How Novartis is dealing with both the challenges and opportunities in building a remote/hybrid workforce

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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 Day Two’s afternoon’s Organization Reinvention and Future of Work track to hear why Markus Graf, VP, Global Head of Talent at pharma giant Novartis, believes Innovation starts with the right Experience at work.

Markus Graf, VP Global Talent, NOVARTIS

If you’re already a $50 billion company that invests $10 billion a year into R&D, why would you feel you still need to foster as much innovation throughout your company as you possibly can?

The answer is that if you’re a brand that not only wants to innovate in new products but also wants to create new ways of working and how you go to market, yet also constantly think about employee experience, then it is clear innovation’s going to be high up on the agenda.

What is sure is that this is how Swiss multinational pharmaceutical corporation Novartis sees itself. But how does this thirst for fostering innovation look at everyday employee level at this 100,000 person company?

As the exec leading the work on this, the firm’s VP, Global Head of Talent Markus Graf is perfectly placed to share some very intriguing details. As he told Summit’s global set of senior online HR practitioners, “If you want to come up with new medicine, you need to challenge the status quo. And when you think about innovation and creating the right experience, you need to create an environment where people feel psychologically safe enough to come up with new ideas.”

In Novartis HR terms, that is being delivered out of the basic pivot the organization has made to only focus on skills, not jobs. “Organizing all Novartis work around a ‘job’ and having everyone in a job architecture was the primary means of how we organized ourselves,” he said. “Moving forward, it’s now much more about outcomes and what impact is actually created and ultimately what contributes towards delivery against the business strategy.”

A tech-driven talent marketplace

Making that happen, he added, comes down to the firm making “five big bets”.

These are emphasizing what he called “precision talent,” which is about the rules that really create disproportionate value for the company; a new approach to techniques for developing Novartis’s next generation leaders, equipping them for an uncertain future; a new talent marketplace; and concentrating L&D on building a truly “future-ready workforce,” and active work on leveraging data to generate “meaningful insights that improve the quality of our people decisions and actions.” 

Graf then focused on the talent marketplace ‘bet.’ At his organization, this was only built after Graf and his team went out to ask employees what they saw as their specific career needs.

80% came back and said they struggled with visibility into career opportunities in other parts of the organization; 67% disliked how their career development was too dependent on their immediate line managers; 50% claimed to be unaware about the future skills they need to develop, and 43% expressed confusion about how to see what relevance the vast wealth of Novartis’s learning content.

Novartis listened—and the result is a platform called Talent Match, which was launched globally in April 2022.

This is an internal talent marketplace that uses tech to try and remove these obstacles, he said.

And it does seem to be: according to Graf’s presentation at the World Summit, almost a third of all Novartis employees worldwide have engaged with the system already.

Almost 800 of them have found a mentor through the system, and at least 80,000 hours of cross-company project opportunities have been unlocked for interested employees.

If you want to know more about why Graf estimates that in six months his Life Sciences organization has accrued almost $4 million of value through unleashing project participation like this, then watch the presentation on the Organization Reinvention and Future of Work track from The HR Congress 2022 World Summit.

Written by: Katalin Toth

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