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Eli Lilly’s Take on Building A High-Performance Culture Through Narratives

Melissa Stapleton Barnes at Ethisphere’s Global Ethics Summit.

Melissa Stapleton Barnes is Senior Vice President, Enterprise Risk Management, and Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer for Eli Lilly and Company since January 2013.  She also serves as a member of the company’s executive committee. Prior to taking this role, Melissa was Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Global Litigation and Specialty Legal.  In this capacity, she was responsible for overseeing the company’s global litigation and investigations, as well as managing the corporate secretary’s office and specialty legal functions. Since joining Lilly in 1994, she has held a variety of legal and business roles, including general counsel for Lilly Diabetes and Lilly Oncology, managed market segment leader for national accounts, and Six Sigma black belt. More on Barnes can be found here.

Ethisphere’s Aarti Maharaj recently had the opportunity to interview Barnes on building a high-performance culture through the power of narratives.

Q: Mistakes happen, yet many companies struggle with communicating to employees. What are some of Eli Lilly’s strategies that turn mistakes into learning opportunities?

Barnes: We’ve launched an extensive campaign in the spirit of organizational trust and transparency (or “OTT”). The ultimate goal of OTT is to achieve a speak up culture – one in which employees are certainly willing to raise ethics and compliance concerns, but also one in which employees feel free to disagree on any topic or raise an idea contrary to the loudest voice in the room.  This kind of culture is truly foundational to a learning culture, and in an industry that depends on innovation, a learning culture is paramount.  In order to help our people feel more comfortable in speaking up, we have set out to remove any perceived barriers to doing so.

For example, we know that the investigation process has generally been a mystery – and therefore scary – for some employees, and that fear of the unknown could inhibit an employee from raising a concern or asking a question. So, we have taken the opportunity to explain to our people what happens during an investigation in a manner that takes a serious topic and presents it in a more inviting/engaging way: a very “unscary” animated video. We also actually share narratives about real employees who have made real mistakes and use those stories to educate others on the consequences of making the wrong decision.

The key to this storytelling, however, is striking the right balance and doing it in a respectful way. It has to be a true story with real people, but the goal of sharing the story is not to embarrass anyone – rather, it is for the benefit of greater learning. For example, we have discussed instances where it appears by all accounts that two people have engaged in similar misbehavior, and yet one party may face a stricter punishment than the other. We have demonstrated that the consequences are often determined by other, less obvious factors (like a previous infraction or failure to self-report or cooperate) rather than by an arbitrary or unfair process.  We talk about topics that employees are interested in, some of which have never been addressed before at our 140-year old company.  Being transparent about these real cases helps employees understand the true meaning of integrity and ultimately builds organizational trust.

Q: So how can you tell a good story that drives ethics and compliance awareness?

Barnes: In essence, we know that the right stories told by the right people are incredibly persuasive and powerful. The stories must be true with real people, real consequences, and real learning. We also know that the best stories are local. So while we have a centralized campaign that produces global communication materials, we also encourage our leaders around the world to tell their own stories. We provide supporting materials on how to tell a good story and how to choose the right examples. Moreover, we give managers the opportunity to work this idea into their business as they choose — it’s not on a mandatory timeline. For example, the best time for a story could be at a team meeting or at a Town Hall where the leader talks about our ethics and compliance program. The tag line for the campaign is “Join the Conversation” because we want speaking up to be a part of how we do our jobs every day.

Q: How do you connect and encourage millennials to speak up?

Barnes: A big part of how we develop our policies, communications, and training is through testing with advisory groups of employees across demographics. We try to understand the E&C need from an employee’s point of view and create a solution with them in mind. This approach has been engaging and well-received by our employees. We are keenly aware that millennials want to receive their information in different ways, so we are using interactive videos and (soon) an app to keep them engaged with our business and policies. In this digital age, we have found that keeping policies simple really resonates with our employees; for example, we’ve consolidated our Code of Conduct into six pages, grounded in our heritage and core values. This simple approach makes it easier for employees to understand the “why” behind our policies and procedures, which ultimately helps them use good judgment and make the right decisions in their day-to-day work.

More on this topic

Midwest BELA Roundtable—Sea Change Compliance: Evolving From the Compliance Mindset to a Company Culture of Integrity. Ethisphere and Eli Lilly invite you to join a select assembly of GCs, Chief Compliance Officers, Chief Ethics Officers, and Business Integrity executives for an interactive “closed door” roundtable on the key tenets and challenges to building, measuring and sustaining a culture of integrity.  This will include a welcome and Q&A with John Lechleiter, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Eli Lilly to start the meeting. Register here.

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