Deming, Finally! — Part 5

Pharma Industry Has Misunderstood Deming for 30 Years but Can Catch Up

This is the fifth of an eight-post series, by Anders Vinther, Sanofi Pasteur Chief Quality Officer and Celine Schillinger, Sanofi Pasteur Head of Quality Innovation & Engagement.

Part 1 introduced why we believe Edwards Deming’s thinking has been only partially implemented by the pharmaceutical industry. By focusing on processes, control and exhortations, manufacturers have missed the essence of Deming’s message. Deming advised us to actually put the Human at the center of quality and to focus on how the system works. Out of Deming’s “14 points of management”, the first seven (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) have been broadly misunderstood. Yet it is possible to operate along Deming’s original management philosophy, as exemplified by Sanofi Pasteur. Let’s keep exploring, through Deming’s points #8 and #9, what the pharma industry could do better.

8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company

How it’s been misunderstood: Assertiveness mistaken for leadership, controlling cultures with blame from leaders and finger pointing from peers; conservative talent management perpetuates blame culture and fear.

What it really means: Solutions can come from anywhere, but only if people feel they are respected and it’s accepted to fail. Human errors are opportunities to learn.

A couple of years ago, we were facing a complicated issue that was difficult to resolve. It was having dire consequences on supply. At some point, two employees went to the function leader to share a solution they had thought of. They were yelled at for not coming sooner. What do you think would happen if there was a new problem? These people wouldn’t dare bringing up their idea — or wouldn’t even bother thinking about solutions.

“Ingrained quality”, “Transparency”, and “Speak up culture” are all words that should characterize an organization that has driven out fear. However, driving out fear completely requires that it is acceptable to fail, where trust is prevailing, and internal competition is eliminated. Although we can all agree that driving out fear helps improve performance are we all truly in our actions showing the right behavior?

In our experience the answer to the question “do we have a ‘speak-up’ culture?” is answered differently by leaders and employees. Often, leaders are surprised when faced with feedback that they blame their employees instead of driving out fear. In the pharmaceutical industry we often talk about ‘human errors’ (which in actually in most cases have other true causes). Do you speak about these ‘human errors’ as learning experiences? We suggest calling them this way, as they are always relevant and they are a great way to improve processes and enhance knowledge among the employees. However, we very often see finger pointing and blame when something goes wrong. Are people rewarded and recognized for improvement suggestions?

In a culture where people can’t or don’t speak up freely and share good and bad results people will tend to hide things when they go wrong. Solutions can come from anywhere, but only when employees feel safe.

Our work has put a lot of emphasis on reducing the “power barriers” that prevent people from speaking up, but also on creating a strong community of purpose-driven activists. It acts as a support group for those who wouldn’t dare speaking up if they felt isolated. In this movement, people identify themselves as change agents. To publicly recognize their contribution and achievements — on internal social media for example — empowers them and invites more people to challenge the status quo. We encourage leaders to seek feedback from people with no ‘vested interest’.

9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team

How it’s been misunderstood: Silos — both vertical and horizontal — are still very strong. Connections are “organized” through designated connection persons / events based on organization or where people work physically, creating filters, bottlenecks and sub-optimization.

What it really means: Expand people’s identity beyond their role or geography. Connect the system to more of itself. Leverage internal social media and cross-layer teams. Anyone can be a connector, if they want to and are encouraged.

It is amazing to see how much people in general work in silos based on the physical location of their workplace, the manufacturing site they work for, the language they speak or their position in the organizational hierarchy. Rather than speaking directly with peers working in similar positions much communication goes up and down the organizational ladder. Barriers results in sub-optimization rather than what is overall best for the company. We have heard FDA inspectors (US Federal Drug Administration) coming in to different manufacturing Sites of the same company feeling that they were visiting separate companies.

One way of breaking down barriers in a GMP regulated company is to have the same Pharmaceutical Quality System (PQS) apply everywhere. However, what really matters is that we as leaders foster an environment of relationship building and information sharing within the company. It is much better when information sharing doesn’t have to involve us/leaders but can happen freely between employees whichever way works for them in their job. Collaboration is key for success at all levels.

We have two recent examples of how we have been able to break down silos/barriers between departments, Sites and organizational levels.

The first example is building-to-building visits (‘meet your neighbor’) arranged by volunteers. Everyone involved have been very excited about this activity, and to our surprise we heard several times that people working in one building for more than 10 years never really knew what was going on in the other buildings at the Site.

The other example is the use of internal social media. The network we use, Yammer, is a great software platform for informal sharing of information. We have people connecting with each other all over the world in our company with no supervisory control and at all levels. The software has also been a way to break down language barriers as you can simply pick a translate option and immediately you are connected with people around the world. People are connected across continents, Sites, hierarchies and language. Instead of solving problems within the silo you belong to, you have the whole company to speak with. By making ideas and achievements public, the Yammer group makes it possible for anyone to pick up an idea and implement it. Sharing and adapting each others’ wins has multiplied very significantly. Our social media story can be found on Microsoft’s website.

As leaders we should think about whether we are building bridges or walls in how we operate. We must accept that in many cases we are the roadblock or bottleneck preventing success. Solutions can come from anywhere. Myron Rogers talks about how we change the way we want to work when he says “Start anywhere but follow it everywhere” and that we need to “Keep connecting the system to more of itself”.

Corporate activism uses the tools and techniques of social movements, for corporate and social performance. And that is exactly what we do in changing the way we work and breaking down barriers. Movements are driven by a cause, fueled by people’s passion and sense of purpose. They mobilize and connect energies against inertia. Digital enables massive, rapid connections, and we have seen that we as an organization have become more creative and more agile. Deming would probably be a corporate activist if he lived today!

(Stay with us! To be continued in next post)