Pulling Your Customer From Under A Sales Scrum

screen shot of Merck, Sharpe & Dohme Ireland website

Imagine a sales force so eager that the top guy was worried about his customers getting buried in a scrum. Sounds like a good thing, right?

To Dr. Neil Boyle, Managing Director of Merck, Sharpe & Dohme, Ireland, it wasn’t. It was a cause for concern — and a sign that his organization was ready for change.

Speaking at last week’s Great Place to Work Institute (GPTW) lecture at DIT’s Leadership Forum, Boyle outlined how the Irish branch of the $27.4 billion multinational has managed change and rapid growth since 2004. Known as Merck in North America, MSD placed 6th in the SME division in the best places to work in Ireland in 2010.

Boyle said MSD’s customers “began to raise barriers” and complained of “too many interfaces that didn’t add value.” Between Sales, Marketing, Customer Service and other contacts, he said the average customer was presented with 14 MSD faces — “rampant schizophrenia.”

But while senior management saw a clear need to realign, the sales reps were more reticent. “Change is a threat when done to me, but an opportunity when done by me,” according to Harvard business professor and management guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter in Seven Truths About Change to Lead By and Live By.

Resistance is always greatest when change is inflicted on people without their involvement, making the change effort feel oppressive or constraining.

Although MSD was a successful company, the industry and the environment were changing, Boyle said. His company also had ambitions to be “Ireland’s number 1 health service provider.” This was an opportunity to innovate, generate new opportunities and future proof their success. “It wasn’t done on a whim,” he said.

In common with the re-org undertaken by fellow GPTW winner, Unicarepharmacy, the over-riding principle throughout was to keep the customer front and center.

Boyle, however, knew he was working with smart people and let MSD “leverage its own innate intelligence” to manage the process. Trust and communications were essential in bringing about the change, which came before and during the merger process announced in November 2009 between Merck and Schering Plough. Asked how he kept employees motivated, Boyle said the most motivating part of it was the involvement.

There was a great buzz around the place.

The internal communications began in January 2008 and was necessary right through the 18-month project, Boyle said. Because MSD had kicked off a world-wide re-organization, the Irish operation was at pains to tell employees that local changes would be based only on Irish data. This was important because “global gossip” meant incorrect conclusions could have easily be drawn from sister operations. Although redundancies were proposed in Finland, the opposite was the case in Ireland where growth meant there was a need for more staff.

Comms tools included a newly commissioned “voice of the customer” and “voice of the business” surveys. MSD also relied on the GPTW survey, which is handled externally and where results are presented in aggregated form back to management. Anonymous communications channels were set up internally, and there were numerous, smaller, more informal meetings with staff. These usually took the form of lunch off site where employees were more at ease.

The change-management process also saw staff involved in exercises imagining what their roles would look like in future. There were also “alignment sessions” to help people how they would deal with other roles in the new organization. Again, communications was very important during these processes.

One of the biggest changes was in how MSD interacted with its customers. Boyle said this is now done “on a continuum” and revolves around the customer’s needs and schedule.

Addressing his leadership, Boyle said, if you can harness the collective intelligence of the organization then you are a pretty good leader. He also quoted a Chinese proverb: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, him aim fullfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.”

Then he went on to quote Winnie the Pooh: “Do not underestimate the value of doing nothing.”

Noting “it wasn’t all success, we made plenty of mistakes,” Boyle’s other tips for change management include:

  • Make the case
  • Run a pilot (this came highly recommended)
  • Allow change from the top down and bottom up
  • Perspective: See the process from as many staff angles as possible
  • Vigilence
  • Sustain the effort and communication.

Meanwhile, Kanter’s seven tips closely track the MSD experience:

  • Change is a threat when done to me, but an opportunity when done by me
  • A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step
  • If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there
  • Change is a campaign, not a decision
  • When you come to a fork in the road, take it
  • Everything can look like a failure in the middle
  • Be the change you seek to make in the world

Image is partial screen shot of Merck, Sharpe & Dohme, Ireland, website. It is not really mine to give away under the Creative Commons, or any other, license. Sorry, you’ll have to make your own.

2 thoughts on “Pulling Your Customer From Under A Sales Scrum

  1. Pingback: John P. Muldoon » From Innovation to Biorhythms: The Making of a ‘Great Place to Work’

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