At Novartis, “unboss” means flipping the conventional pyramid where leaders are on the top, to now developing “servant leaders”. In this sense, you no longer have a team in support of a boss, but you have a boss in support of a team, says Jason Tan, Regional P&O Business Partner Head, APMA (Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa), Novartis.

With bronze wins for Excellence in Work-Life Harmony and Excellence in Total Rewards Strategy at HR Excellence Awards 2020, Singapore, Jason Tan, Regional P&O Business Partner Head, APMA (Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa), Novartis sheds light on how the business is pioneering the future through a servant leadership mindset, integrated rewards programme and more.

Q What is your organisation’s winning HR strategy, and what are some milestones you’ve accomplished along this journey?

At Novartis, our associates are of utmost priority. We recognize that our business depends on their creativity, dedication and performance. We believe that keeping pace with our company’s rapid growth means investing in people as leaders of change. We uphold a strong company culture that is inspired, curious and unbossed. This strong company culture is present in all our policies, including compensation and benefits, work-life balance, talent development and crisis management.

Q How has this strategy helped you achieve your HR priorities, and what role has the leadership played in helping make this initiative a reality?

At Novartis, “unboss” to us means flipping the conventional pyramid where leaders are on the top, to now developing “servant leaders”. In this sense, you no longer have a team in support of a boss, but you have a boss in support of a team.

Today, the value creation process is collaborative, and no individual person has all the answers anymore.

Our leaders play a vital role in driving transformative innovation by empowering their teams to ask questions, speak their mind and take smart risks.

In doing so, leaders empower and inspire their team to leverage on their collective knowledge and curiosity to create innovative solutions. When people are empowered to deliver, they take charge and feel responsible for the results.

Q Unexpected roadblocks are part and parcel of executing any initiative. What were some of the barriers that you and your team experienced while rolling this out, and how did you successfully get past them?

Our unbossed culture has also been a pillar of strength and catalyst for innovation as we face unprecedented challenges, especially given the unpredictability of COVID-19 this year.

When masks were hard to secure and wearing masks outdoors was not mandated by the government yet, the country leadership team made the decision to distribute a box of masks to all our associates to ensure their health and safety. However, this was during the Circuit Breaker period where our offices were closed, and office-based associates were working from home.

Upon facing this challenge, our unbossed culture came to play where we rallied an internal taskforce and empowered the team to find creative solutions. In less than a week, the team quickly sourced and managed all aspects of the project – from communications to logistics, delivering masks to over 300 individual home addresses.

Q As evidenced by the win, this initiative clearly delivered some amazing results. What was your game plan for measuring ROI? What are some proud achievements you can share with us on this front?

With our talent development initiatives, learning for our associates has become self-initiated. It is no longer top-down as associates have begun to explore the various platforms to do their own learning made accessible by Novartis. This encourages them to explore and generate innovative ideas. This resonates strongly with our inspired, curious and unbossed Novartis culture.

For example, our new employee recognition and reward programme, SPARK, empowers our associates to recognise and reward behaviours that spark success. It has effectively fused compensation and benefits, employee recognition and flexibility together in an innovative and exciting way.

We can celebrate moments that matter - something at the heart of all that we do.

Under Spark, 100 points are allocated to every associate on a yearly basis and associates can choose to use these points to recognise any colleague of their choice. SPARK has allowed us to be unbossed in the way employee recognition is done at Novartis, moving away from a traditionally top-down approach.

In Singapore, there were more recognitions given than received, indicating our associates are receiving recognitions from associates in different countries. This is evidence of the success of the cross-divisional and cross-country nature of recognitions given under SPARK. 

Q One of HR’s biggest responsibilities this year has been crisis communication and engagement, as a bridge between the management and staff. What are some lessons you’ve learnt in an eventful year of improving communication?

The COVID-19 pandemic is extremely unpredictable. New government guidelines were frequently announced and rolled out in response to rising number of cases and community infections in Singapore. We understood that our associates would have concerns and questions over how this would impact their work. At Novartis, we sought to make fast and decisive steps as part of our crisis management.

Despite the various uncertainties due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, we have sought to continually assure our associates that they have our utmost support. During the pandemic, our associates have expressed a strong desire for greater flexibility in the way they work. Coupled with the changing external landscape, we feel there is no going back to the pre-pandemic “normal”.

We have thus introduced the Choice with Responsibility model. This future working model optimises both personal and business performance and puts flexibility at the heart of our working patterns. It is associate-led, manager-enabled and team-aligned.

We believe that Choice with Responsibility will help our associates strengthen work life integration, while supporting and furthering our culture journey and our business. We are proud to take the next step in pioneering the workplace of the future, and in creating an environment that works for us all.

All the decisions that we have made, and policies implemented over the course of managing the COVID-19 pandemic have focused on supporting our associates to stay safe, remain engaged and motivated. We have implemented measures to uphold the absolute safety of our associates. Our policies have accounted for the changes in both work and home lives for our associates as telecommuting became the new norm for us.

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