Resilience for Change Management

Philip Gibbs reveals how GSK are helping employees deal with unrelenting ambiguity and uncertainty.



The 21st century is the age of the instant sound bite and 24/7 availability, which has resulted in stress levels being higher than ever before. This is such a fact of life that there is now an acronym – VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) - which has become a catchall to describe the conditions many individuals face. This raises the question of how the workforce can cope, especially in an industry facing as much change as pharma. Dr Philip Gibbs, Director of Global Product Development, QA and Insights, at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), provides insight into how the company strengthens the resilience of both leaders and employees in the face of unremitting change.

efp: What formal process does GSK follow to introduce change management?

Philip Gibbs: How we lead and manage change is a key focus at GSK. Our ‘Accelerated Delivery and Performance’ approach sets out practical tools and processes which can be quickly understood and applied by our employees, and one of these elements is our ‘Change Framework’ (Figure 1). This was developed as a synthesis of best practice from all corners of our organization and provides a common and consistent model to guide any type of change in GSK. There are defined steps to ensure that change is effective and sustainable by moving through: diagnosing, designing, implementing, to embedding and growing. A number of interactive tools and resources are available to help employees navigate through these different stages.

Figure 1: GSK Change Framework

 GSK Change Framework 

efp: How does an understanding of human reaction to change influence this process?

Philip: At the heart of our ‘Change Framework’ is the belief that change has to start with the individual. Delivering effective and sustained change throughout the organization requires us to explore and adjust our own individual behaviors before we can build on them in a team and organizational context. Published research conducted at GSK by Brandon et al. in 2012, showed that leaders who participated in our Energy for Performance® program (a two-day face-to-face training course on energy and resilience), and who dedicated time to invest in themselves, were more effective at helping others develop, and at energizing their teams.

efp: How would you describe the concept of resilience?

Philip: Our mission is to help people do more, feel better, and live longer. Our evidence-based principles and programs are designed to enable our employees to build their mental and physical resilience, and lead happier and healthier lives both at work and at home. With this in mind, the concept of resilience is to help our employees be at their best and maximize their potential to be successful, both personally and professionally.

efp: For change management, do you focus on finding resilient leaders, or is it more important to build resilience throughout the company?

efp: It is a combination of both. Like many companies, we aim to recruit talented leaders whose values are aligned with GSK’s and who will be able to thrive in a fast-paced work environment. To achieve this, having some level of resilience is a must. However, GSK could not be successful without the contributions of all employees; therefore, it is important to build resilience throughout the company. Further, in accordance with our value of Respect for People, we also recognize that being resilient can help us manage the challenges and demands placed on us at home as well as at work. Resilience is important for all our people, regardless of their role.  

efp: Given the global reach of GSK, does the process of building resilience differ from country to country, and how difficult is it to maintain this positive quality in such a huge organization?

Philip: This is one of the reasons that we have a centralized process for delivering training programs. We maintain the quality of our programs through a governance model that helps ensure all content and materials are up-to-date and translated where appropriate. We also train employees from different parts of the business to facilitate our programs and regularly evaluate feedback on how they are performing. We recognize the cultural nuances amongst our different countries and the various parts of the business. This is where good facilitators are able to adapt the content to the audience, making it relevant and engaging. 

efp: Do you believe that people can be trained to be more resilient? If so, what process would you follow?

Philip: Yes, we believe it’s an acquired ability that begins with self-awareness and follows the ‘Change Framework.’ An employee must first diagnose his/her current status, before designing and implementing a solution, and practicing self-monitoring. We regularly refer to the Williams (1994) ‘Pressure Performance Curve’ in our training (Figure 2), which demonstrates that productivity is highest when people are in the ‘stretch zone.’

There is also a point of diminishing returns, similar to when an athlete can over-train and sustain an injury. Thus, we encourage our employees to recognize when they are in strain; they need to be deliberate about identifying their situation and to take proactive steps to get out of strain, often through regular recovery breaks. Moving between the stretch and comfort zones can lead to sustained healthy performance and we provide our employees with ideas, tools and resources to help them do this. These combined interventions can enable resilient individuals, teams, and leaders to recognize when they are tipping over into the strain zone - and they have a plan to get back into the stretch or comfort area.

Figure 2: Adaptation of Williams (1994) Pressure Performance Curve

efp: How do you assess resilience?

Philip: We administer a number of validated tools and assessments as part of our Energy and Resilience (E&R) training programs, which participants take before and after their courses. This data enables us to provide individuals with a comprehensive report about their own personal energy and resilience levels, as well as to generate anonymous group-level reports on the energy and resilience levels of different parts of the business.

efp: How do you get employees to re-frame negative thinking and stay open to continuous learning?

Philip: We have developed a ‘Thriving through Change Resource Kit.’ This is a self-service resource kit to help individuals and teams improve their E&R. It can be used as a stand-alone tool or as a companion kit after participating in one of our E&R programs. The aim is to empower individuals and teams through activities that generate discussion and action. This way, they can build sustainable ways of working together that enhance energy, engagement, and resilience.

Within this resource kit, there are numerous exercises to help re-frame negative thinking, such as using Dr. Martin Seligman’s Flexible Optimism: Practicing Gratitude and Relaxation techniques, and using the ‘Circle of Influence’ to re-frame where energy should best be invested. We also have an online course called Time for a Moment®,” which helps employees build skills and practice minutes of meditation during the day to disconnect, reboot and recharge. All of these are continuous learning resources which empower employees to achieve a positive mindset.

efp: Good health, including good food, enough sleep, and moderate exercise have been identified as important in making people more resilient. Does GSK have a wellness program and, if so, how has this impacted employee resilience?

Philip: At GSK, we aim to create safe, healthy and sustainable workplaces where our employees are inspired to promote their wellbeing, make healthy choices, and boost their energy both at work and at home. As part of this commitment, we are working to ensure that every employee has access to core health offerings in five major categories that help prevent ill health. These are: physical activity, healthy eating, energy and resilience, living smoke-free, and access to preventative health screenings. In addition, our global Partnership for Prevention (P4P) program aims to provide all employees and their families with unprecedented access to 40 preventative health services, at little or no cost, by 2018.

efp: With many companies putting more pressure on employees to produce ever-higher results, how does GSK balance this with employee well-being and resilience?

Philip: Our business is health and that starts with our own people. We actively encourage all our employees to take regular breaks throughout the day. In 2014, we collaborated with an external meditation expert to introduce a program for everyone across GSK called ‘Time for a Moment®’- a 16-week online course that teaches employees simple meditation exercises that take just one minute a day. This is all part of our work to help our employees globally take regular recovery breaks where they can pause, reflect, and recharge to sustain their performance, manage stress and promote their general well-being.


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