Rob Stansfield

Philomorph with a sense of adventure and lots of curiosity

On Change and Change Management 2010

The Aventis Registration Process (ARP)

When Aventis Pharmaceuticals was formed in 2000 from the merger of Rhône Poulenc Rohrer and Hoechst Marion Roussel, the new company needed to combine their respective small-molecule compound collections, provide a common electronic description of them, and ensure that the intellectual property of new as well as existing synthetic material was described and recorded in a consistent way worldwide. Four sites that generated the bulk of small molecules for R&D were in France, Germany and the USA.

I initiated the project and gave it the name “Aventis Registration Process”, not “… Project” to emphasize the significance of a new business process in which experimental synthesis was performed and the corresponding data was captured. (ARP became the name of the project, the process, and the supporting information system.)

There was conceptual change (e.g. the structure was a property of the batch and not vice versa); there was process change (e.g. the compound registration was not complete until the Analytical Chemistry group had completed a corroborating analysis); and there was scope change (e.g. the new process covered batches, compounds, reactions and combinatorial libraries, and supported the planning of parallel synthesis).

We also discovered unexpected differences in the way that chemists in different countries managed the same scientific discipline. For example, Ph.D chemists in France, and some in Germany, delegated work to research assistants, so that their data entry required validation by a superior, while Ph.D chemists in the USA typically did all the work and data entry themselves. French chemists valued detailed information on the chemical reaction and intermediates, while US chemists did not. Thus the information system had to accommodate both rigor and pragmatism.

I established a typical project governance structure with a core team, working groups, and a steering committee to validate recommendations and resolve major differences. I and my core team used the steering committee extensively to work through the differences described above. I personally travelled frequently to the sites in the US, France and Germany to build relationships with the heads of chemistry and their representatives, and to keep communications alive though face to face presentations, explanations, and dialog.

Resistors were usually chemists with strong opinions. Some (constructive critics) were brought into a working group. Some were persuaded or shown that the process of resolving differences was transparent and fair. Sometimes a respected peer could help. In the last resort, an appropriate authority would be asked to speak privately with the scientist in their own language.

As with all successful change management initiatives, 1) the vision was clearly established at the outset, 2) the objectives were shared by the sponsors and change agents who were active in promoting them, 3) the process for resolving differences was transparent and fair, 4) communications were extensive (shared) and effective (two-way), and 5) resistors and naysayers were not silenced, but they were not allowed to disrupt 1) to 4) above.

This was a successful project in large part because of the effort paid to acknowledging and managing the change within the business as well as building a robust and reliable information system to support the work. The ARP system was implemented in four sites in three countries by the end of 2001, replaced five legacy systems, and remains in use in 2010.

Observing Change

I have worked for the same employer, through a number of mergers and acquisitions, since 1988. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals became Marion Merrell Dow in 1990. Marion Merrell Dow acquired Selectide in 1994, and was merged into Hoechst Marion Roussel in 1995. Hoechst Marion Roussel (HMR) and Rhône Poulenc Rohrer (RPR) merged in 2000 to form Aventis. In 2005, Sanofi-Synthélabo acquired Aventis Pharmaceuticals to create Sanofi-aventis.

The Aventis merger from 1999 through 2000 was clearly managed by our senior executives as a change initiative. The frequency and nature of communications made that clear. The broad vision of the new company was presented at the outset and reinforced through repetition and refinement. The roadmap for the merger, with its expected timescale and milestones, was communicated early on. New company values were established with extensive communications and explanation as to what they were, why they were chosen, and how they would be used.

There were regular updates on progress through printed materials and “Town Hall” meetings at the various company locations. Our feedback and ideas were encouraged. Within the areas of the business I was exposed to – mainly Discovery Research and R&D Information Systems – there was a genuine desire to keep the best of each company, and to build on the best processes, people, and systems, to do even better in the new company. As a result, morale was maintained among workers from each of former HMR and former RPR and the creation of the new company was experienced by most employees as positive and exciting.

In 2005 Sanofi-Synthélabo gained control over Aventis Pharmaceuticals through a hostile takeover, despite being approximately one-half the size of Aventis (and approximately one-third by headcount of the new combined company). For whatever reason, senior executives did not explicitly manage this merger as a change initiative. New processes, new “rules of the game”, and new authority over plans, budgets, and decision making were imposed by new management.

For former Aventis employees, the first year was chaotic. There were periodic communications of merger progress, but existing processes no longer worked because authority was removed without being replaced. It was difficult to know who could make a decision and how to make normal work progress. The set of Sanofi company values was put in place, and those of Aventis were dropped. Management teams, at least initially, were all lead by former Sanofi employees. The centers of power moved from the US to France.

As the new company crystallized around us it was perceived by those of us from former Aventis to be controlling, inflexible, and unwilling to incorporate alternative viewpoints. As a result, morale was not good and the sense of “two companies, not one” persisted for many years afterwards.

Experiencing Change

During the HMR / RPR merger I had a real sense that I was being led through change and included. The rationale for it was explained, the future state was described, and I was invited to be part of creating something new. I became part of a management team that was staffed by roughly 50% former RPR and 50% HMR employees. We mirrored the corporate changes in being open to the best ideas, and the desire to build on them irrespective of their origin.

I personally felt supported by my managers and by my organization, even (especially) when my ideas or proposals were challenged. We discussed and decided which decision-making processes (e.g. leader-decides, consensus decision, majority vote) would be appropriate in different circumstances. As a result I was invigorated and highly motivated, and I accomplished some of my best work in industry in the period 2000-2005, responsible for an international team of seventeen direct reports in three countries, and responsible for a budget to support a worldwide program of information system projects.

These experiences are consistent, I think, with the conclusions presented in the excellent (and viral) animated talk on recent research about what motivates people, by Dan Pink at (under the title “RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us”). They are that knowledge workers are most motivated, productive and satisfied at work when they experience the combination of “autonomy, mastery and purpose”.

During the sanofi-aventis merger in 2005 I had no similar sense of being led through a coherent plan of change, or of being supported in expressing a viewpoint. Although I again joined a management team with members from each former company, I experienced considerable frustration in the first few years of the new company because of the inability to successfully introduce work practices based on delegation, trust and rewards in place of directives, control and punition. Currently however, following another huge “Transformation” inside sanofi-aventis, these alternative values are again being promoted.

My response to frustration in my post-merger position was to re-tool and re-energize myself. I became an expert in the newly created Microsoft SharePoint platform and participated in the successful first deployment to R&D. I took training in business analysis and this year organized and led two workshops on strategic planning for the (R&D) business, from which we derived the strategic plan for R&D Information Solutions. By agreement with my managers I repositioned myself as a senior individual contributor in a new role in a group responsible for Architecture & Strategy, still within R&D Information Solutions.

Leading Change

My experiences, observations, and readings lead me to believe that change is most effectively led, and most efficiently accomplished, when 1) the business case for change is communicated at the outset (and then repeated and refined); 2) the sponsor and his/her change agents are personally implicated in promoting (communicating, managing, and implementing) the change; 3) the actual implementation is managed (sensitively) through an explicit plan to move the organization from “here and now” to the desired “future state”; 4) communications are frequent, multi-channel (including face to face), and allow for feedback loops (via surveys, training, workshops, Q&A sessions, etc.); and 5) resistance is anticipated and planned for.

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