Bristol Myers Squibb

Challenge on the Leadership Development Project that Leads Corporate Transformation

Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), a global pharmaceutical company, is implementing two programs as part of its leadership development project aimed at transforming its Japanese subsidiary into a more unified and robust organization. One is called “Success-Oriented, Action and Reflection” (SOAR) for candidates for the next management level, and the other is “Raise Impact & Stimulate Excellence” (RISE) for selected members from the next generation of leadership candidates.

To learn more about this project, we interviewed:

  • Ms. Yoshiko Naito (Head of Japan Human Resources)*
  • Mr. Yoshio Anazawa (Head of Japan Medical)*
  • Mr. Toshiki Kanamori (Head of Strategic Program Management)*

*Positions are as of the time of the interview.

1. Background and Challenges

■Primary Issues

BMS, headquartered in the U.S., is one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies. Japan is the second largest market for BMS after the U.S., making its Japanese subsidiary an essential part of the company’s global operations. To further increase the engagement of the Japanese organization and promote corporate transformation, BMS Japan decided to work on leadership development at two levels.

Ms. Naito: Japan is the second largest specialty pharmaceuticals/biologics market in the world after the U.S. and is expected to grow further as an important market for BMS. Our company globally integrated with Celgene in 2019, and in Japan, preparations for the integration began in the spring of 2020. At that time, our management team discussed what we as a Japanese corporation wanted, and we agreed that we wanted to be an attractive company that attracts talented people.

To that end, we wanted to actively create leadership and skill development opportunities. Compared to other companies in our industry, we had a compact organization and had been supporting patients. To take advantage of this feature, it was also necessary for our employees to work together more actively. We thought that business decisions would be accelerated if each person collaborated on their tasks and from a company-wide perspective.

Based on this vision, we decided to conduct the SOAR and RISE programs. Both programs are based on our company-wide talent planning process.

Our criteria for selecting the external partner were a school that participants would be motivated to learn from, the content of the program, and flexibility. We wanted to create the program with them, adjusting it to our desired direction. We also wanted to conduct action learning, so we wanted a partner to support us in this aspect too. We chose GLOBIS from these perspectives.


■Program Goals

SOAR (Success-Oriented, Action, and Reflection) is a six-month program designed to help candidates in line for the next management level become leaders of innovation and organizational transformation with a management perspective. The program is also designed to deepen the understanding of the mindset of management leaders, the process of design thinking and organizational change, and the ethics and values a leader should have. In addition, participants propose management issues and solutions through action learning. The majority of the sessions are conducted in English to hone the participants’ skills as leaders of a global company.

RISE (Raise Impact & Stimulate Excellence) is a six-month program where participants are selected from those expected to become the next generation of leaders. They engaged in action learning after learning management fundamentals, such as problem-solving skills, strategic thinking, and leadership, all of which are necessary for next-generation leaders to effectively implement organizational change.

Project Overview

Mr. Kanamori: We aimed to achieve corporate transformation and human resource development through the project. We hoped solutions resulting from action learning derived from the perspectives of active participants in each department would lead to corporate change. In addition, we hoped participants would take the company-wide view they developed through the project back to their respective divisions and create an open organization.

Ms. Naito: SOAR participants were already leaders of large organizations, so we expected them to make an impact on the entire company. On the other hand, RISE participants were members of the organization, so we wanted them to develop themselves while transforming the company in a bottom-up manner.

The criteria for selecting participants were in alignment with company-wide talent planning and diversity initiatives. SOAR participants were determined based on talent planning. We chose those expected to grow further in management roles in the future. Since RISE had more participants, we selected them through discussions with the heads of each department and the human resources department.

Moreover, because one of the themes of this project was to have a cross-divisional perspective, we tried to select participants from various divisions to avoid bias. We also chose participants with the gender ratio in mind to ensure gender diversity in the future management team.

■Focus Points

Mr. Kanamori: We emphasized the selection of action learning themes and involvement in group work. These themes were selected based on the results of our internal engagement survey. They’re necessary for management to build the company’s culture. Accordingly, a “Sense of Belonging” was selected for the first batch of SOAR participants, and “Collaboration” was chosen for the second batch. The theme for the first batch of RISE participants was “Engagement”, and the second was “Speak my Mind”. Participants were asked to identify issues and propose solutions based on these themes.

Ms. Naito: In both programs we intentionally did not give detailed instructions regarding the selection of specific issues from the themes. Senior-level participants in particular had to define their issues and take action based on major themes. The fewer instructions they receive, the more difficult it becomes for them. We regarded this training as essential for them.

Mr. Kanamori: Conversely, for RISE, we frequently gave guidance regarding progress. Leading a multi-person project over six months was a new experience for some participants. We carefully broke down the process to give proposals to management and issued detailed guidance such as “clarifying the issues by this time” and “identifying tasks for implementation by this date”. As the program continued, the participants began proactively communicating with us about how they would like us to support them. It was good that we could proceed with the program while thinking about it together rather than just telling them how to do it one way or the other.

2. Review & Implementation

Ms. Naito: Many innovative ideas came from the proposals made in the action learning and have been applied in actual management since then.

One of the expectations for action learning in both programs was that the participants would develop ideas from a new perspective that management might not have thought of. I was pleased to see many interesting ideas come up, as we had told them that we wanted them to come up with proposals that would produce results through action, not just pretty, picture-perfect strategies. During the SOAR program, GLOBIS closely monitored each participant and gave them feedback, which also impacted the results.

It was also good that the president and other members of the management team were present at the final presentations of action learning. In fact, during business meetings since then, we have had management discussions triggered by suggestions made during the project, with comments such as, “How about incorporating ideas that came out of SOAR and RISE?”

Mr. Anazawa: There is also a specific action learning proposal that is being implemented. It is an activity called “BMS Radio,” which was proposed in the first phase of SOAR under the theme of “Sense of Belonging.” People managers casually transmit their thoughts to the company using an online conferencing tool. In the first session, as many as 200 employees participated. When asked if they thought the BMS Radio activity would contribute to the “Sense of Belonging”, 76% of the participants gave positive answers. We plan to continue transmitting the information over the next year. This has been our goal since the beginning of the project, and it is also stimulated by our corporate culture, which encourages leadership at all levels.

Mr. Kanamori: Looking at the action learning in both programs, it was interesting to see the output from the different perspectives of SOAR and RISE participants. The issues identified by SOAR participants, who are at the next management level, and those identified by RISE participants, who are a bit closer to the frontline, had slightly different perspectives. I felt that the value of this project lay in having members of multiple levels of management think about issues related to the company’s culture rather than presenting issues top-down from management.

3. Results and Future Prospects

■Changes in Participants after the Program

Ms. Naito: Participants are now acting with more ownership than ever before. Seeing the change in the participants is so energizing for us as organizers. I think they have deepened their understanding of the company’s direction. We have explained strategy and policy to them from time to time, but through proactive discussion based on action learning, they have gained a deeper understanding. Once understanding is aligned, it will be easier for the leadership team to move forward hand in hand.

Mr. Kanamori: I was asked to join SOAR about six months after joining BMS. Since I joined the company during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have only interacted with a limited number of people. During SOAR I was able to build a network of future potential managers from various departments, which will benefit my future work. I also felt that the open atmosphere of BMS is present even across divisions, which made me like BMS very much.

Mr. Anazawa: Being selected to participate in SOAR also increased my motivation. Now is the second phase of both SOAR and RISE, and there are participants from my department. I think this program is highly effective for the organization, as what participants have learned is immediately spreading throughout the organization.

■Future Initiatives

Mr. Kanamori: This project is also attracting attention globally at BMS. It seems to be regarded as a successful training program in that members at multiple layers of the organization make bottom-up proposals and implement initiatives in response to management issues. Recently, a leader from the U.S. headquarters asked for more details, and Naito and I explained the project to him.

For the third and subsequent phases of SOAR and RISE, we would like to have a good mix of in-person and online sessions. The first phase was conducted online due to COVID-19, a challenge in some respects. At BMS, we emphasize face-to-face communication and hope to do the next training in person to take advantage of the value of face-to-face sessions.

The value of this project will depend on how well we can implement the proposals from the programs and change the organization. In the implementation phase after the project, I serve as an in-house consultant. I regard how to provide support as an issue for the future. I hope to do this extensively with the help of GLOBIS.

Mr. Anazawa: I agree. It would be great if GLOBIS, which works with many companies, could give us advice on how the individuals who participated in SOAR and RISE can and should be developed in the future.

Ms. Naito: The program content needs to evolve from a global human resource development perspective. As our Japanese subsidiary is seen as an essential part of our organization by our global headquarters, there are many meetings with people from overseas. Although I think it is characteristic of Japanese people to be humble and not speak up until they can give the “correct” answer, that is not acceptable in the global world. To become people who can discuss and conduct business with people from different cultures, we need to improve one more level from the current program. We want to continue to evolve the project while trying various things.

GLOBIS Consultants’ Voices

Hideo Nakashima

Participants in these projects were required not only to hone their business skills and mindset as future management leaders but also to identify their specific issues and come up with solutions through repeated hypothesis testing on the themes of “Sense of Belonging,” “Collaboration,” “Engagement,” and “Speak my Mind”.

The solutions must lead to a concrete step, a change in BMS, and must be discussed with the management team before implementation. In other words, it is a process of organizational change at BMS, collaborating with top management, the HR/planning department, and business unit heads, and selecting participants from various departments. This makes the SOAR/RISE projects unique because they are not limited to leadership development.

The BMS approach, which pursues both human resource development and organizational impact with commitment from management, may be relevant for many companies needing organizational transformation. GLOBIS feels a sense of responsibility and pride in being involved in this project as a partner, and at the same time, we are learning a great deal from it.

Genya Takei

As the consultant in charge of the SOAR program, I was involved in the project from the initial planning stages. What impressed me most about this program was that everyone involved, including the President of BMS Japan, had a strong desire and thoughts about the program and wanted to improve it. This attitude stimulated me, and I had thorough discussions with the GLOBIS team and internal and external lecturers on how to set goals and design the program to lead the participants to change. With the help of the BMS project team, we are delighted that, in the end, we were able to see changes in each participant and produce the output that the management team expected. We have heard that the project is attracting global attention. We want to continue doing our best to meet their expectations.

Kotaro Inada

BMS aims to “continue to be an attractive company that attracts talented people”. To this end, the company will continue developing leaders who promote organizational collaboration and implement change with their aspirations and a company-wide perspective. GLOBIS will continue working as a partner to find the best solutions to their problems to realize this vision.

I thought BMS’s organization-wide support for the project was a most impressive accompaniment to it. At the end of this six-month project, participants recommended organizational change to the management team. Both management and the organization supported participants from formulating to implementing their recommendations. I believe BMS’s “desire” and “support” for this leadership development project contributed to its success. I hope to continue thinking through with BMS people, leaning on them as partners, accompanying them, and working with them on new challenges.

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