Novartis office building

Novartis Singapore took home the gold award for 'Excellence in Workforce Mobility' at the HR Excellence Awards 2021, Singapore.

In this interview, Sally Soh, Country People & Organisation Head, Singapore, Novartis Singapore, tells us how the company took the opportunity to undergo a complete renovation of its commercial office as well as transit into an activity-based working environment that revolves around the associates' choice. 

Q What is your organisation’s winning HR strategy, and what are some milestones you’ve accomplished along this journey?

Our strong sense of purpose at Novartis inspires our work – we’re reimagining medicine to improve and extend people’s lives. To help us fulfil our purpose, we are changing the way we work to unleash the power of our people. We are moving from a top-down, hierarchical culture to one that is inspired, curious and unbossed.

To unleash the power of our people at scale across the company, the People & Organisation (P&O) function is founded on three pillars :

  • People & culture – Foster a company culture which our people are consistently inspired to innovate, curious to ask questions, and unbossed to overcome challenges and explore new ideas.
  • Organisation & capabilities – Unlock value for Novartis through sustained and future-proof organisation capability and talent management.
  • People solutions – Simplify processes by leveraging intuitive technology and advanced analytics to inform best business outcomes.

P&O is the architect of the many programmes and initiatives that are reshaping the way we work. Being recognised for the 'Choice with Responsibility' (CwR) programme is a testament to how we are bringing our culture to life across the breadth of the company.

Q How has this strategy helped you achieve your HR priorities, and what role has the leadership played in helping make this initiative a reality?

CwR is a natural evolution of our culture transformation, powered by associates’ feedback and data-driven insights.

It is a journey to the future of working in a post-pandemic world and fundamentally re-shape and change how we work - for our office, field or manufacturing-site based associates. Open dialogue, psychological safety and a willingness to prioritise shared objectives will help individuals and teams to uncover how best to drive innovation and impact, redesigning how, when and where they work. CwR is thus a natural extension of our inspired, curious and unbossed culture and our commitment to unleash the power of our people.

While COVID accelerated our journey, our commitment to flexible work offerings and wellbeing pre-date the pandemic. Leadership commitment to our culture is critical in enabling the team to shape its own experiments and solutions. As individuals and teams build consensus through open dialogue, we need to get comfortable with some degree of uncertainty, to stay curious, continuously learn and re-skill, building a truly resilient and future-proof workforce and organisation.

Q Unexpected roadblocks are part and parcel of executing any initiative. What were some of the barriers that you and your team experienced while rolling this out, and how did you successfully get past them?

The pandemic has thrown many surprises in our way, associates who used to work from office suddenly found themselves working full-time from home. We offered a variety of support to our associates to facilitate setting up a home workspace. Thereafter, we provided training and support to shift managers’ and associates’ mindset about working from home both mentally and physically.

We piloted a project and partnered with a co-working space vendor to provide on-demand workspaces at multiple locations islandwide. This is beneficial for people to collaborate in-person (barring safe distancing measures).

We took the opportunity to undergo a complete renovation of our commercial office to:

  • Consolidate from three-storey to a single floor office space to enhance collaboration across our regional and local teams.
  • Transit into an activity-based working environment that revolves around our associates' choice, providing flexibility, mobility, sharing and sustainability. 

Q As evidenced by the win, this initiative clearly delivered some amazing results. What was your gameplan for measuring ROI? What are some proud achievements you can share with us on this front?

During this journey, we have been measuring our employee sentiment through surveys which have on average more than 95% response rate.

Following the implementation of CwR, we see a marked improvement in employee empowerment and collaboration.

This has also led to quicker response in terms of work flexibility to adapt to the rapid shifts in government guidelines, procedures and protocols related to COVID-19 pandemic.

Q We’re now seeing HR manage portfolios that were previously considered far from their job description. In your view, what are the top three skills and attributes of today’s successful CHRO?

Embracing disruption: Navigating disruption has become a key skill-set for CHROs. Over the past year, the business landscape has faced a seemingly endless stream of challenges. CHROs have to make a strong effort towards comprehending this newly conceived & rapidly changing environment and partnering with business to be at the top of their game.

Practicing agility: Industry disruption can be complex and even the best-laid plans may need to be quickly altered to changing business dynamics. Agile CHROs need to be swift enough to foresee business threats and opportunities and nimbly twirl in any direction.

Facilitating new work environments: We have to reimagine the workplace that facilitates the change to new work environment, rather than attempting a return to business as usual. Not long ago, most employees went to work every day in offices. As we know, that’s not how people work anymore, employees don’t want to sit in an office all day anymore. They want to be able to work out of a coffee shop one day and at home on another day. They want to have flexibility and yet be able to collaborate with their colleagues seamlessly. By learning about the evolving working styles and career values, CHROs have to design flexible corporate policies that will help keep employees engaged and happy. We need to provide collaborative tools that correspond with diverse working styles and changing needs.


Photo / Novartis

Read more interviews on why organisations have won trophies for their HR practices - head over to our Winning Secrets' section!

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