Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders - Pharmaceutical Executive


Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders

Pharmaceutical Executive

The Change Agent

Craig Flanagan, Associate Vice President of Business Excellence, Sanofi
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.

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 company's workforce.

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 business excellence.

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 functions.

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."

—Timothy Denman


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