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AstraZeneca Leads the Way to Enterprise Engagement

Melanie Lewis, the pharmaceutical firm’s first Director of Sales Engagement, talks about how aligning engagement with organizational objectives impacts business results

By Bruce Bolger

You know that a new business sector has arrived when an industry-leading company puts someone in charge of it. If anyone had any doubt about the emerging importance of engagement, take note of Melanie Lewis, the new Director of Sales Engagement for AstraZeneca, by any measure one of the world leaders – not only in pharmaceuticals, but also in financial performance.

AstraZeneca has been named one of the 100 Best Companies to Work for by San Francisco-based Great Places to Work Institute, it’s on the list of the top 100 Best Companies for Working Women and was designated one of the nation’s most admired companies by Fortune magazine, among numerous other kudos.

And while this certainly demonstrates its commitment to human capital, customer satisfaction and employee performance, investors appreciate the apparent connection to the bottom line: AstraZeneca recently reported year-to-date sales gains of 8% at constant exchange rate. Sales in the U.S. rose 10%, half of which were attributed to Toprol-XL. Core operating profit increased 28% percent during this same period to $6.9 billion, which the company partially attributed to its sales growth and operating efficiencies. For the last five years, AstraZeneca has shown consistent gains in sales, earnings per share and dividends – pretty amazing, given the economic environment.

o what’s the job of the company’s first Director of Sales Engagement? In her new capacity, Lewis is responsible for the development, execution and measurement of the company’s field sales engagement strategy. Her initial focus is on leadership development, and then on integrating engagement principles into the process of early training for new employees. She will be advising on ways to build a clear link between sales training, management development and engagement strategies for the field, as well as identifying areas that need attention based on the company’s employee and customer surveys, noting that part of this involves “exploring, understanding and sharing external research on engagement theories and the impact on business results.”

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Internal and External

Positively engaged employees have higher levels of productivity and profitability and are more effective at engaging the customers they serve.

According to Lewis, AstraZeneca defines engagement as a “belief in and support for the organization’s goals and values; pride in working for the organization; willingness to work beyond expectations to help the organization succeed; and intent to stay for long tenure.”

And while it may be good branding to say that AstraZeneca is one of America’s best places to work, the commitment to engagement is in part based on economics. “As we learned through the work we did with Curt Coffman [and through his work at Gallup with Human Sigma], positively engaged employees have higher levels of productivity and profitability and are more effective at engaging the customers they serve,” says Lewis, adding that “optimized business units (those with even moderately high levels of both employee and customer engagement) are, on average, more effective financially – in fact, 3.4 times more effective – than units with very high levels of only one form of engagement.”

The company measures engagement from two perspectives: Internal and External. Internal Measures include:

In the past, the company conducted employee surveys every two years, but it’s moving to annual surveys going forward. “We have an Engagement Index and what we call an AZ10 Index – the engagement index we created with Curt Coffman in 2005 on the 10 factors of employee engagement,” says Lewis, noting that since AstraZeneca started measuring sales employee engagement in 2006 it has seen a 21-point increase in total favorable responses to AZ10 engagement factors.

External Measures are based on a Customer Engagement Index (MD9 Index) developed with Coffman, and several external surveys. In 2008, the company developed a Sales Representative Engagement Index of questions aligned with the MD9 Index that already were a part of an external survey. The survey is a web-based, attitudinal survey of physicians related to their interactions with sales representatives, including execution, product message and other measures. It included 75,000 detail-interaction surveys with doctors in 2008. “We know these interactions have an impact on the quality of the dialog with the physician,” says Lewis. “In 2008, we improved sales representative engagement scores over baseline for all selling teams.”

hat counts, of course, is what the customer thinks. In SDI’s Pharmaceutical Company Image 2008 study, which included questionnaires from over 10,000 health care providers and consumers, AstraZeneca advanced from 5th to 4th place in overall physician perception over 2006. In this survey, physicians are asked to select up to three companies that they hold in highest regard, irrespective of their individual products. In SDI’s Pharmaceutical Company Image 2009 study, AstraZeneca remained 4th among companies held in highest esteem by physicians. In SDI’s Sales Force Effectiveness 2008: The Physician Perspective survey, physicians were given a list of sales force tactics defined by SDI and were asked to rank the top three companies for each. AstraZeneca advanced to rank among the top 3 companies in each of the categories. In a separate annual syndicated audit of physicians on sales force effectiveness in 2008, AstraZeneca saw a similar upward trend in its ranking among pharmaceutical companies for having the most effective representatives on a consistent basis.

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Alignment Is Key

The company conducted 75,000 surveys with doctors in 2008 related to their interactions with sales representatives, including execution, product message and other measures.

So what does it take to create an engaged workforce? “An environment in which people feel valued and respected, where there are opportunities for learning and growth and where there’s a sense of purpose and belonging,” explains Lewis. The key, she says, is ensuring the sales organization is aligned with corporate goals and initiatives and focused on the same measures of success. “The objective is to align our leaders around the essential elements and those behavioral characteristics that most drive employee engagement, and to be laser-focused on what engagement means and what it doesn’t mean. Managing the scope. Keeping it tight rather than too broad and all-encompassing.”

Of course, engagement has no meaning and value unless it’s aligned with the organizational mission. To stay true to the AstraZeneca mission – “To make the most meaningful difference to patient health through great medicines” – the company uses a balanced scorecard framework that outlines the objectives and targets in each of four priority areas. The balanced scorecard also includes details of the measures used to assess progress and of the initiatives in place to drive achievement of those objectives. Progress is communicated to all employees each quarter. All individual performance objectives (i.e., the personal scorecard) reflect these company objectives, so everyone at AstraZeneca can make a contribution to the common strategy and goals. This focus is reinforced by a number of tactics, including:

Reward and Recognition Programs. Rewarding and celebrating significant and creative business achievements by employees is another way of reinforcing the business strategy and leadership capabilities. Lewis says the company offers a number of programs designed to provide flexible, creative and meaningful opportunities for managers or peers to express appreciation to individuals for their contributions and accomplishments.

The Selling System and Customer Engagement. According to Lewis, in the past few years most pharmaceutical selling systems have been built on increasing the quantity of interactions with healthcare providers. Now, the focus is on higher quality interactions as perceived by the health care provider. AstraZeneca builds its approach to selling around key priorities and focusing on those things it has identified that drive success with the customer. The company uses account-based selling, allowing for the time and focus it takes to build stronger relationships with the office prescribers and key influencers. The model has to be flexible enough to evolve and optimize the company’s current portfolio of products, while laying the groundwork for future products. In addition, over the past year the company has developed and employed alternative ways to interact with our customers, aligned with their preferences for interaction.   

Communication. With its own employees, AstraZeneca has multiple means to communicate and inform, and does so through multiple forms of media and platforms.. The challenge of connecting with busy physicians is another matter, and AstraZeneca is employing alternative channels to enhance communication that she would not disclose for competitive reasons.

Compensation. The core AstraZeneca bonus plan for eligible field-based employees is a performance-driven plan based on performance against personal scorecard objectives and leadership capabilities.

The principles of Enterprise Engagement are public knowledge; the competitive edge goes to organizations that can actually put it into practice.

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Confident, Resilient, Innovative, Engaged

An enterprise-wide approach to engagement is no quick fix. Challenges include:

Customer and employee engagement cannot solve every problem, but Lewis is confident that AstraZeneca is on the right path: “I believe we are well poised as an organization to face these challenges with a more confident, resilient, innovative and engaged sales force.”

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