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Q&A with Goh Chor Lim, head of HR Asia Pacific, Roche Diagnostics

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The formula for great leaders

Vital stats: Goh Chor Lim joined Roche Diagnostics in May 2013 as HR head of Asia Pacific. Before this, she led HR in Asia Pacific and in emerging markets (BRIC) with multinational corporations such as Prudential, Philips Electronics, and Enron. As part of her career and personal growth, she has lived and worked in Japan, the US, and most recently, in Hong Kong.

Q Having worked across non-pharma firms such as Prudential and Philips Electronics, what made you join Roche in 2013?

One reason I joined Roche was through a referral. At that time, my predecessor was moving into her new role in the business – which she is currently in – and I was referred by an HR person in the organisation as part of the employee referral programme. I decided to join Roche because of the nature of the business – saving lives – which is very meaningful. Even though I’m not on the front line, I know I can contribute to the organisation, and save lives, in an indirect way through the people I bring in.

Additionally, when I came for the interview, I liked the atmosphere which seemed very positive. The overall feeling was that this is a really nice organisation and I think the culture and atmosphere is still the same today.

Q That’s interesting, does moving from HR into the business happen very often?

My predecessor started out from the business before moving into HR. It’s part of how we develop people – by moving them through functions or through geographies. It’s also how we retain people – by giving them different exposure and allowing them to grow professionally and personally.

We have many cases of people who have moved into different jobs within the organisation, not necessarily in the same country. It’s not uncommon to see people in Roche being developed in this way, and for employees who are not so mobile, we also have other ways of developing them.

Q I understand that you have about 4,600 employees across APAC and about 230 employees in Singapore. What are your HR priorities for the next 12 months?

I have a 1,000-day plan which can be summarised into three key areas. The first is that we want to make Roche a great place to work, which is around engaging people. At the end of the day, a product is a product; what makes a difference is the people, so it’s about engaging people and making this a special place to work.

The second is about developing people. We have lots of programmes, global leadership programmes as well as programmes we do here regionally and locally. The third is in terms of the leadership pipeline and how to ensure that when someone moves to the next job, the next person can step up. We might focus on a different thing each year, but it’s always on these three themes.

Q One of Roche’s beliefs is that “every employee deserves a great leader” and in fact, I found that in 2014, around 80% of Roche’s key roles were filled internally. How does Roche achieve this?

If you look at it as a value chain, it’s about hiring the right people to begin with – people who share the same values (integrity, courage and passion) to do what is important for the patient and also demonstrate the right values we have here as an organisation. It’s also about having role models as well as the training programmes that we put in place.

Even though I’m not on the front line, I know I can contribute to the organisation, and save lives, in an indirect way through the people I bring in.

There are different programmes that we put in place to make sure everybody becomes a better leader. Roche, as an organisation, also talks about our leadership commitments. We specifically articulate what good leaders look like and we kind of put it in behavioural terms. It’s not rocket science, but we want to articulate it so that people are aware.

We have a number of leadership programmes that we run globally, regionally and locally. One programme is run twice a year and is for someone who is relatively new in their careers based on where they are in the organisation. When we feel they have shown potential and are about to become people managers, we put them through the assessment centre.

Under the assessment centre programme, they go through a two-and-a- half-day workshop where they are put through simulated exercises such as having difficult employee conversations just so they understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie. The leadership team observes them in these exercises and gives them feedback and coaching. Thereafter, the employees come up with their own individual development plan.

This is one way we show our commitment to our employees by developing them even before they become people managers. Some of the participants are already people managers, but it’s always good for them to re-evaluate themselves, see what they are good at and where they can improve.

We also run a programme where INSEAD customises the courseware for our general managers (GM) minus one level, as well as successors to our GM positions. This is a two-week programme that we’ve held twice so far. It has two modules with a fourmonth break in between. During the break, they have an action learning project where they work on a project that is important for the business.

Last year, we spent $100,000 on customisation fees on top of individual course fees and had the whole leadership team present to listen to the participants’ action learning outcomes. Those who were overseas join in if they happen to be in Singapore, and if not they dial in.

Q What are the metrics you go by when selecting employees for these programmes?

It’s more about who we feel will be a good leader. We put some of them in because we feel they have the potential to be GMs. We also put in those we feel will benefit from the programme because they are strong performers and have a large team. We come together during the leadership team meeting to make these decisions, it’s not just based on the decision of a single person.

Last year, we spent $100,000 on customisation fees on top of individual course fees and had the whole leadership team present to listen to the participants’ action learning outcomes.

In fact, at our recent meeting in Bangkok, we talked about our people for half a day to share views about individuals. It’s a shared view about how, who and where we want to invest and develop our people and there is a commitment from the whole leadership team talking about employees and I think that it translates into our 80% internal fill rates. In fact, in Asia Pacific, six out of our last eight leadership roles over the past two years were filled internally.

Q What is the business need for Roche to develop people into leadership roles and build succession pipelines?

For the diagnostics industry, it’s not like an FMCG product where it’s easy for everyone to pick up. Our business is very medically inclined and science-driven so training our people takes time. So it’s important for us to ensure that when they become contributing members of the Roche organisation they have the skills needed for people management because at the end of the day, they will lead a large part of the organisation. We started the programmes to make sure that people become better leaders and not learn through the school of hard knocks.

The most recent programme – about leadership bench strength began two years ago with INSEAD. We want to extend beyond just the leadership team – the MD of APAC and the rest of his direct reports – hence, we worked with INSEAD to have better leadership development for people who are going to step up to the next role.

Q Do you see any challenges when implementing these programmes?

The challenges are more about the time commitment and how to take time out of the organisation to do it. Our INSEAD programme is really intensive so the key piece is how they can manage the time commitment on top of their current job. To help them commit to the programme, we impress upon them why we are doing this and explain it’s for their professional development.

There’s a lot of support from the leadership team who are also involved in the programme. When the participants present their action learning project, they are there to listen and provide support. Some leaders are also sponsors of projects. The commitment by the leadership team is there, so it’s more of working to see how best they can manage their resource.

Q Does the leadership team also do mentoring?

We do different things at different times. We have informal coaching that happens all the time and it’s part and parcel of every manager’s job. We have a mentoring programme which we call a sponsorship programme in two specific areas which we want to develop. One is from a gender diversity standpoint. While the other talks about how to get emerging market talent more exposure.

Q I understand Roche had a gender diversity target to have 20% of leaders in top positions be women by 2014, but hit that target in 2013. How did you go about doing that?

I think that locally, we do a lot better. If you look at the leadership team in this region, we have 25 members on the team and nine are female. That translates to about 36% of the leadership team here who are women. I think we do a number of things to achieve that, some of which include our leadership training and our talent conversation.

There is a commitment from the whole leadership team talking about employees and I think that it translates into our 80% internal fill rates.

Q When you select candidates for the learning and development programmes, do you have a quota for women?

We don’t have a quota for women, but the percentage of women in programmes such as the INSEAD programme mirrors that of our demographic – about 60% male, 40% female as a region.

Q I understand Roche also uses developing people as a way to engage them. Do you find this helps with the retention rates and how does it help?

People stay for a lot of different reasons. There is a saying that people join because of the company, they leave because of the manager and that’s why we have all this emphasis on the leadership programmes. Another aspect is the career development aspect and we have been able to keep our people through many ways. For example, if you look at China, it’s a fast-paced environment with things changing rapidly and it’s very common to see a 25% attrition rate there, but in Roche Diagnostics, our attrition rate in China is at about 6%.

Part of it is getting people to see our vision – improving patient outcomes by giving physicians and patients the power of knowing through accurate and fast-test results. We also want to do the right thing for employees so we have things such as career progression. I think we are able to retain our people very well through things like our culture and the programmes that we have.

Q Other than that, what results have you seen from these programmes?

The internal fill rate of 80% is one. Another one is succession planning. For example, in the past year, we had a total of eight leadership positions open and only two were filled externally, the other six were all internal and it was part and parcel of what we talked about in the succession plan. Roche has a very supportive leadership team when it comes to implementing HR policies and programmes, HR leaders in other companies might not be so lucky.

Q What advice do you have for HR leaders who are struggling to gain buy-in from their leadership team?

At the beginning, it was more of a paper exercise. We started with talking about what we wanted to do. Then we thought of how to communicate it to the organisation and present it as a business case – not just as a HR initiative. It’s about conveying this in a business language to ensure the managers sit up and listen. HR analytics is very important at showing the statistics.

What we did was to show the engagement level of the people in the succession plan and how they compared to the rest of the organisation. We wanted to give them a kind of burning platform and say that if you look at the engagement level of those people in the succession plan, it’s not as high as compared to the rest of the organisation (63%) and tell them it is a concern that we’re not engaging this group of people. We also tell them that these programmes are not academic exercises and we talk about how our succession pipeline was able to help fill the recent eight leadership roles that were empty.

The next conversation we have is about how we can accelerate their readiness level. We’re on a journey together with the business and it’s important that we present a business case to them and speak in the language of the business.

Art Direction: Shahrom Kamarulzaman; Photography: Elliot Lee, Nikon Ambassador (Singapore); Makeup & Hair: Michmakeover using Make Up For Ever & hair using Sebastian Professional.



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