teams to do their best work from anywhere. We also talk about operating as a digital company, which is crucial. Now her journeys, learnings and victories from our guest speakers and get expertise from our host to scale your leadership capacity and operate with high impact, trust and efficiency. Here's your host daydream pack. Nod, Cindy, thank you so much for sitting down with me today and having this conversation. Yeah, great to see you again and to get this opportunity to just sit down and chat a little bit. Saving lives and curing or helping people of chronic diseases thrive is a lofty mission, right and in many ways has more purpose in it than than lots of organizations and lots of people get to enjoy and get to contribute to. So you lead thee to organization. Talk to us a little bit about how your vision for and how lead your I t organization to contribute to and enable AstraZeneca to fulfill its mission. Um, one of the things that we're doing is, especially in this kind of digital era is thinking about the way in which, you know, technology can be used to really change the way healthcare is provided and kind of reimagine what what's possible. And so we've been, you know, looking at our corporate ambition, our company strategy, thinking then, what was our strategy that would help really propel us into that. So we've spent about nine ten months developing that strategy. We've just completed all of our operating model changes that were needed to really support the strategy and now we're kind of focused in on how do we get those ways of working ironed out so that, you know, these new teams, these news constructs, can really work at speed, Yep, and really come into picture. It seems like actually might be quite an exciting time to be a C I O in a pharmacytical company. Right, data and digital seem so central to discovery. Yeah, so I think, you know, we talk about the...

...industrial revolution, the digital revolution. I think the next revolution will be biological, where we get into hyper personalization of just about everything. And so being in the life sciences business is just been phenomenal to be kind of at the forefront again of that kind of industry leading change. We've been really excited about, you know, the way in which we've been using AI and and data to really advance drug discovery. Think about how we use our clinical trials. We're using a lot of virtual reality in ways that I guess I never expected in in a pharmaceutical company. Do you think that maybe first the pandemic and then this year the war in Europe and the consequences of all that, is that accelerating how we think about technology and AI and data and how we use it to advance a business? We just saw an explosion of technology, whether it was a movement to team in in, you know, eight days days looking at digital detailing, which is the way in which we were going to interact with our healthcare providers. You know, we rolled out a whole new digital way of doing that in less than two weeks and people were just focused on how do I get it done, not if I could do it, and that was a major shift. We're trying to work on. How do we keep that, you know, kind of momentum and and way of working now into this next chapter? Yeah, there was a sort of prevailing myth, and in my experience particularly a myth in in large companies where it's well, we changed slow and it's hard to know which came first. have taken at the edge. You change slow because you think you do, or do you change slow because you couldn't do it any faster than that? And I think for lots of organizations you learned that actually you can go much, much faster. Well, and I think coming from consumer goods, I remember my first town hall. I told the team, I said I want to take you know of the time and the cost out of everything we do, and I think there was, you know, apprehension of what is she talking about?...

And then just a few weeks later we hit covid and we were doing it. We were deploying things at speed, making decisions at speed, going in with with minimum viable products rather than a fully baked, you know, full fledged system. That took US eighteen months to design and I think it's given a lot of companies, including our own, this confidence that we can do it differently, and so that's been really fun. Still a change journey, still, you know, needing to drive that alignment across the organization, but a huge accelerant that the dividends actually for the business on on moving faster and actually believing that it's possible. Just a belief system is unbelievably potent. Actually, let's turn to how you move from we're gonna respond, uh, we're gonna mobilize, to now strategy and how do you sustain and maintain that urgency? And maybe it's not urgent, maybe it's actually velocity and value velocity. How do you think about that? Yeah, so, I mean I think for us one of the major shifts was we are a federated business and have a lot of local autonomy and, as a result, we had a lot of, you know, different systems that were quite localized. So sometimes, you know areas where, you know, we might have duplicate systems because things were slightly different in one country. And again, that's quite typical in a in a federated, you know kind of business model. What we're really, you know, looking at now is how do we get scale and speed by, you know, using kind of standardization as a competitive advantage, thinking about where do we need to be different and were can can we actually get speed and velocity by, you know, Reuse and scaling things that we've already tried in the company and it's been great to see a bit of that momentum continuing to to accelerate. People are more interested in it now than, I would say, they were pre pre covid and I think all of a sudden...

...we realize, wow, we can work differently and really increase that velocity. So that's been really exciting. That's fun. It's fun and you have, I think, a clear point of view on the difference between doing digital and being digital. Tell us a little bit more about that. Yeah, so I think for so many people, including myself, when you first get exposed to this new way of working, it's really typically, you know, led by the technology. What can I do with ai? How can I use blockchain? And you're going and looking for great ideas. You're looking for hey, you know, what is the use case that I could apply this too? Once you learn, and that's a really important step in an organization, but once you kind of learn about what these technologies can do, what you want to do is then shift into a mode where you're thinking about what are the great problems that need solving, rather than these great ideas that we're dreaming up, and what I like about that is it really focuses everyone and gets everyone aligned to this is the problem. On that hand, and it can be, you know, a problem with the way you work today, or it could be a more societal problem or bigger kind of visionary problem. But what's great is all of a sudden it stops being oh, we're going to do these digital things, where we have this digital strategy too, we have a business strategy that's enabled through digital, and that's a fairly major shift that I think companies need to do, because when you're doing digital, you're an experimentation mode and you're looking at all these different options. What you really then want to do is you're transforming, is think about which of those can we scale, because really you need scale to have ai and the quantity of data to get these kind of new and novel insights. And when it becomes pervasive and it's democratized and it's just the way that everyone does their job rather than this group of people you know over here that do digital, I think that's when we see the exponential benefits of digital really helping companies to thrive, really part of how we show up as opposed to a team on the side.

Yeah, it's interesting the notion of falling in love with the problem, the business problem, to be solved, versus falling in love with the tech and going in search of a problem to be solved right now. And of course you have to do that. Experimentation helps understand the possibilities, but the possibility is absent a meaningful business problem. Are you know, science, projects, music? Absolutely so. As you think about that transition to just focus on the business problem, applying those technologies, but applying them in the context of a problem, in new ways of working, how have you structured the I t organization? How do you maybe said differently? Do you think about teeming today and on the path in the same way you thought about it five years ago? Definitely not so. I think for me it's this whole switch from products centricity into patient centricity. I'm moving from the industrial era into the digital or kind of patient centric or consume or centric world. You have to work completely differently on. The industrial era really was centered around, you know, organizational silos. That became very efficient. You knew what product you were going to build and then you could organize yourself sent a silo to be the most efficient at producing that. As we move into more of this digital era, this patient centric world, what patients want and what they're demanding is changing at a speed that it's really agility that you need to be able to respond and thrive in that world and as a result, these cross functional, you know, multidisciplinary, agile teams is really how we get work done, and I think that's a big shift because we've all had fairly successful careers working in a different way and now we're asking people to kind of take all those things that you know helped you be so successful to this point and think about work differently and be willing to collaborate more and not be as command and control as leaders,...

...but really democratized decision making and drive empowerment. And that can be scary, especially if you don't feel like you can, you know, keep control in that kind of environment. And so for us a lot of it is we went from more siloed R and D, commercial finance, I t organization structure two. We still have those, but now we have far more horizontal UH teams around data and AI. You know, obviously infrastructure and cyber has always been a big one. We put together a new what we call strategy and execution team. That really helps that alignment. I've got quite a large team and so when you think of that many people around the world, how do you how do you keep everyone aligned and and, you know, on the same page in terms of vision, strategy and how we'll execute? Yeah, let's dig more into that strategy and execution function that you have a very talented team and you, and not everybody has a strategy executioner, strategy, ops or operations function, but they're they're increasingly common in to I think, often a recognition that if we don't have an approach to operationalizing the strategy, maybe maybe we're not operational. I think it right, or it's a little too ad hoc, it's a little too loose. What led you to put that function in that team in place? When did you do it? Why did you do it? Yeah, so for me it was one of the first things that I did. So it was one of the first big horizontals I created. And again it's this movement of when you have a more you know, decentralized, you know, kind of R and D I t or a commercial I t, the alignment you're closer to the people and the alignment is a bit easier because you're having more interactions on what you want. When we elevated that to come more at the enterprise level in this digital era and how we had to work together all of a sudden. You know, we we more than quadrupled the amount of people that needed to know the same thing, and so having that alignment and driving our measurements against the strategy and making sure people had a shared kind of vision was going to be really, really important. So it was one of the kind of structural things I did first...

...in order to tow then allow the rest of the organization to to move into this new operating model, sort of an unlocking of the potential for that. You mentioned this a bit earlier. It can be uncomfortable when to give up control, when one of the I think one of the growth opportunities for almost every company is is actually trapped in what I'll call lateral alignment. you called horizontal alignment, right, where how we work together is actually where the next real growth burst can come from and where and when we don't work together, value is lost. But the borders of our functions, which of course are also silos, right, the borders of our functions in some ways are comforting habits. Right, you can just rely on the hierarchy and the function lines to set the rules, to set the construct, to even to determine who's in the know and who's not in the know and who you should pay attention and who you should include and who not. Right. And there's for a lot of organizations, there's a lot less history reference points, examples of what it would look like if we were to be as more focused on laterally line than we were on the vertical history. Right, and that vertical kind of function, silo thing that's a hundred years old as a management construct and lots of US grew up relying on that. What are some of the cultural dynamics that you saw in trying to use the more I'll call it a horizontal or lateral version versus the traditional vertical? Yeah, I mean, I think you know. It's human nature too. You know, you're in your family, you're in your group, you know that self, of do I belong, and all of that is incredibly strong. We came up with a concept called one I t, because people would talk about you know, hey, you know, can I take us to comment into commercial it t, and I'm like, we're all one I t like you. Of course you can move around and do that. And so this mantra about one I t has really helped us because it allows us to think about ourselves as one group and then, depending on what the business need is, we can load of that work.

We don't have to stay in this rigid hierarchy. And I always had fifty people in my team. So I still have fifty people in my team, but more allow ourselves to kind of flow to what was important. And you know, covid showed us that. All of a sudden we found ourselves in the vaccine business and we had to stand up whole new teams to to kind of be part of that and address that. So I think one of the things is helping people to see that the part of a bigger environment. So not only just an I t, but one a Z, like how can things that we're learning in R and D help us progress the agenda and commercial etcetera, and so I think that's a journey that most companies are having to go through as we go from this industrial era into this digital way of working, and so we had a lot of that. We're still working through the ways of working. Sometimes the clarity is a little bit different. So when it used to be within your own team, you know, you're typically in the same staff meetings. You knew how to, you know, prioritize because you had to share, you know, understanding. And now all of a sudden we've got some cross functional teams and maybe my thing isn't the most important, you know, and those teams are having to trade off and balance off across different areas. But the benefit of being able to then scale those teams know what they've built once and then can actually offer it up to another area far more quickly than each of them building them themselves. So we've needed to spend more time on our okay, ours, uh. That's something that we've been introducing and that's been a big cultural shift again. You know, how do you get shared alignment? How do you, you know, look at what is the contribution of all the teams towards something? So when we were on that process, we started looking and we took the strategy and we have four pillars in each of them have two priorities and we started working with each of the teams to say, what is your contribution to that priority? And what we found was some people, you know, had the same thing. They all thought they were playing this same role. So we could see...

...where the duplication was happening and then in some areas we had nobody thinking it was their responsibility and and so we could again really then have more rich conversations about that. So this contribution map, I think, was one of the key things that we did that really kind of helped us sort of redefining as managers, maybe the particularly managers in the in the middle of the organ redefining how you think about your value to the organ by the impact and the contribution you make, not the head count that you have on the team or maybe the level that you're at in the moment right well, and I think that's one of these big shifts between this industrial era and the digital era, because an industrial era it really was about what is, you know, the remit of your team, how many people do you have? How much budget do you control? And the bigger that was, the higher up in the organization you typically were, because you know, you need more experience, etcetera to manage that. I think in a digital era it's about small teams, small amounts of money, doing incredibly impactful things and, Um, you know. So so that's something that we talked about on a really regular basis. Is that it's it's more about the impact you have than your input. You know, it's not about these activities and these initiatives and how many projects you have simultaneously. But can you ruthlessly prioritize to the point of impact and and do those things that are most impactful rather than just keeping you busy? Yeah, yeah, what value are you really creating? And I think the for human beings, the closer you can connect to the value create. And I think that's awkward at first, right, because we're very activity oriented and we've trained people to be activity oriented. But when we move, when we move them, they move themselves to a place where like this is the value I create. I think you you create a different relationship to what it is you're doing during the day and how important what you're doing is, and I think it's obviously helping people with oak cares. There's a struggle the first time around a second or third uh something you do for times a year, so you don't...

...get a lot of practice at setting them very often. But but as you do and you go through the conversation, realize how hard it is actually just start thinking about not for leaders. It's easy for leaders, but it's harder for their teams to think about. I've got a decade or two decades of knowing what's in my backlog and of doing activity and getting projects and deliverables. I haven't even thought about like what impact does that create? How might I measure the value it's created here? And it's awkward at first until it's not right and then it's a bit liberating, like well, this is the value I'm creating. It just feels different to be able to talk about that. That's new language. Well, and I think intellectually people buy into this new way of working fairly easily. But to your point, it's the muscle memory of how do I work in this new way? And you know, when life gets busy it's easy to revert back to what's familiar, and so it is a hard journey and you know, I've been talking to a lot of the team well, Mike, but that's the transformation. That's that's what we're here to do. So it's okay if it's hard. It's okay if it's not perfect. You know, I think one of the other cultural things that that we've been facing is, you know, it used to be that read statuses were bad and in a industrial era where you're doing things repeatedly, you're striving for efficiency, are read in that context may not be good. But in this dynamic world where things are changing, what you were doing today is very different than what's going to be needed, you know, next week from you. Of course you're going to have things that don't go perfectly well. What's really nice is that, because you're spending less time, less money, less resource, if it doesn't go perfectly well, you can make a decision. Do we just stop? Maybe, maybe we thought it was a good idea, but you know that hypothesis isn't proving out, or you're in the short interval reviews and retrospectives that you can, course, correct much more quickly. So encouraging people to be really transparent really quickly when they can no longer p regressed something on their own and they need some help, I think is...

...a new competency for for most of us. Yeah, yeah, where the habit of fearing the red and trying to camouflage it to the longest, less possible momentum is built into a lot of cultures. I think the cadence of okay, ours right, the quarterly cadence of knowing what we know now, given what we think is true in the universe, which is a bunch of assumptions. This is what we think of the best outcomes in this ninety period and then you pursue those at the end of the ninety days. To me, one of the most powerful parts, as you say, okay, it was a hypothesis where our assumptions true, right, and some of those assumptions about how the outside world is going to change. We have no control over that and I think all of us have learned that in the last two and a half years on a variety of topics. Right, we are not omniscient and we cannot predict everything. But this opportunity to say what to change outside, but also to ask, okay, what did we learn inside? Okay, we've been off more than we can show or you know, this was a lot harder technically than we understood. We didn't know what we didn't know. All these things happen in the course of working, right, but having a mechanism for every ninety days to consider them and to include them and say what, what are we going to stop, right, and then what are we going to elevate? What was the victory that we well, that came out better than we thought. Right. I think that the cadence of adapting and learning is maybe one of the most powerful things in the okay, our method and cycle well, and I think examining both successful failure right, because we've been conditioned to talk about the successes and quietly go fix our failures right, and I think we're getting a permission now to say this didn't work the way I thought it was going to work. And so I think part of just that whole cultural change and to your point, this this frequency and you know, you know a lot of times we used to set objectives for somebody for a year and then evaluate them at the end of the year. And again, that works really well in an industrial era, you know, kind of ask production era when when things change very slowly? And so now,...

...you know, one of the things for me, I was trying to talk to people about this, is because what you don't want to do is is, you know, say Oh, what what we used to do isn't isn't good. It was fit for purpose at the time, it met the business needs we had at the time. It's just the consumer and the patients are changing. And their expectations of us are changing and they want far more say in what products get produced, how they get produced, how they go to market than probably any other you know, decade. I think of just my my own daughter. When I was growing up, you'd go to the doctor and the doctor would tell you, hey, this is what's wrong with you, here's your treatment plan and you didn't question it. You just kind of went and, you know, followed it. And I look at my daughter and she goes to the doctor. Before she goes she's researched things, she's has an opinion, she has questions she wants to ask. They'll sometimes, you know, even you give her a treatment plan and she'll say, well, is there an alternative? So that's hitting all of our industries. That that style and that, you know, kind of consumer voice, patient voice, is so strong that we have to be able to adapt. That's right, I think, whether their consumers are their their patients, and I think in any industry, in any context, what they expect from us is changed dramatically and how well informed they are before they start a relationship with us, I think, is phenomenally different. And if you take those changes and you combine them with the rate of change in technology and you combine that with the rate of change in the world, you get the sort of Trifecta of high adaptation, high speed, high learning. Right, is to be able to respond and thrive instead of fall fall to the wayside. Well, and it's also now their best experience from any other company becomes their expectation of you. Right. So now we're used to kind of compete with those in your industry.

Now, if if something's gone really well in the travel industry and they have an APP and it makes things seemless and easy, they now expect that out of us. Right. And so again, just a reason why this frequent review of what are you trying to achieve? What are those objectives? How are you doing against should you continue? Should you stop? Just becoming so important? That's great. One of the things that is really golden in the is that you've got the person who feels deeply connected to the strategy and it's articulation and communication actually connected to the strategy execution. A lot of not a lot of times, sometimes I see there's a person who's on point to lead the okay, our strategy execution roll out and kind of cadence and cycle around that, but they haven't actually internalized and maybe even paid any attention to what the strategy is. And in the end of the day, it's actually are we aligning our effort and our energy on that strategy? That's why we do okay ours in the first instance, but if we leave strategy out of the equation, we have a process without a lot of purpose. Yeah, it becomes methodology rather than really a way of of executing against the strategy. So, I mean, I've always been a big believer of strategy and execution teams go together. It's very difficult if you've got, you know, one group developing a strategy and another group than implementing that. Um, there's something about, you know, having a perspective on both sides that I think just is a bit more powerful and and kind of moves the needle a bit faster. Yeah, the other way is a little bit more like waterfall. Right, I'll make it up and I'll throw it over the fence and then you guys do it okay, and then and then we spend lots of time, you know, going Oh, but then and get the strategy quite right, you know. So when you have to execute your own strategy. It's a it's a little bit more robust. I think. Yeah, you're a little more connected to whether we could in fact execute on that strategy. So we've talked quite a bit about organizing the team and strategy and a big vision and the mission. And of course, when you have a great strategy and a...

...great team and they come together and you're organized to execute it, great things happen. But our teams are under pressure right there are a zillion opportunities for what they could do with their careers and where is particularly technical talent. The war for talent seems like it continues to rage, despite inflation and all the other conditions that you would think would be in consistent. Tell us a little bit about how you are attracting, enabling empowering talent and making sure they're thriving in in Astro Zenneicca's environment and contributing to Astro zenneca's mission. So I think what we saw coming out of COVID as a lot of companies realized they've been under investing in technology and as a result they've kicked off quite a number of projects and their boards, their management teams have unleashed, you know, a lot of financial investment in technology and it's kind of created this great resignation that that we're all living through and I think for a variety of reasons, there's there's valid reasons why people want to, you know, look at new opportunities. I think covid made us question, you know, what was really important to us. For us, it's really about, you know, a holistic approach. We're looking at. We have two big kind of technology centers, one in to and I one in Guadalajara, and we've kind of changed the remit of them where they were more service centers in in the past. We're driving a lot of innovation now and we're starting to see that that's really attracting new talent and helping the existing talent, you know, really see the benefit of how they contribute to the company. I think it's important for everyone to feel like they are involved in in exciting work, and so we've been trying to say, how can we structure work and in some areas we brought together strategy teams and execution teams because they were missing, you know, maybe it was our API strategy and there was a different leader that was running API execution and we brought those types of things. So thinking about two people have meaningful work, because I think that's a big retention lever. I think it's well...

...being a little bit, you know, kind of entrepreneurial and thinking about, you know, how can we give people exposure and experience to new things. So we started this program called P one and people can sign up and it can be thirty percent of your time, it can be you step out of your job and go do this for a couple of months. So kind of interesting kind of work. We're leveraging things like hack fons more so that we get that creative kind of environment going. But I think as well talking a bit more about purpose as a way to attract people and especially given that we only do life saving medicines, it is something that I think fills people with a lot of purpose and drive and and, you know, working through through some of those type of things. So yeah, I think it's it's something we spend a lot of time as a management team on and the reality is early in my career I was very focused on results and and wasn't didn't take too long to realize that if you focus on people, they'll give you the results. So we spend a lot of time on our talent and, you know, making sure that they've got great opportunities, you know, for promotion, great opportunities to do, you know, work that matters, and we're trying our best to to really start to simplify and focus more on priorities rather than just doing a, you know, a lot of things simultaneously. But, you know, all of that is, you know, a journey, as you know. Yeah, the idea that it's not that you just have a long list of things to do, but that you know the why and you can connect year y to the company's mission. I think that's very powerful for people and I think the absence of it is dismaying. Yeah, well, and someone once told me they're like if you have, you know, a group of people playing soccer, but they don't know which goal is. There's like how do you play a game? Right? So, if people don't understand what the objective is, what the goal is, you know, what's the vision, they're just kind of floundering on a field trying to make sure nobody scores, you know, because they don't want to accidentally, you know, score an own, you know, an own on goal. So,...

...you know, I think. I think just trying to bring that clarity is really important. I'M gonna borrow that one. It's at the perfect analogy. I don't know how we score, so I'm just gonna focus on preventing anyone from scoring. Yeah, it's good. Okay. So let's wrap up and I'll ask you the big, big question, as other CE IOS think about, how do they take a bold transformation strategy and the construct of new ways of working? How do they mobilize the organization? How do they get people aligned, enabled and empowered to make their best contribution? What advice would you give them as they think about that, and what advice would you give them in the big picture? And then what advice would you give them on who to partner with and who do you do you take along with you on that journey that might help you be successful? Yeah, so I think you know, never before has technology played this large of a role in business. And you know we've always been an enabler or a business partner. Technology is now creating new business models and I think the first advice is you know, you and your team should think of yourselves as business leaders first and technologists second. And when you put that business mindset. All of a sudden, because of your expertise and technology, you're able to help, you know, create new opportunities for your company, and that is a big mindset shift. One of the things we're working on is how do you become more of that thought partner versus just really good at executing what you've been asked? So I think that's probably the first thing. I think the second thing is nothing matters more than the people that you have on your team. So make sure that you've got an amazing team, and I have an I tl t that is phenomenal and I just beam when I think about each of them as individuals. But, more importantly, how do you get them to work as a team and get those exponential so don't don't be place and about talent. Make sure that...

...you've got the right talent for the environment you're in and that they feel like they really are contributing. And if you don't feel that way about your team, then you might want to reevaluate. You know, can you move things around a little bit and look at other people in the organization and and maybe they are good to to bring into your team as well. So I think that that team area and then I think the third advice is just go for it. All of this stuff is new. None of us knew how to do it. Don't let perfect get in in the way. So often we're so used to only wanting to do things that we know will really work, and this is a new skill set. So, you know, kind of demonstrate for your team that it's okay not to have all the answers, not to do it perfectly. Getting started is more important than getting it perfect. The Way to get started is to just start. To start. Yeah, perfect. Let's end there. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your experience with us. It was lovely to talk to you and thanks so much. I really appreciate getting the time to spend with you. Wonderful you've been listening to the okay our podcast. Subscribe in your favorite player so you never miss a moment. Thanks for listening. Until next time, M H.

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