Sanofi: To be a magnet for talents in the digital era


Date of publication: 2020.1.26, From: Harvard Business Review

As the world’s second largest pharmaceutical market, China has entered the stage of in-depth healthcare reform during the recent two years, and relevant policies have been increasingly influential for multinational pharmaceutical enterprises. With the normalization of measures like “volume based procurement” and adjustment of NDRL, the era of “high gross profit” in the pharmaceutical market is over. From 2019 to 2020, the pharmaceutical market in China underwent an overturn from double-digit growth to negative growth. Comprehensive innovation and organizational transformation have been both urgent and necessary options of all pharmaceutical enterprises. As a top 10 global pharmaceutical giant, Sanofi has demonstrated its great resilience in the new normal after COVID-19 pandemic. Led by Pius S. Hornstein, PhD, Country Lead of Sanofi China, Sanofi has been certified as a “Top Employer in China” for 4 consecutive years, and even ranks the first place in 2021.

Recently, Dr Hornstein accepted an interview with the Chinese version of Harvard Business Review, and shared how does Sanofi live “Play to Win” culture as a renowned multinational enterprise based on the local conditions in China, so as to effectively promote the management organization reform in China.

Strategy first. “When I came to China for the first time in late 2018, I talked with many people who had worked in China for decades and also had rich business experiences, but none of them ever expected that the reform would be started so profoundly and rapidly. Innovation has become a key proposition in the healthcare industry, but we must also make more and more a trade-off between volume and price.” In his view, the response to the great changes in both internal and external ecosystems is inseparable from the iron triangle of “culture – organization – talent”, and the prerequisite for establishing such an iron triangle is to formulate a clear strategy.
“So many people fail to correctly arrange the order of organization adjustment and strategy formulation. Strategy is the first priority, while culture is the core of manpower and organization.” Therefore, Sanofi China has formulated the following strategic priorities directly related to talents to promote sustainable growth under the new normal, and lay the foundation for building a strong “Play to Win” culture: to accelerate pharmaceutical and product innovation with the goal of introducing 25+  new products into China market by 2025; under the condition of rapid changes in market access models, to closely interact with the ecosystem in China; to embrace the new normal of digitization, and be committed to becoming one of the most digitized healthcare enterprises.

Culture is the core of manpower and organization
Sanofi’s culture and values can be condensed into a short phrase - Play to Win. “We are so ambitious, and always set extremely high goals for ourselves. Even if we might be unable to fully achieve them in the end, the significance is that high standards enable us to constantly surpass ourselves with a completely different mentality”, said Dr Hornstein.

Although the short phrase sounds very easy, it is indeed an challenging goal, which contains the following four aspects:

1. Stretch: Sanofi expects that all employees can go beyond their own comfort zones, which does not mean an increase in workload. All of us can define our own areas to be improved, which may be either enhancing the cooperation with others, or caring more about patients, or others;

2. Act for patients and customers: Employees need to put patients and customers at the first place – It is obviously at the core of our mission as a pharmaceutical enterprise to make a positive impact;

3. Think Sanofi first: Employees need to firstly ensure the company’s interests, dare to speak out, be willing to share information with their teams, and support other colleagues regardless of personal gains and losses.

4. Take action: The most important and one of the most difficult ones is about employee empowerment and sense of ownership. Employees need to take actions proactively, rather than blindly accepting the instructions of superiors. “ It is more about power of the example than the example of power Therefore, we fully empower the employees, notify them of the direction and strategic framework that the company wants to achieve, and then let them decide the routes and specific actions by themselves.”

For example, the “swift” launch of Dupixent® in the area of atopic dermatitis – a core product of Sanofi’s key strategic layout in China has reflected the essence of “Play to Win”. From the submission of application to NMPA in June 2019, to priority review process, and to the official approval, it only took less than six months. More importantly, the previous period the fastest record from approval to launch in China was 50 days in the field of biological agents, but Sanofi China was not satisfied with such a record. We finally broke through the production limit of supply chain, launched the drug within 25 days, only a half of previous record, and successfully caught up with the benefits brought by the extension of NDRL negotiation. “Now, Dupixent® has been covered by the NDRL through negotiation, and we have enabled the patients to receive a reimbursable new drug at an unprecedented speed based on our bold and decisive behavior”, said Dr. Hornstein.

Attracting talents, rather than retaining them forcibly
After taking the office in China, Mr. Hornstein was surprised of the rapid flow of young talents in big cities. While the employee turnover rate in Europe might be around 1% every year, that of the pharmaceutical industry in China can be as high as 25%. According to Sanofi China’s data analysis and talent inventory, the traditional method of raising salaries for retaining talents is not the most successful one. “Therefore, we have reshaped our talent management, and adopted the combined methods including digital tools to make Sanofi a magnet for talents, rather than trying to retain them forcibly.”

Sanofi China has a very young employee base - the average age of employees is 32, the average hiring age is 28, and the average age of medical representatives is 25. The key point for an enterprise to attract employees is to create an environment for employees to seamlessly connect their work and life. Empowered by effective digital tools, the employee engagement has been significantly improved. In early February 2020, Sanofi also became one of the first pharmaceutical enterprises in China to adopt a corporate WeChat Work App across the organization when the COVID-19 broke out, allowing most employees to work remotely and safely during the pandemic. Through such move, our employees have further understood the urgency and importance of digitization, and the process of digitization has been thereby accelerated.

Taking digitization of talent management as an example, Sanofi China has been managing the talents, identifying those with high potentials, and analyzing the employees who decide to resign and the reasons of resignation with a unified database and digital platform since 2017. The talents with high potentials tend to try other opportunities if they are not promoted three years later. Therefore, the company decided to put all positions available, except the senior management ones, on the corporate WeChat Work platform, and all employees could apply for new positions without permission from their superiors. Although it took 3 or 4 quarters before all employees gradually adapted to such a model of internal transfer, such move still clearly reflected the management capabilities of managers at different levels. Today, only 30% of Sanofi China’s managers are recruited externally, while 51% of positions are left for internal promotion, through which the internal mobility and diversity have been significantly improved, and the combination of internal and external recruitment has been perfectly balanced. Previously, our recruitment was mainly based on intuition, but now it has been increasingly data-driven and digitized. In the past 12-18 months, Sanofi China has screened more than 10,000 candidates, improved the accuracy of recruitment, and saved much time in recruitment through the AI approach introduced.

“Since 2019, we have formulated a three-year digitization plan, and started to evaluate the maturity of Sanofi’s digitization from the third-party perspective through the cooperation with McKinsey in a cycle of every two or three quarters. In mid-2020, we achieved the digitization quotient of 37. Now, the quotient has been elevated to nearly 50, and we thereby are approaching the top 10% enterprise in terms of cross-industrial digitization. Our goal for next year is to become a top 5% enterprise, and achieve among others the digitization of entire process from job offering, interview to new employee onboarding, allowing all candidates to experience the outstanding services on our mobile App”, said Mr. Hornstein.

During the interview, the keywords most frequently mentioned by Mr. Hornstein were “data-driven” and “iteration”. Although Sanofi has been certified as a “Top Employer” for several consecutive years, he still said that Sanofi pays more attention to the details in top employer rankings and talent report. Sanofi needs to analyze the specific numbers and talent pool, and make improvements for specific dimensions in a continuous and targeted manner. While talking about the challenging topic of successfully driving Sanofi China to achieve transformation in management, Dr. Hornstein summarized four key points:

Strategy: Develop a very convincible and clear strategy, and let employees understand the current situation, so that they can put their efforts in the right place.
Communication: Communicate and remind all employees of current progresses as well as the future goals and directions repeatedly and thoroughly across the organization. While achieving the progresses, there will be much information and noise generated over time, so the managers must remind their teams to stay on the right track over and over again.

Culture: Give employees enough support, so that they can actively contribute to the process. Taking Sanofi China as an example, the overall strategy needs to be recognized by more than 8,000 employees, especially the mid-level managers, across China, rather than merely the management team of 20 persons, so that we can truly make a difference.

Iteration: Make small steps in a fast pace, and achieve a rapid iteration, especially in the VUCA era. We need to set clear short-term goals on a quarterly basis, and introduce the measurement indicators like OKR to find and solve difficulties in a timely manner, and finally achieve our ultimate goals.

    作为全球第二大医药市场,中国近两年来进入医疗改革深水区。政策对跨国药企的影响越来越大。随着“以量换价”和医保目录调整等举措常态化,医药市场“高毛利”时代结束,从2019年到2020年,中国医药市场经历了从二位数增长到罕见负增长的两重天,药企的全面创新和组织转型成为迫在眉睫的必选项。身为全球十强的欧洲医药巨头赛诺菲(Sanofi),在后疫情新常态下展现出了极大韧性,在中国区裁贺恩霆博士(Pius S. Hornstein, PhD)的带领下,2021年赛诺菲连续第四年获得“中国杰出雇主”的认证,并跃居榜首。

    近日贺恩霆博士接受《哈佛商业评论》中文版采访,分享赛诺菲如何在中国因地、因时制宜,践行作为一家老牌跨国企业所秉持的“全力制胜(Play to Win)”核心价值观,从而在中国卓有成效地大幅推进管理组织变革。



    赛诺菲的文化价值观可以浓缩为四个字——全力致胜(Play to Win)。“我们雄心勃勃,总是给自己设立极高目标,哪怕最后没有完全达到,但其意义在于,高标准能令人以截然不同的心态,不断超越自我。”贺恩霆博士说。