Three key principles at Novartis


I love this interview with Joseph Jimenez, the CEO of Novartis. He hits on several points near and dear to my heart. 1. Simplify: Jimenez knows that elaborate strategic initiatives have zero chance of success if they're not translated to a small number of concrete actions that people can take on a daily basis:

At Novartis, our business is very complicated. But you have to distill the strategy down to its essence for how we’re going to win, and what we’re really going to go after, so that people can hold it in their heads — so that the guy on the plant floor, who’s actually making the medicine, understands the three priorities that we have as a company.

2. Identify the value: Jimenez understands that the value of one's work is ultimately decided by the customer, and that far too many corporate activities are simply empty exercises by that measure:

We needed to shift the company to become more externally focused, versus internally focused. People were proud of producing 75-page PowerPoint documents, and that was seen as a success.  If the C.E.O. or the head of the division complimented you on your PowerPoint presentation, that was a good thing.  And I said, forget that. We have to put the patient at the center of everything we do.

3. First, look in the mirror: Jimenez describes how at an earlier job, his division kept missing their sales forecasts. A consultant pointed out that the root cause wasn't a lack of skills or a poor planning process; it was fear: people were afraid to tell the truth. And he realized that he bore some responsibility:

We had to change the behavior in the organization so that people felt safe to bring bad news. And I looked in the mirror, and I realized I was part of the problem. I didn’t want to hear the bad news, either. So I had to change how I behaved, and start to thank people for bringing me bad news. It’s a chance to say: “Hey, thank you for bringing me that news. Because you know what?  There are nine months left in the year. Now we have time to do something about it.  Let’s roll up our sleeves, and let’s figure out how we’re going to make it.”

Jimenez doesn't talk about lean in this interview. But the lessons and values he discusses certainly fit in with core lean principles.

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