The Change Agent
The pharmaceutical industry is changing. As the healthcare
payer burden continues to shift toward the patient, pharma companies are making adjustments to
become more patient-focused, with processes dedicated to framing the healthcare debate from the
patient's point of view.
Craig Flanagan, Associate Vice President of
Business Excellence, Sanofi
This shift in perspective cannot occur overnight—but
Big Pharma is now devoting significant resources to help drive the culture shift from the top
down. Enter Sanofi's Craig Flanagan, part of the new breed of corporate executives whose
energy is devoted to facilitating the transition by seeding new capabilities throughout the
Flanagan has held a variety of positions during his 16-year
career at Sanofi, working his way up from sales rep; to trainer; to sales manager; to marketing
executive on the Plavix franchise team; to his current role as associate vice president of
In this role, Flanagan heads up a team of 25 in-house
training "change agents" whose mandate is to imbed new capabilities in the
organization, covering three specific areas: team process, change management, and continuous
improvement—all with the objective to improve leadership's ability to respond to
external business challenges quickly and on point, aligning decisions across markets and
To entrench Sanofi's strategic, patient-first
philosophy, the team first needed to address a perceived lack of trust in Sanofi leadership,
following three straight years of restructuring. Flanagan and his team did a baseline survey at
the start of the internal campaign and the scores reflected what they had expected: employee
engagement was dangerously low.
The change agents—district sales managers drawn from
various departments throughout the United States—underwent four months of training focused
on effective communication and coaching. The plan concentrated on a top-down approach, with the
agents learning new skills, going back to their respective departments to demonstrate the
abilities they acquired, and hopefully transferring the same skills to their direct reports.
The strategy worked. One year after the initial survey, the
team conducted a second poll of employees and received very promising results: overall employee
engagement had improved by 29 percent.
"We are extremely proud of those numbers," Flanagan
says. "We weren't the sole reason for the improved statistics but we were certainly
the catalyst. I think of the program as capability building, helping employees understand
themselves and manage change in a better way. We made it okay for the employees to talk openly
about the company."
Flanagan was a speech communication major at Penn State, and
predictably puts effective communication and listening at the top of his list of effective
management techniques. But he also relies on another less traditional trait: vulnerability.
"To me vulnerability is letting people understand that
you have fears, anxiety, dreams, and that you don't always have the right answer," he
says. "Being vulnerable is one of the biggest changes that I have made. It helps in
creating that open two-way dialogue with people, and creates an atmosphere of trust. It helps to
get the best out of people."
Another tenant of Flanagan's management style that he
tries to impart on his change agents is the importance of being present. Flanagan preaches the
importance of giving your full attention to a conversation and avoiding multi-tasking at all
costs. When on the phone, employees are encouraged to turn their computer monitors off and put
their smartphones out of reach, and devote themselves whole-heartedly to the task at hand.
The change agents' obligation is to keep the workforce
focused not only on being present in the moment, but being ready for the future. This is a
future that Flanagan believes will increasingly focus on patient solutions and
dialogue—hence the need for effective coaching.
"I want to be in a position to influence the strategic
direction of the organization," Flanagan says about his long-term career goals. "Over
the past 18 months my position is increasingly a position dedicated to people. My job is to
understand the breadth of the organization, and I enjoy the opportunity to develop inspirational
leaders in our company."