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Achieving A Culture-Led Quality Focus

Talk With Kotter
Writing that reads "Global Vaccine Prodcuer"

In the highly regulated, heavily operationalized pharmaceutical industry, the role of quality has been traditionally viewed as the enforcer of the rules. And for good reason – a quality focus helps to ensure that essential medicines are produced to the same exacting standard, day after day. Yet, how do you create a culture that prizes engagement when manufacturing practices are fixed? How can employees see themselves as contributors and collaborators, rather than cogs in a machine? The Quality team at one global vaccine manufacturer saw an opportunity for a culture-led transformation to amplify their quality focus and called Kotter to help.

The manufacturer was not producing enough vaccines to fulfill demand. The production of vaccines is precise work – highly technical, environmentally sensitive, and time-bound. This need for a strong quality focus, coupled with the urgent push to get vaccines out the door on time, created tension between the Quality and Production teams. To better align these competing forces, deeply ingrained behaviors needed to change. Across multiple languages and three continents, Kotter first helped the organization answer the question – why change? Why should people want to do things differently? Their answer became clear: changing how we work today could save more lives tomorrow.

Achieving a culture-led quality focus involved:

  • Creating an unprecedented level of corporate activism, mobilized around a shared purpose
  • The strategic use of networks to fuel the movement and enable a massive increase in collaboration
  • Empowering decision-making deeper in the organization to increase ownership of the change

The clarity around their opportunity, both in the marketplace and in serving the world’s needs, was a catalyst for dramatic culture shifts. The Head of Quality Innovation & Engagement noted one critical change in mindset: “Variation should be reduced for equipment, systems, and processes to ensure consistent output batch after batch. Variation of individuals should be leveraged to continuously co-create and improve quality.” An environment that was built on control became one marked by trust, community, and talent development – and the results have been undeniable. A regulatory agency reported: “You are restoring my faith in the industry.” Awards have been won and silos have fallen as people began to collaborate across teams and departments. One manufacturing site experienced perhaps the most dramatic turnaround imaginable. Upon inspection, an FDA official remarked, “It’s a 180-degree shift. Is it the same firm? Compared to the last inspection, it’s night and day.”

"With the purpose-based movement we have triggered, people from everywhere in the organization are co-creating the change, and they’re proud to do so. There’s a totally unprecedented amount of engagement and energy. This is a fantastic human asset for our culture and our performance."



Volunteers participated in the change effort


Participation from one manufacturing site


Wins reported in six months


Saved from a single idea from one operator that was executed on by volunteers