Developing our people – employee voices

Developing our people is a priority for us at all levels of the company, irrespective of where they are based. One of our programmes is ‘Leading Business’, a leadership development programme for high potential senior leaders.

Leading business is a tailored 18 month programme led by external experts and senior leaders from within our company. The aim of Leading Business is to build participants’ leadership capability and equip them with the knowledge and skills required to effectively lead businesses or functions, as the name suggests.  How is this done? Through a combination of webinars, individual stretch assignments and two residential market immersion weeks (Mumbai and London), designed to broaden understanding of opportunities and challenges in diverse markets.

On this page, we’ll be following two of our employees who are part of this cohort of Leading Business participants and will be sharing their leadership journey.

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Saskia Fontein, Vice-President Vaccines Commercialisation Leader in Belgium
Saskia Fontein

Saskia is currently Vice-President, Vaccines Commercialisation Lead, based in Belgium. In this role, she is responsible for leading a cross-functional team to execute the plan for our pneumococcal vaccines and setting the long term strategy for the franchise.  She has embarked on the Leading Business programme with the aim of preparing herself for a senior leadership role in a local operating company.

Vlog 3:Feedback really is a gift when delivered correctly

In her third video blog, Saskia discusses the importance of feedback in the workplace, and her views on how to manage the giving, and receiving, of feedback.

Vlog 2: Leaders and company culture

In her second video blog, Saskia discusses the importance of a company’s culture to its success, and her views on the role of a leader in shaping this culture.

Vlog 1: Mumbai Memoirs

In her first video blog (vlog), Saskia reflects on her humbling experience during her residential week in Mumbai and explains what she learned about herself and hopes to gain out of Leading Business.

Rachel Phang, Head of Classic and Established Products business, based in Singapore.
Rachel Phang

Rachel is currently Head of Project Management for our Classic and Established Products business, based in Singapore. In this role, she is responsible for commercial and strategy projects that help us refine our business and operating model in changing business environments, particularly in emerging markets.

Blog 3: Making personal growth impersonal

Over the last 2-3 months, I've attempted to distil some key takeaways from the Leading Business Programme I am currently participating in. Through the various immersive experiences in different locations, it has become increasingly clear that a significant part of the journey towards leadership development involves the unknown.

By this, I mean possessing an open mindset, a willingness to unlearn, and giving recognition to the people and teams whose collective inputs make successful leadership.

In a nutshell, leadership and the path to it is not a solo expedition and personal growth, well, should be impersonal.

Let me explain.

At a recent Leading Business residential in London, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to engage in insightful and thought-provoking dialogue with external analysts and senior leaders on how GSK is perceived externally. What I walked away with is the realisation that the disconnect between how we see ourselves and how others see us is a blind spot, and at best, a missed opportunity.

To grow as a person or as a company, we need to turn our gaze outwards and walk in our customers' and team members' shoes. How easy is it for our customers and partners to access our products and services and collaborate with us? How would I feel if I had me as a leader? What is the experience of dealing with us/me like?

Today, with the pervasiveness of the sharing economy, a generation of digital natives and the shift from mobile first to mobile only, consumer expectations have changed. "This is how we've always done it" is no longer enough and what we should be asking is "How are others doing it?" and more importantly, "What can we learn from them?"  We need to make business decisions through the lens of our consumers because today, a product is no longer enough; it's the experience of the solution that counts.

Leadership isn't just about our personal goals but also helping others reach theirs - be it teams or customers - and it starts with being comfortable and secure enough to bring the outside in so that we can deliver the best service or solution to those that need them, based on their experience and expectations and not ours.

My New Year's resolution is to make a conscious effort to think outside-in. What is yours?

Blog 2: Predicting the next Pokémon Go is only half the challenge

Back in 1943, Thomas Watson, then-President of IBM famously said: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Today, the smartphone has replaced our computer, telephone, camera and diary. In the three months since my last post, the UK voted for a Brexit and “Pokémon Go” is bigger than Twitter, with people spending more time playing it than they do browsing Facebook.

Who would have known?

The unpredictability of change is staggering and leadership today requires, even demands, a greater ability to adapt and to make quick yet informed decisions under pressure, so as to make the best of the opportunities or challenges appropriately at that point in time. But beyond these skills, today’s operating environment means that leadership is not, and should not be, a solo journey.

I just have to look back at the past few months where we have been busy recalibrating strategies and business plans in light of the many changes, both within our company and the industry more widely. This has been a real team effort and every perspective and experience has been as important as the next. We are larger than the sum of our parts, and while it would be great to be able to predict the future, even the best of leaders have made their fair share of suboptimal decisions.  A leadership approach that values collective efforts and contributions is one that will enable us to future-ready ourselves as much as possible.

I saw this in play again during my recent trip back to Mumbai where I am currently involved in a new multi-channel marketing project. The task at hand is to appropriately increase our interactions with physicians and access to products and product information across India, taking into account the country’s vast and varied geographic, economic and social profiles.

This recent experience has certainly brought to mind and solidified the themes from the last Leading Business residential in Mumbai. I now have to put this into practice, testing my ability as a leader, to harness the collective knowledge and experience of the team (local, global, internal or external), willingness to be a beginner and acknowledge what we don’t know, and working with the team to identify a ‘true north’ in the face of complexity and unknowns. In today’s knowledge economy, I’m quickly learning we must be equally comfortable learning as we are with un-learning.

So, I guess the million dollar question today is – will the “Pokémon Go” craze last? I don’t have an answer to that but I’m sure if you put your minds together as a team you’ll be able to come up with a number of sound plans for every possible scenario!

Blog 1: Seeing is more than believing

“Leadership development” is exactly what the phrase describes. It is a continuous journey and evolution that begins, in my view, with self awareness and humility. Becoming a leader is not about being in the spotlight, but having the willingness (and courage!) to be honest about your own achievements, capabilities and perspectives.  A key to challenging mindsets, especially our own, is to be exposed to new situations, environments and people whenever possible.  The Mumbai residential segment of the Leading Business programme did precisely that. 

Coming from Singapore, we often take for granted the ready infrastructure and easy access to healthcare.  Considering Mumbai and its varied development in different parts of the country, it was a clear reminder that while great healthcare facilities and services exists, providing access to all in such a populous country continues to be a challenge.  If I have one takeaway, it is the resilience and innovativeness of the people who are finding unique ways to help their community with basic resources. For instance, during our visit to one of the poorer neighbourhoods in Mumbai, I encountered the use of a cardboard scroll ‘projector’ - where a roll of paper was manually scrolled to present useful healthcare information during a health talk.  Simple, portable and inexpensive, it was entirely suitable and effective for the audience and environment, which in this case were would-be and pregnant mothers.

Back home, most youths might not be familiar with a landline phone or even remember the days before a PC and I wonder how we would adapt if faced with similar resource constraints. Would we be able to make the most of our circumstances as well as the people we met in Mumbai?

From a business perspective, such visits are a practical reminder that conventional commercial models of the developed world are not a one-size-fits-all and that we need to be adaptive to alternative business models in the emerging markets where needs and access are markedly different.

Over the next 18 months, I look forward to the engagement and mutual challenge from interacting with others in the Leading Business programme. The ‘hard’ skills that we use on a daily basis in our roles at work are ironically the ‘easy’ part; it is addressing what we don’t know that will bring about the biggest change in our personal development.  I look forward to sharing my “leadership journey” with you.

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