Client Story: C-Suite Perspectives with Erwan Vilfeu

How passionate leaders can work to positively impact organizations through thoughtful transformation.

Organizational Transformation: The Role of the CEO

In this CEO Perspective session, we spoke with Erwan Vilfeu, President of Korea for Zuellig Pharma, who shared his insights on leading a business through transformation and the role of the CEO. Zuellig Pharma is one of the largest healthcare services groups in Asia, with the purpose to make healthcare more accessible. The company has grown to become a US$13 billion business covering 13 markets with over 12,000 employees.

Below are Erwan’s Top 10 Transformation Tips, in his words:

1. Always start with customers and never lose touch with them.

Every successful business defeat their competition by solving its customers problems better. Make sure employees at all levels in the organization – not just the consumer research team – stay connected and truly understand customers’ needs, trends and the problems they face or will face in the near future. Spend time on the field. Be curious. Ask the right questions. The real world is outside.

I lead by example spending 20% of my time at least in the field. It fuels the energy and creativity required to build strong plans. Never underestimate the impact on a senior manager of ideas told directly by a consumer versus hearing them from a market research agency.

Start planning for Business Transformation only after you identified the gaps or opportunities that will increase business performance.

2. Think big and bold. And make it happen.

Develop disruptive solutions, scope and plans that will bring significant performance improvement in the long term. Go for the best, not for the average, and maintain that level of exigence along the plan to make sure the business value is captured entirely. Many companies dream big and end up implementing small steps.

Erwan Vilfeu

President, ZuelligPharma Korea

“Transformation for the sake of transformation is a recipe for disaster. You must first engage with your customers and employees to determine the problems they need to have solved – and then engage teams to find the most disruptive ways to solve these problems and add value.”

3. Prepare a solid change management plan.

Transformation is a complicated process that should never be underestimated. It may affect profoundly multiple essential components of your business: products and services, route to market, organization structure, ecosystem of partners, capabilities, resources focus.

A well-designed change management plan is required to make sure all stakeholders execute their role perfectly and harmoniously, managing internal and external communication, legal, people, technical, IT, supply, and other key aspects, before, during and after the transition.

The plan will typically move in phases that involve different stakeholders and distinctive levels of confidentiality.

4. Prepare for the worst.

Any bold transformation plan comes with risks. They can be related to company’s image and reputation, legal, safety, people and financials. Make sure you always stay ‘ahead’ of the transformation plan with solid mitigation actions. Assign risks to your team’s champions and get teams to rehearse potential scenarios ahead with ‘war games.’

5. Use digital as a means, not an end.

Digital and Data solutions provide fantastic opportunities to bring disruptive innovations to improve business performance, predictability, customer connection, organization efficiency and customer satisfaction with new services or route to markets.

But the digital transformation will not deliver its full potential, and even fail, if it is engineered before you fully understand what problem you are trying to solve or opportunity you want to capture.

Data is from Statista, and McKinsey thought leadership pieces, Article 1, Article 2

6. Lead from the top.

Bold transformation projects require a sustained effort that needs to be driven from the top, and supported by senior managers. Critical positions need to be clearly identified and enabled, and report to the CEO (or not too far down the hierarchy). This reporting structure sends a strong message to the organization of the importance of the project and begins to clear a path for change. Keep in mind that your project may require new capabilities or specific talents to be developed or brought into the organization – either temporarily or permanently.

7. Secure full support and engagement of the people within the organization.

People are the catalysts of a successful transformation project. They need to understand and even feel energized and excited by the transformation:

  • Before: Give people a sense of purpose; don’t assume they will only be motivated by the financials.
  • During: Keep your teams apprised on how the transformation project is progressing and what they can do to champion efforts.
  • After: Communicate clearly around how the organization is performing better after this important effort.

One key aspect to stakeholder management is to make sure you identify individuals that may be pessimistic or toxic to the plan. They often sit at senior positions in the organization, may feel uncomfortable or worried about the change and how it will affect their status, power or role. These ‘detractors’ will require specific communication and/or attention to make sure they do not sabotage the plan. The risk can be even greater operating business transformations in multicultural environments.

8. Get the support from the board.

Major transformation projects will need full understanding and support from the board. While a lot of focus will be set on financials and long term strategy, it’s important to review potential risks and mitigation actions ahead of time.

9. Set the pace and manage the energy.

Change can be an exhausting and stressful durable marathon. Not a sprint. Plan carefully with proper time, resource and capability allocation for critical tasks. Use team and individual communication. Propose individual coaches.

Manage the stress and energy within the project team, before, during and after major transformation is operated. Anxiety may be persistent. How do I fit in the new role? You still need to continue to communicate, train and reallocate priorities.

10. Make it a continuous process focusing on the future.

Don’t be complacent. Always look ahead as the world is not static. Unfortunately, most leaders tend to wait too much to act which results in large transformation projects happening in crisis mode, focusing on short term effects. It’s exhausting and stressful for the organization that have to absorb major corrections and react to potential organization downsizing.

Continuous and agile transformation guarantees higher successful future.

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