In this episode of the Wise Decision Maker Show, Dr. Gleb interviews Chris Haimbach, the US Head of Sales, Commercial Strategy and Operations for the Consumer Health division at Bayer. Chris shares about his team’s experience with remote and hybrid work during the coronavirus pandemic and about his strategy for future-proofing and managing uncertainty.
Video: “Interview with Chris Haimbach, US Head of Sales for Bayer Consumer Health”
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Links Mentioned in Videocast and Podcast
- The book Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage is available here.
- You are welcome to register for the free Wise Decision Maker Course
Chris Haimbach 0:01
Hi, I’m Chris Haimbach. I’m head of sales, commercial strategy and operations for Bayer Consumer Health Care.
Gleb Tsipursky 0:08
Thank you very much, Chris, really appreciate you coming on. Well, let’s talk about you as a decision maker. So obviously, you’re in an important position at Bayer. And Bayer has been going through the new normal, as has everyone. So what problems are expected? and unexpected Are you encountering? And the decision that you’re making as you’re transitioning to the new normal?
Chris Haimbach 0:32
Yeah, a couple areas, I would say. One is how to deal with ambiguity. There’s so much that is not known with the new normal. And even though I think we know it seems to change day by day. And so how do you plan for something when you’re not clear on what that something is? We’ve been trying to really drive flexibility and individual decision making where it makes sense, but also having guidelines and direction where it makes sense for the broader group. It’s always a tough balance between catching the needs of the individual. However, Team COVID has redefined the ability to work from home or anywhere else, for that matter. Sure. Working from the beach is my preference, by the way. And so yeah, the ability to flex is going to be a mandate moving forward for all companies and employees around the world. However, oftentimes, we think about ourselves first, at least I do. And, well, we want to provide individual flexibility, you still want to provide a team culture. And I do believe that bringing organizations together as a team, you can get more done than obviously one on one. And so how do you how do you kind of prioritize the greater good, and not over, but also valued the individual and I think companies that can do that, but the ones are going to win, and then creating an office environment that inspires people to come to work or come to the office versus feeling like they have to come to the office. And more importantly, when they leave the office, they’re inspired. I know, here, Bear, we’re not going to be there every day. And so when we go to the office, I don’t want to do things the way I’ve always done them to make the team piece come together even more. So versus just sitting in a room and doing work. I can demonstrate that we can do that anywhere and it doesn’t have to be a quote unquote, formal office. So how do we bring the team together to create a culture of winning as one team and inspiration that lasts the days I’m not in the office or not seeing my teammates?
Gleb Tsipursky 2:32
I think that’s really important. So let’s go back to a couple of points that you raised about ambiguity, team, individual and safety. And so those are all important. So let’s talk a little bit deeper into ambiguity. Do you think that there’s more ambiguity coming forward for Bayer for you for your team, or less ambiguity as you’re going as you’re looking to the future?
Chris Haimbach 2:55
Great question. My hope is less, but I believe it’s probably more, you know, what we’ve seen with COVID. With the consumer waste it sped up decision making and changes that were already occurring by calling it five years or so. And as I’ve been around, it seems like every year things get a little bit more ambiguous. And change seems to happen faster in every industry and every part of life probably. And so well, maybe the pace of the last year and a half may not hold up, I think change and ambiguity is going to continue to be more than normal moving forward than it has in the past.
Gleb Tsipursky 3:33
And how do you think that will impact Bayern planning, I know, a year and a half ago, and we started talking about Bayer, you’re talking about how Bayer was working on future proofing. And as you know that that’s my area of expertise. So we started having those conversations. Now, how do you figure that will impact their strategy? Whether around future proofing more other areas going forward, this greater amount of ambiguity and quicker pace of change?
Chris Haimbach 3:59
Yeah, well, that question ‘s a really thoughtful one. Um, you know, what we’ve tried to design our culture is flexibility and adopted this to change. I’ve been at different companies and different organizations. And some people don’t like change, if you will. But if you don’t like change, that’s one thing but you got to get used to it. And we’ve seen a lot of change in our last five or so years, a lot of change and those that are wanting to kind of make change and adapt to change quickly and take advantage of the, of the changing market. You know, as an example, you look you know, you go back three, four years ago, instacart was around, but it’s now become much more of a household name. Uber, Uber used to be only about getting, you know, a ride to the front now it’s about getting dinner delivered. These companies have figured out ways to take change, and adapt quickly and try different things. There’s a lot of things that haven’t worked, that people have tried . It’s this spirit of It’s safe to try and to adapt and move on quickly one thing doesn’t work, take the good parts and reapply it. So that’s kind of where we’re at.
Gleb Tsipursky 5:10
Okay, so it’s good. So we’re talking broadly about your company. Now let’s dive deeper into your team and what you’re doing. So just rounding that out, so that the listeners or viewers can see what it means to be a decision maker, kind of in the midst of it all. What kind of things are you doing? Give us some examples. So, so to the extent that you can, of course,
Chris Haimbach 5:29
Yeah, absolutely. Uh, you know, Tuesday, we spent six hours with my wheat team together. And we actually spent time learning more about each other. One of the things I find is that speed is enabled by trust. And trust is a tough word, right? Because if I say I don’t trust you, versus I do trust, you tend to be binary, right? Yes, trust is actually a continuum. And the more that we get to know each other as who we are, and how we’re built, and start to uncover biases, unconscious biases, and background, I believe every person is kind of a conglomeration of experiences that they’ve been through and obviously genetics too. But as you start to understand where people came from, you can better predict and understand where they’re going to go. And I think by investing so we as I said, we spent five hours doing it. It’s actually right in front of me ironically, it’s a it’s we call it the lifeline and y axis is about happiness. The x axis is about time. And you’ll see we oftentimes talk about the highs but rarely do we talk about the lows and I’m so anyway, I think human nature, when you think back, there are things that impacted your life that you maybe haven’t thought about. And the reason I say all this is I want my team to be able to move at the speed of lightning and the best of the most trust and understanding of each other. If you think about the best teams, let’s use a sport. You know, Wayne Gretzky famously said, skate to where the puck is headed, not where it’s at, right? Yes, you understand your teammates, you know where they’re sending the puck. And the defense may not know right there, they’re not going to know where that is. And so the more time we spend with each other understanding our human nature, and what makes us tick, and what motivates us and how we best operate together, that brings transparency. And when you have the trust, you can now start to communicate versus couching it in what else or maybe not being direct. And that directness and that investment in each other, I think is going to help our flexibility and agility, because we’ll be able to better understand why we work, what makes us tick and how we motivate each other.
Gleb Tsipursky 7:40
Okay, excellent. And that goes to the gym question that you’re talking about. Thank you. So that’s, that’s a really clear example illustration of what you’re doing at your ground level. Now let’s talk a little bit about that safety question coming into the office. Just before we started recording, you were sharing an episode that caused you to question safety in the if you’re comfortable sharing that episode, would you share the episode with the listeners and to the extent that you can, and so help them and help us understand how that illustrates challenges of safety going to the office and all of these issues?
Chris Haimbach 8:14
Yeah, so we’re a healthcare company, right? And we need to uphold the best practices, I believe, in the world. As an example, we have an iMac, the office since COVID, hit we, and we’ve adopted this new new way of approach, and it’s really different. And in my job, I have to meet with customers. And fortunately, we have very strong protocols that we have to adhere to. And we have great partners and our customers who also have a lot of these rules and regulations. Anyway, we have a situation where we, for the first time in 18 months , met with a customer and had a meeting. And unfortunately, someone got COVID, either before or after that meeting we found out afterwards. And thank goodness, we all follow the protocols. And so no one got hurt, no one it didn’t spread. But we have a responsibility to our organization and to our people, that we don’t put them in harm’s way. And so we’re very cautious in how we approach. We spent a lot of time talking to the government and understanding the CDC. Obviously, we have a former division as well as understanding the implications that this can have. We’ve been on the safer side of really trying to make sure that we don’t put our employees in harm’s way And fortunately, it’s worked so far.
Gleb Tsipursky 9:32
That’s excellent. So we’re talking about safety. We’re talking about employees, the pharma industry now, as you I’m sure you know, the pharma industry before COVID had a pretty low reputation. It was one of the least popular industries, at least in the US, I think it’s literally the lowest reputation of any private industry. How do you think COVID is going to change the reputation of pharma Bayer in particular, so help me understand If you think it will, yeah.
Chris Haimbach 10:03
I don’t know if I can speak to bear so much, because I don’t have that data. But I would say as an individual Yeah, I think we’ve shown the power of a pharmaceutical industry that can take one of the world’s potentially biggest tragedies. And remember the day my wife mentioned that we, you know, they may shut down cities or countries or states or countries, I said, there’s no way obviously, we had to write. I mean, if you think there’s, I was so naive coming into this. And it is so impactful what pharmaceutical companies have done in the last 18 months, we have such intelligent people at bear and other pharmaceutical companies that really care and they went into this industry to care for others. Now our mantra is health, for all hunger for none. And the health role is something we really believe in. And I think a lot of pharma companies do as well. And so, to your point, there’s oftentimes lights shone on on other parts of some of the bad behavior companies, if you will, in this industry, I’m hoping that this COVID situation shines a light on all those people that have gone into this industry to make a difference in people’s lives. And they’ve all risen to the occasion, and obviously frontline workers as well, and found a solution in record time. where they’ve worked together to share across industry, it’s really been powerful and impactful. And I hope, and I do believe that culture will see this as a win for mankind, but also probably for the power of pharma when we work together.
Gleb Tsipursky 11:33
Yes, they definitely think so I definitely think we will improve the reputation. And it’s really important to do that, to see the potential and the value of the pharma industry. So let’s talk a little bit more about this, the passion of the people and how they solve problems. Let’s talk a little bit more about the principles and problem solving that you do in your everyday work at Bayer and that other folks and beer to tell me a little bit more about problem solving how you approach that and how you think about that?
Chris Haimbach 12:01
Yeah, you know, the number one way that I found, it doesn’t come naturally to me, the best salespeople are the best listeners because you can understand the individual’s needs. And you know, this situation, for example, it’s talking about the difficulty of individual versus team, listening to employees to understand the needs is probably our top top opportunity. Because so often, people in leadership, including myself, believe I am the average person, reality is theirs, that’s not always the case. And so, instead of jumping to conclusions, or assuming I know, it’s taking the time to pause and listen to different needs of people, oftentimes you find commonalities across employees. But sometimes you find differences and, you know, examples. Everybody wants to feel valued at work, nevertheless, to feel heard, those are things that we can accomplish by better listening. And, as always, when you get groups of people providing different thoughts, the best solutions always come in. So we have some really difficult problems, right? All of us do. When you can work together and listen across orders. It’s amazing. You’ll hear you meet with different folks, but you’ll find sometimes they have common thoughts, when you hear in multiple places you realize it is probably a common solution. The flipside, you’ll hear other opportunities that you never thought of, and it helps you get in front of them.
Gleb Tsipursky 13:28
So could you give us some examples of a solution that you had unexpected opportunities, some unexpected solutions, just so folks understand at the ground level? how does that work? To the extent that you can, of course, yeah,
Chris Haimbach 13:43
you know, this, this working through teams, or zoom has been a it’s been a, I don’t know, it was painful in the beginning. And it was tiring, right. You and I talked previously about zoom fatigue, definitely. And I have found, we have what we call, we use Microsoft Teams, but it works for zoom the same way. I’m sure there are people that adopted much quicker, and oftentimes they’re there in the younger part of the organization. And we have started a reverse mentorship program to teach everybody else the lag, if you will, how to better utilize teams, what are tricks to make it more effective. And then we’ve also, you know, by listening to people, we’ve heard that I’m always surprised when I get up at six o’clock or whatever, after meeting all day, how exhausted I am. Like, I didn’t do anything but so I bought them all day and talked to people. But as people as I’ve listened to people, it’s like they feel like they’re on a stage. And if you’ve ever performed in front of people, it’s exhausting because you feel like you have to perform, you have to be at your best. And so that’s another one that’s come up with like alright, how do we tighten one hearing commonalities. So everyone’s tired, everyone’s suffering from Even though they’re not physically doing as much as maybe they used to, so like my desk, one of the things I got from somebody else, you’ll see, like, I spent half my day standing, man, so quick and easy. And it’s so nice to be able to, like, do that. And I got this from Amazon for $100. And you know, but knowing that we live kind of an Instagram culture, right, where you see all the good things that people in their life show, but I think this gives us an opportunity as your home has become work even more so to appear in people’s lives. And if you’re vulnerable, and you listen, you’ll find lots of areas that you can even get better at. And this is one where it’s like we provide flexible hours. So a lot of woman reached out to me who’s got two kids and she’s no mom, and her kids were at homeschooling, I mean, talk about difficulty and, and she now does a lot of her work at night versus eight to five, or whatever the normal hours were, those are the things that have come out of listening to employees to better understand how we can meet their needs where they’re at.
Gleb Tsipursky 16:05
So it sounds like reverse mentoring. I love that idea. And flexible hours, just genuinely listening to employees, understanding them, and being flexible with them that that’s really important. And so it sounds like there are some changes in mindset that you have to adopt in this new normal. Tell us a little bit more about these shifts in mindset, whether it’s older folks who have to listen to younger folks, which is not usual. And other other changes in mindset like, well, zoom fatigue is a real issue for a number of reasons, like we talked about.
Chris Haimbach 16:35
Yeah. So we often talk about risks in terms of business, but we don’t necessarily talk about risks in terms of behavior change. And so we’ve had that I found we’ve had to be more open to trying new behaviors, more flexible, taking calculated risks, and understanding that the first time we try it probably won’t go right. Yeah, but how do we make progress and understand perfection is not going to happen, but take from that and learn and adopt learning from others. You know, again, as I talked about, levels really, in my mind never mattered. But in some companies, I understand the culture they do. But when you’re sitting someone and their kid walks in, or their dog walks in, or like your name, that it humanizes people and I think the key is, this zoom team thing and working from home somewhat leveled the playing field. And I think people are more open to learning from others, no matter what their mother was. Others in our industry, but also others outside other other part of the reason you and I have talked to understand what the best class doing because you know, best in class aren’t necessarily in our same industry, and then realize that the solution today may not be right, may not be right for today, or may not be right tomorrow. And things are changing, as you and I talked about earlier, so rapidly that we have to be willing to adjust and understand that didn’t work today. Let’s try it again in three months, because maybe something will work.
Gleb Tsipursky 18:00
It sounds like your mindset has had to become more adaptable. And listening to people who may not have had the authority or the voice. Can you give us some examples of some positive outcomes from that?
Chris Haimbach 18:14
Yeah, so I would tell you almost every, every piece of our culture that’s shifted, and I go back to a year and a half ago, we left the office. And when we thought we’d be gone for at most two weeks, probably two days. And now it’s been a year and a half, and we haven’t been in the office. And you know, a lot so. And you and I taught this to us when we were doing happy hours in the beginning. Before I screwed up, I was doing one on ones with all my direct reports. But one of the things I learned was that someone was leaving a company I connected with her. And I learned so much about what she was going through. And she had such good ideas that were unfiltered. And so now I mean with every person in my organization for one on one, not, not in one week, I’m spreading out over a bit of time because it’s a pretty big word. But in those situations I’m trying to do or listening and speaking, I greatly understand what opportunities are. And I’m one of them. For example, we’ve pivoted our town hall. We have a town hall once a month. And it used to be really about the business. And now we’ve added a lot more personal stuff, I would say more things about the organization of the culture. And then I also have people it used to be quite unquote, the higher level people speaking. And we’ve really done a change in terms of filtering to get different people in the organization talking and getting their thoughts and showing their leadership because, again, sometimes a business experience does help in certain areas. But we’re all at the same level in some cases of working from home and working in this type of environment. And there are people that are surging to the front in terms of their flexibility or, or ways of working that we’re trying to give also pulpits to teach people like myself how to be better
Gleb Tsipursky 20:01
It sounds like though. So that kind of concrete examples, the one ones, which is definitely a best practice. And I talk about that, in my book, returning to the office and leading hybrid and remote teams, benchmarking best practices for competitive advantage. Definitely want to be doing that. And also sounds like the town halls have been really helpful. Cool. Let me circle back to something that you and I talked about earlier, the future proofing. So what steps were we doing for future proofing a year and a half ago? What are you doing now to avoid those dangerous threats and seize those golden opportunities, which is what future proofing is all about? Yeah, so
Chris Haimbach 20:34
I think part of it is trying to embed in our culture, we’ve identified really three areas that we’re going after. And this has accelerated with COVID. And I think I need to accelerate even post COVID. So we talked to you and I have talked today even about flexibility, right. And oftentimes people think flexibility is working from home versus working from the office. But the reality is flexibility is about how to adapt, change different situations. And as we also talked about trying to look forward, I think there’s more ambiguity coming than not. So if you want future proof, I actually think we say tomorrow, the sky’s gonna be blue, what if it’s orange, right? So it’s not about playing for blue, it’s planning for the ability to be flexible, if it’s, what does that entail? The second one is inclusion. So um, you know, there are so many different backgrounds of folks. And as I said, I think it’s even come to light, as we’ve gotten closer to people personally, because we’re in their homes with their cameras. And so making people understand who they are, and that it’s okay to bring their full selves to work. And we talked a lot about that. And I think sometimes it’s easy to fall into a full self. And reality is, you know, we all have opportunity areas and things that we don’t post on Instagram or whatnot. And we need to be valued for who we are, and bring those different points of view to light. And so it’s really about inclusion. And the third one is performance and all this stuff, we still have a business to run and, and organizations to lead. And so performance isn’t just business, it’s how to get the best out of your organization, how to have the best team, and business, it’s about the numbers. So to your point, a few months after COVID, we stepped back and started designing our organization to meet the new needs of consumers, customers and employees. And these three, three things really popped out. And originally we were looking at five years out, but we quickly realized the speed of change. Five years was kind of now. So we’ve been trying to speed information flow, so that we can better make decisions. And then I love this concept of a team of teams. The gist of it is basically agile teams and team of teams are there’s a lot of similarity. What’s common is getting information flow to those points where decisions can be made the quickest. We’ve made a lot of investment, AI and information stacks, etc. to get information to the points that decisions are best made. Versus losing time, as we talked about, like bringing information back to a centralized leadership decision making, things are happening quickly, you lose the agility and the flexibility. And so we’re trying to empower our employees to lead change versus it just being a centralized choice. And by investing and data analytics, but also in the capabilities of our people. And so good and bad, there’s pros and cons to this. If you provide more opportunity to invest in capabilities and make it more of a instead of a push making a pull, people can find it because we have flexibility. There are days that my kids aren’t home now, right? They were a couple last year. They were sitting here and I didn’t have as much time. Yeah, we set aside Fridays, for example, every other Friday is a learning day. And we cancel meetings. And the idea is to go invest in yourself. Again, if I feel confident in my people out in the field, in particular, the salespeople call on customers, don’t get them all the right information, and I can get them the capabilities. Now instead of one person making a decision for me, I’ve got hundreds of people making decisions, that’s gonna be a much better organization. And honestly, they’re much closer to the customer and the information. So they’re gonna make better decisions than I would anyway.
Gleb Tsipursky 24:24
So it sounds like there are four key themes: flexibility, inclusion, performance, and decentralization of authority. kind of pushing that authority down. Those are the four key themes that you and Bay or more broadly are looking at improving, addressing to future proof. Absolutely. All right, great. Are there any other questions that I should have asked anything else you would like to share with our audience?
Chris Haimbach 24:49
I’ll tell you what I’m saying today versus if we talk for six months. Yeah, I don’t think those four things will change. But I’m sure the How will change. So again, our number one is really investing in people and enabling them in those four years, as you mentioned, and there are days that we don’t do it, I’m sure, right, like any sort of habit, it takes muscle memory and in some cases we’ve been doing it for years. In some cases, it’s relatively new and we’ll learn along the way. But going back to your first very first question about adaptability, and there’s, there’s stuff that’s gonna happen, we can’t expect but I believe in these four areas that if we really demonstrate that and are deeply, deeply embedded in our culture, we’re gonna have a better organization because of it.
Gleb Tsipursky 25:30
Excellent. Well, thank you very much, Chris. Really appreciate you sharing this information with our audience.
Chris Haimbach 25:35
Thank you for the time and the opportunity and your partnership.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Originally Published at Disaster Avoidance Experts on October 26, 2021.