Bridging two companies, two cultures, two countries

globe puzzle pieces_cropped1Unifying two diverse workforces is no easy task. Add two uniquely different company cultures and countries and you’re presented with quite the communication project.

IABC recently spoke with Martin Hirsch, senior adviser and business partner of group communications for Roche, and Ron Fuchs, APR, Roche’s head of communications services, about their experience unifying the Swiss company Roche with the American company Genentech. Hirsch and Fuchs also share the key elements of successful global corporate communication.

Hirsh_Fuchs_400X300Your session will examine how the Swiss healthcare company Roche established a common purpose among employees worldwide, particularly across the global communication community, following its integration with Genentech, an American biotech company. What were some of the communication challenges you faced?

Following the integration, senior management began to get the message that people were unclear about the company’s identity and purpose. Even though Roche and Genentech share very similar fundamental values about innovation and serving patients, the cultures, personalities and approaches were so different that something needed to be done to bridge the divide. Even the style and tone of the way the two companies convey their commitment to patients is quite different, which posed another challenge.

You emphasize the importance of a shared purpose for bridging employees from different parts of the world. How did this help you bring together such a diverse workforce?

The leaderships of the Roche and Genentech communication functions collaborated in the development of a purpose statement intended to express in both words and emotions a shared declaration that both companies and all of our people—some 88,000 of them—could stand behind and be proud of. The corporate executive committee endorsed it, which was no mean feat, and then we launched a global employee engagement campaign to rally the organization around our shared purpose and find personal meaning in it. It has had a remarkable impact on the company; it’s helped to close the divide between Roche and Genentech and even deepened the commitment and motivation of Roche employees at sites around the world that were untouched by the integration.

Why are trust and credibility especially important when communicating globally? How do you encourage the company’s management, as well as their communication partners, to be as open and frank as necessary to earn the trust and credibility of audiences?

Whether you’re a global company or not, you need your employees, customers and stakeholders to trust you, believe what you say is credible and support what you’re trying to do. When you operate in countries around the world and rely on their governments and regulators for your success, and when you’re in an industry like pharmaceuticals that faces skepticism over prices and profits and concerns over data transparency, the challenges are even greater. We in communication try to do all we can to ensure honesty, openness and candor, and above all to see that the company’s actions are consistent with its words. Our seat at the table as communicators comes with the responsibility to speak up, to challenge and to champion doing what’s right.

Our seat at the table as communicators comes with the responsibility to speak up, to challenge and to champion doing what’s right.

Where does creativity fit into the mix? How do you pursue it and what does it add?

Being boring is no longer an option—especially in the midst of the explosion of noise fueled by the digital avalanche. Our management—encouraged by our communication community—recognizes they need to tell personal stories, inject humor, and have the courage to be human. We need to share tales that conquer company-speak and vanquish the uninteresting. Like Bill Moyers once said, “Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.” Yes, the tone needs to fit the company’s culture, and whether it’s through print channels or online communications, through meetings or events, creativity is as crucial to a science-based company as it is to the arts and humanities. When all is said and done, creativity gives us the power to connect.

Do you have tips for establishing long-term engagement after a global merger or acquisition? How can communicators ensure a global workforce remains connected and engaged in the long term?

Here are three:

  • Work together to agree on an animating purpose and have everyone work together to bring it to life.
  • Treat employees like adults: Inform them quickly, openly and honestly about decisions and developments that affect them. Don’t think you need tag lines and catchy names for restructurings or cost-cutting programs—call them what they are—and don’t go overboard with “change management” programs—just get on with it. Lead from the front.
  • Talk less about “treating employees as your most important asset” and show it. Take a genuine interest in people.


Learn more about the three keys to corporate communication in a global environment: Attend Hirsch and Fuchs’ session at the 2015 World Conference.