How A Little ESP Is Driving Cultural Transformation at Bayer

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By Gary Flood, Senior Journalist, The HR Congress

Our profession’s largest online event on HR Strategy & Leadership, HR Congress World Summit 2022, was held at the end of November 2022. We’re now revisiting some of the excellent Keynotes, plenaries, panels, and interviews to aid you in your learning journey.



Today, we go back to the ‘Culture’ track of the second day of the Summit to see the importance of a little ‘ESP’–in this case, sadly not Extra-Sensory Perception, but a special new ‘Engage, Shape and Perform’ drive at the pharma and biotech leader.

Edwin Schenck, Head of Total Rewards, Performance, Culture – BAYER

Famously, Germany’s Bayer dominates in a number of separate markets—not just pharmaceuticals, but also consumer healthcare, agricultural chemicals, seeds, and biotechnology products.

But what was beginning to unify the company’s employees, whatever their location or divisional loyalty was a sense that, post-COVID and the rise of new expectations about the workforce and maybe even what work itself is now, was a sense that change was needed right across the corporation.

Bayer’s leadership listened—and also realized that in an increasingly competitive world, new tools for accelerating informed decision-making were needed.

The result is a conscious attempt right across the firm to improve performance excellence, foster the levels of employee development that lead to increased performance, and find better ways to reward development.

The project’s being led out of the firm’s Leverkusen HQ by former Chief Information Officer Edwin Schenck, who has now taken on the challenge of being Bayer’s overall Head of Total Rewards, Performance, Culture and Change.

Schenck stressed that cultural change is very much in its early days at the firm, with the cross-Bayer work only commencing in April 2022—and that, as he joked, “We really are building the plane as we fly it here!”

Nonetheless, a range of practices and actions have already been deployed, such as #wow campaign, which encourages team members to share practices that will help colleagues learn and apply agile ways of working to drive to better faster outcomes.

Improving the whole company system landscape

The internal Bayer catch-all for the initiative is ESP, which is made up of the three words ‘Engage, Shape, and Perform.’

Specifically, Engage is about helping the highly engaged organization deliver top performance, shape is ensuring the business is future-ready, and performance is all about delivering on both Bayer’s stakeholder commitments, but also its global market leadership ambitions.

“ESP is grounded on moving to processes that we want to get better at,” he told Day Two attendees.

“But at the same time, it’s also to ensure we improve our entire system landscape and in how our leaders achieve better outcomes.”

Schenck concluded with several highly practical learnings on how to make cultural change happen, like the need for consistent language and ways to hold all leaders accountable.

But if you want to really get the details that may help you if you’re thinking of doing something equivalent to ESP at your organization—then click the link below for the good stuff.

Go here to see the full version of this keynote:

Written by: Katalin Toth

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