To ensure the delivery on Boehringer Ingelheim’s promise of ‘More Health’ to the patient communities we serve, we are continually examining and innovating around how to engage employees in responding to, and leading, the change we face.

Change is our reality: the increasing pace of technological innovation, regulatory changes, globalization, shifting demographics; the whirling maelstrom of global Life that we find ourselves operating within — none of which pauses for us to catch up.

Couple this with the second challenge: Engaging our talent, ensuring productivity, improving margins and managing turnover by supporting acceptable levels of employee engagement. Many other issues vie for strategic attention; however these two challenges have far-reaching implications for the future success of any organization.

Beginning in 2010, we constructed a series of pilots to engage employees in leading change. The results of these pilots were encouraging and have culminated in the creation of a new team within Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (BIPI). The central thesis of this Organizational Engagement (OE) group, operational since February 2013, is woven from our understanding of the results of our pilots and tied to a theoretical foundation painted from a diverse set of sources and inspirations: enterprise social media, social entrepreneurship and the theory of urban planning.

The OE approach involves surfacing issues that span multiple functions through questions, discussion and dialogue. We subsequently empower passionate people from across our company to work together to affect positive change. Specifically, project teams made up of volunteers or nominated subject-matter experts (SMEs) devote their time to high priority organizational problems. These project teams form an agile network-like structure that forms, expands, contracts and disbands based on the priorities of the business and the demands of their projects. A portfolio of these projects is centrally managed by a cross-functional OE Core Team, which appropriately sets conditions to maximize the likelihood of project success.

Since inception of the OE group we have:

  • Saved over one million dollars of opportunity cost avoidance.
  • Implemented a variety of processes to sustain opportunity cost avoidance “wins.”
  • Actively engaged almost 300 people from 17 functional areas, from across our entire U.S. organization.
  • Connected diverse actors throughout our organization, at all levels, to work together for the benefit of the whole.
  • Reduced organizational redundancy through questioning and empathetic engagement.

There are three broad themes we shared during our time at the PRSA 2013 International Conference in Philadelphia, and that we believe have been crucial to the delivery of these unambiguous business results:

  • The importance of internal networks — formal and informal.We promote our messages actively and often through all channels — both offline and online. Our creation of a network-like structure to organize this work matches the underlying pattern of the organization and provides a mechanism for organizational learning at scale.
  • The role of leadership in supporting nascent change.Our senior leaders provide sponsorship for OE projects, ranging from active “boots on the ground” through to figurehead roles. Our president and CEO has taken to routinely updating the organization on the availability of OE projects as business relevant cross-functional collaboration opportunities, and we have statistically robust data that links this messaging to robust employee awareness of this work.
  • How to turn latent organizational energy into strategically important “wins.”Like most organizations, we run Engagement Surveys wherein the pulse of the organization is captured through questions. A persistent opportunity for improvement remains Development — and a desire to do more. Much of our recent OE work has been focused on validating this theme and then curating conditions wherein all employees have opportunities to participate — and subsequently “Develop.” This is not done in isolation, but in collaboration with all of the other opportunities afforded our colleagues through more traditional developmental assignments.

The business results we have realized are worthwhile, but they do not demonstrate OE’s impact on the system in terms of organizational capacity for change and engagement; employees’ experiences do.  Below is one story of significant change that illustrates the power of turning latent organizational energy into a strategically important “win.”

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