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Back to the future- the emotional roller coaster ride of a transformation team. The example of Rentschler Biopharma

In a first-hand story two executives from a long-time client of ours, Senta Brandt and Roland Dußler from Rentschler Biopharma SE, describe the emotional side of a major transformation at their company. In five chapters and four tips, they describe the sometimes rocky but always fulfilling road in a journey through time.

by Senta Brandt and Roland Dußler, Rentschler Biopharma SE

Rentschler Biopharma SE is a family-owned global contract development and manufacturing organization for biopharmaceuticals. In 2018, the company launched a transformation process to streamline by improving coordination and empowering individuals.  The process initially involved 80 experts and managers in the areas of active pharmaceutical ingredient production, quality assurance, development, project management and supply chain management. In 2020, the transformation was expanded to 500 employees. The authors lead the team that is facilitating the transformation process. They describe their experience below. Rentschler Biopharma SE is a longstanding client of company companions.

Our time journey starts in the here and now and then describes the chapters going back to the beginning of the transformation process. We started our transformation journey in the spring of 2018 entrusted with the responsibility to achieve holistic change – through people, processes, the entire organization. Along the way, we tried a lot of new ideas, failed a few times, and learned from our missteps.

CHAPTER 5: SUCCESS EVERYWHERE – AND NOW?

80% increase in productivity and reduction in production downtime, awarded “Transformation of the Year” at the BioPharma Roundtable 2019, EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2019. What a joy, the results are visible! But these incredible results did not happen overnight. 

Can we be satisfied with that? Of course not. So far, 60% of the company’s executives and employees are actively involved in the transformation process. Our ultimate goal is to have every person in the entire company motivated, trained and empowered to make improvements. Our mission is clear: to provide the entire organization with the skills needed to create a sustainable, company-wide, agile, cross-functional network.

Let’s rewind and follow our journey, one chapter at a time, from the present to the very beginning. We welcome you to experience the highs and the lows with us in real time, as we narrate our unique journey exactly as it happened.

CHAPTER 4: STAY STRONG – PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR ENVIRONMENT

We feel like the famous marathon man struck by a hammer at mile 20. There is no motivational applause, no cheering. We have been leading the transformation for a year and a half now. Our motto is: keep working hard, transfer your positive attitude to the organization, and stay persistent. We are putting even more energy and effort into this phase and are sometimes disappointed with the progress. Like any successful endeavor, once initial goals are achieved, people move on swiftly to other things. 

The first voices come up: “The transformation is falling asleep!” This is the moment when euphoria erodes. Everyday life catches up with the organization. Acute operational issues take precedence. Priorities and focus change. Reasons for why something cannot work tend to resurface.

Despite these road bumps, the first cross-functional teams are already working well and independently. We need to keep up the momentum – help everyone to see that change needs to keep happening and that it continues producing important results.

Why does no one see this? In this phase, we learn that transparency does not mean visibility. Listening carefully, initiating the right measures, being “cheerleaders”, keeping an eye on the overall situation, adjusting the pace a bit – that’s what’s needed now.

CHAPTER 3: MOVING INTO NEW TERRITORY – BUILDING ON THE BEST TEAM

Explorers of the new world must have certainly felt like this. We are entering new territory. We hear everywhere, “You can’t do it that way.” “That’s never worked before”. “We’ve never done it that way.” While these are all normal reactions to change, it is the first time in our transformation journey that we have met strong resistance. But the good collaboration and strong leadership established early in the process, help us to effectively address resistance and concerns.

Our leadership role in the transformation process is put to the test during this phase. Rentschler Biopharma has excellent experts whom no one can fool and who know how to optimize processes. We bring in other perspectives to look at long-standing procedures and ask a lot of questions. This cross-functional approach is new at our company and plays a critical role in achieving our transformation goals.

CHAPTER 2: FIRST STEPS – FINDING OUR OWN WAY

External consultants have accompanied us over the past several months and provided us with valuable tools. Now it is time for the child to walk on her own. Daily, even sometimes hourly, our feelings fluctuate: we are learning so much, yet panicking about our ability to achieve our goals. It is an exciting, sometimes chaotic, time. We are finding our own way, and it is great to see how something new emerges from this again. We hold many conversations with our colleagues throughout the company, get their feedback on ideas.  And perhaps most importantly, we truly listen to what they say. Through this process, we improve our approach to change and begin our transformation into a learning organization – one that is agile, responsive and improving constantly.

CHAPTER 1: THE STARTING GUN – HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Not knowing what lies ahead and yet moving forward courageously – this is our challenge. For the first time, we get a comprehensive insight into our overall company and see how the pieces fit together. We address problems openly with managers, colleagues are empowered to make decisions quickly and communicate our progress transparently throughout the company. We feel like we are on a roller coaster. Emotions go up and down. The start is intense. Everyone senses that we are only at the beginning and is happy to be part of this exciting transformation. It is fun!

OUR TIPS

Even though we are far from the end: What tips for successful transformation can we already pass on?

  • Explain the WHY of transformation. While corporate financial goals can be an important reason to change, it is the feeling of adding value with our work, as well as being valued for our contributions that drives us on this path.
  • Create the space for collaboration, to work cross-functionally. This gives managers and employees appreciation, creates motivation and openness for the change.
  • Listen. Tap into the knowledge of the organization and work with colleagues to find solutions.
  • Find tasks that are fun like creating value together with your colleagues by challenging old habits. This benefits the company, your environment and you.

The most important thing is:” Just do it!” Think big. You will grow from it!

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