In 2016, Roche, then a 120-year-old global leader in healthcare, pharmaceuticals and diagnostics, was in growing need of reinventing itself to become faster and more adaptable. It was facing disruption both from nimbler rivals and new competitors. The organization was sometimes likened to a “tanker” – a collective of 100,000 employees around the world that had become slow-moving and weighed down by bureaucracy and too many processes.
Cris Wilbur, the incoming head of People & Culture, was tasked with articulating and orchestrating what she termed a cultural evolution towards agility, empowerment and self-directed leadership. One of the transformation’s primary goals was to channel more funding into the company’s R&D pipeline. This required that Roche should not only reengineer its ways of working but also uphold its long-standing commitment to science and innovation, its newly articulated core values and its purpose of “Doing now what patients need next.” The case examines the difficult choices that executives at Roche had to make in order to anchor and sustain the change for its workforce around the world, including tradeoffs between: Autonomy and alignment, top-down and bottom-up initiatives, quantifiable business outcomes versus employee engagement and professional growth. And, more specifically, the demands placed on Roche – a manufacturer of PCR tests – by the Covid pandemic while it was simultaneously battling a sense of transformation fatigue among employees. The case raises questions about segmenting and signposting the change process, and about the next phase in the process, likely more stable and, by comparison with the starting point in 2016, less defined by immediate and existential external threats.