Creating a continuously evolving organization requires setting clear roles, overcoming the status quo and unleashing the power of co-creation. The partnership between the CEO, CHRO and Chief Transformation Officer is vital in achieving the change.
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In late January 2013, Amgen CEO Bob Bradway and I were sitting in a conference room talking about an organizationwide transformation that we had been quietly preparing to launch in the first quarter. At this stage, barely a handful of the senior leadership team knew about the plan. We were focusing on how best to engage our C-suite colleagues to help lead our ambitious effort.
We were discussing who to enlist to lead the transformation, considering several executives who were one level away from reporting to the CEO. The person would need to leave their current job and focus 100 percent on the transformation. This was unlike anything we had ever done before at Amgen, and it would be an important signal to the organization that this wasn’t business as usual.
Then Bradway tipped his hand. “If none of these names turns out to be the right person, I may need to ask you to take this one on,” he said. I froze for a second, and said that if it came to that, I’d do whatever was needed. I also pointed out that this would be a great assignment to test someone who might be in the running to take over as CEO someday. I had been the CHRO of Amgen for 13 years, and I was in my late fifties. I was more grizzled veteran than high-potential CEO candidate.
Even so, Bradway’s signaling to me was clear, and I started to absorb the reality that I was going to leave my HR career and lead the transformation. Soon after, we announced my appointment as the Chief Transformation Officer. A week later, I traded my office for an open workspace, where I started with a team of eight people who we had handpicked to get work up and running. Our project was called Full Potential because that was the animating idea of the transformation. Amgen was doing well overall, but there was a sense that the company needed a refresh, in much the same way that a 40-year-old house needs new windows, roof, heating system and other infrastructure upgrades. Amgen was not operating at its full potential, and we needed to reorganize and streamline to set the company up for our next phase of growth.
Like many career shifts, I had not predicted this one, but it turned out to be one of the great learning experiences of my career. I was somewhat prepared for the role. I knew the talent in the organization. After 13 years in the CHRO job, I knew how Amgen operated and had a sense of what didn’t work as well as it could. But what I didn’t know was a much longer list.
I learned key lessons about this role during our six-year effort, which by just about any measure achieved significant success. During this period Amgen achieved an operating margin increase from 38 percent to 53 percent, 89 percent of net income returned to shareholders and the share price increased from $98 to $207. In 2020 Amgen became the first biotech company to be added to the Dow Jones Industrial Average. While every company is different, my hope is that these insights will help other HR leaders in their company’s transformations, whether they are tapped to lead those efforts, as I was, or to help drive them.
1. Start with clear roles and accountabilities.
2. Overcome the powerful force of the status quo.
3. Unleash the power of co-creation.
Transform or Else
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