• Estimated read time: 5 mins
  • Date posted:29/03/2021
  • Share:

By Peter Vedde

Quite often, Quality is the last thing on a life science company’s agenda. For reasons touched on in my colleague’s article on driving Quality up the agenda, it’s undervalued and not prioritised.

But I believe that a strong Quality culture is key to continuously improving and bettering life science organisations.

Since its value is underestimated, it’s challenging to gain buy-in from the shop floor up to the C-suite. Organisations can be pretty set in their ways – when processes and procedures have been followed methodically for years, it’s difficult for staff to adopt a new approach.

Resistance to change is hardly uncommon. But why are people so resistant? Is it because of money? Fear of taking risks? Fear of failing? Surely the potential benefits of continuous improvements outweigh the associated risks? By creating a Quality culture that views continuous improvement as an opportunity to do better and be better, you’re essentially setting the organisation up for success.

In this article, we’re going to look at what pertains to a successful Quality culture and how life science organisations can overcome resistance to internal cultural changes.

A good Quality culture

A strong Quality culture is integral to the organisation’s success. It ultimately involves improving mindsets and behaviours to ensure a culture of high Quality.

If we encourage a strong Quality culture to be regarded as the norm, we align staff working towards the same goals to get better. The challenge lies in gaining buy-in from staff.

A lot of the time, during culture changes, the internal stakeholders don’t see the importance or value of Quality. This may be because they are quite far removed from the shop floor and where the action takes place. However, the stance from the internal stakeholders is then transferred down the organisation, infiltrating the teams below and encouraging them to think of a Quality culture as low importance.

Resistance to change

I recently spoke to a HR Program Lead who stated:

“One of the biggest challenges that we face is the resistance to change. Influencing and developing people’s mindset of the importance of measuring Quality culture is a fundamental step”.

Resistance is context-sensitive, meaning that a person’s attitude and behaviour are shaped by their environment and background. This essentially encompasses our individuality and what makes us ‘us’.

Resistance is also location and culture-dependent. I recently spoke to a Senior Vice President of Global Quality who stated:

“The way resistance is expressed varies a lot from country to country. In some Western countries, it’s very vocal and sometimes even confrontational. Whereas in Asia and the East, expressing one’s disagreements openly is simply seen as extremely rude. Hence why it’s so difficult to understand how much people actually understand and buy into change”.

Cultural differences

There are different ways to implement change depending on the culture of the organisation. I’ve worked many roles in the US, Europe and Asia, and each one has been a different experience.

We see a lot of resistance in a workforce when a new approach or perspective is introduced. For example, this might be when a Quality leader from the West transitions into a life sciences organisation across the globe in Asia.

Here, we have two very different cultural working norms. It’s important to stress that this can work both ways, in terms of a leader from Asia moving to the US or Europe. However, what happens next can go in either direction:

  1. The workforce – although initially hesitant – goes along with the Quality leader’s improvements and new initiatives.
  2. The workforce is reluctant to adhere to the Quality leader and repeatedly resists any changes because they’ve always done things the same way to an accustomed level of success. Instead of maturing operations, they resist by going back to what they were doing before.

I’ve witnessed perfectly qualified leaders, with strong vision and drive, move across the globe for a fantastic opportunity to drive change in a workplace culture, only to leave six months later after facing resistance and challenges from every angle.

So, while I think it’s great that life science organisations are committed to diversifying their workforces and harnessing different perspectives and backgrounds, there’s still a lot of work to do. It’s simply not enough for life science organisations to commit to globalising their operations, but at the same time not following through.

It’s not up to one individual to promote continuous improvements and a strong Quality culture. While these senior individuals have a job to do, the pressure cannot just be on them alone. Organisations are essentially setting these individuals up to fail.

They need to be supported from the top-down and not be fed to the lions, so to speak. If a strong Quality culture is the aim, then we must support the individuals tasked to do the job.

Challenging the status quo

Only with diverse mindsets and experiences can we truly create a strong Quality culture. A strong Quality culture just isn’t effective if there are no new or innovative ideas to challenge the status quo. Above anything else, a Quality culture requires change. It thrives on it.

Every successful business needs challengers distributed throughout the organisation, from the top all the way down to the shop floor. Challengers encourage change, but most importantly they create opportunities for improvements.

Challengers streamline the business – improving digitalisation, introducing innovative technology and forming cross-collaborative relationships – with a strong Quality culture at front of mind.

So how is this achieved?

The Senior Vice President of Global Quality stated:

“There is no one-fits-all approach, and it has to be tailored to the country or the continent in question. However, piloting things, sharing results, learning, actively listening and educating relentlessly proved to be a successful strategy, at least in my case.”

It’s clear that every situation is unique and needs to be handled as such. It is simply a case of trial and error to see what works and what creates the most resistance.

Final thoughts

A strong Quality culture is a competitive advantage, but one which involves overcoming resistance to implementing a culture change first and foremost. Culture changes don’t just happen overnight, but people are intrinsically going to be hesitant to accept change.

It can be achieved by having enough challengers distributed throughout an organisation who empathise, listen and inspire uptake in the adoption of new ways of doing things. The best things these challengers can do is listen to concerns and share results of successful change for those who are most resistant.

We need to understand where this resistance to change stems from so that we can cut it off at the head. Change is a good thing, not a bad thing. We must get this message across so that a strong Quality culture is achieved.

For more life science insights…

* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.