People & purpose: Novo Nordisk’s competitive edge

A close alignment between people, organisational purpose and values has been critical to the local success of Danish pharmaceutical Novo Nordisk, according to its head of HR, who said there are a number of unique steps the company takes to ensure it hires the right people.

“A hallmark of the hiring process is selecting people who have a keen passion to work for a company that makes a difference – particularly in diabetes care,” said Belinda Winter, Novo Nordisk’s director of people & corporate relations.

Apart from assessing skills and competencies in the recruitment process, she said values alignment is very important and a unique aspect of Novo Nordisk’s recruitment process is to present candidates with seven engagement driver cards.

They are asked to select their top three engagement drivers, which helps in learning more about what drives them professionally and personally.

On top of this, both Winter and Novo Nordisk managing director Peter Soelberg personally interview final candidates and help assess values fit before a decision is made to hire them.

“We actually have a saying within Novo Nordisk that a job here is never just a job,” said Winter.

“Sometimes in big pharma, it’s the ability to operate in a very complex-structured organisation, but at Novo Nordisk it’s very flat (with just two levels of reporting to Peter), so anybody can go to the MD and employees have that direct link.”

The Danish culture
Another unique aspect of Novo Nordisk is its inherently Danish culture, and there are a number of similarities between the Danish and Australian cultures, which results in positive outcomes, according to Winter.

“The Danish culture is very egalitarian, and socialistic in a way that no one is greater or lesser when it comes to giving feedback,” she said.

“In the cultures of Australia and New Zealand, I also think we’re open to being able to say whether something is right or whether someone agrees or disagrees.

“So by utilising the way in which we cultivate feedback and mechanisms throughout the company, we receive regular, candid information from our people, and people feel heard and that they’re also part of the bigger picture.

“This translates into innovation, because we’re open to new ideas and seeding them in the right forum and developing those ideas – regardless of where they originate from.”

Soelberg agreed that the Australian culture is “very open and honest”, which is similar to Danish culture.

“That means that we are very transparent about both the good things and the challenges, and that creates a basis for people to contribute both for pursuing opportunities but also for handling challenges.

“Nothing is swept under the carpet; we’re very straightforward and transparent. This openness and honesty is a good match with the Novo Nordisk Way and Australian culture, and a core platform of our culture globally,” said Soelberg.

Culture is a significant focus for Novo Nordisk locally, and Soelberg and Winter have made culture development part of the strategic agenda over the past four years.

“So this is about defining where we are now in terms of culture and attributes, where we really need to be, and then working that through both on a team and individual level,” said Soelberg.

We look at what behavioural aspects are important and which ones are less productive in achieving what we set out to do as an organisation.”

The triple bottom line
Globally, Novo Nordisk manages its business in accordance with the triple bottom line principle, which emphasises three tenets of responsibility: social, financial and environmental.

The goal is to empower employees to provide service to their communities, particularly around improving diabetes care and prevention, and globally, some 90 per cent of Novo Nordisk’s salesforce is involved in volunteer triple bottom line activities, with 80 per cent investing personal time in these efforts.

The triple bottom line is rigorously reported on globally, according to Soelberg, who said the company is actively involved in causes related to Novo Nordisk’s core business.

In the past, for example, Novo Nordisk donated to and partnered with the World Diabetes Foundation to help in training health workers and building capacity to treat diabetes in developing countries.

Novo Nordisk is actively involved in advocacy at the government level around societal change and diabetes, and Soelberg said the company is a strong sponsor of the UN resolution for diabetes.

“We’ve also tried to get action taken on the UN resolution on diabetes, which calls on member states to develop national diabetes plans, focusing not only on treatment, which is a secondary prevention, but actually as a primary prevention,” he said.

“There is a lot of growth in Type 2 diabetes, which can largely be prevented. So if you have good systems, advocacy and information in place for societies, you can largely prevent Type 2 diabetes.

“We’re doing that locally too, and we have strong partnerships with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Diabetes Australia around a number of initiatives to make some big shifts in reducing the rate of diabetes developing in the population; it’s largely avoidable and it should be avoided.”

Locally, the company participates in Walk to Cure Diabetes fundraisers, and Winter said social, health and wellbeing factors are incorporated into as many people projects/workshops as possible, “so that this can continue to positively impact our employees (and their families and friends) long after they have finished working for the day”.

On the environmental front, for example, Novo Nordisk has made major carbon footprint reductions in the product supply areas of the business, according to Winter. “All factories in our HQ in Denmark are run on wind energy – completely,” she said.

For the full story on Novo Nordisk’s success and interview with Winter and Soelberg, see the next issue of Inside HR.