Episode 201: Organizational Change is a Slow Cook – Featuring Elanco


Christian MacKinnon with Elanco, an international animal pharmaceutical company, and GLP’s Jeanette Romkema speak with us about how Elanco came to embrace a learning-centered approach throughout their organization. They share the story of how a “learning-centered spark” ignited a years-long journey of organizational change within every level of Elanco – from the veterinarians, to the sales representatives, to the senior leadership.

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This show is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton JR.

Theme music: ‘Pretty Face’ by Una Walkenhorst.

Read transcripts for the episode below.


Meg (10s):
[MUSICAL INTRO] Hello, and welcome to Shift the Power: A Learning-Centered Podcast, where we talk about the revolutionary power of a learning-centered approach. Through this podcast, we hope to inspire creative thinking and provide practical tools and techniques to deepen learning through dialogue [MUSIC FADES]. We’re your co-hosts Meg Logue –

Peter (29s):
and Peter Noteboom.

Meg (30s):
Today we’re joined by Certified Dialogue Education Teacher, Christian MacKinnon from Elanco and GLP Senior Partner, Jeanette Romkema, to talk about how Elanco has embraced a learning-centered approach in their company. Welcome. To start off, why don’t you tell us a few words about yourself and your organization?

Christian (48s):
Well, hello. My name is Christian and I’m from Elanco. I am also a Certified Trainer with Global Learning Partners, and I’ve been a part of Elanco for about 12 years. Elanco is an animal health company. Really, the vision of our company is, is food and companionship, enriching life. And we make products to make animals healthier all over the globe from farm animals to pet health. And we’ve been around for over 60 years and I’ve had the privilege, like I said earlier, to be with the company for, for 12 years. My role is as a coach and leadership development trainer.

Christian (1m 33s):
And so what that entails is really diving into, A, the learning process to become a coach, as well as a sales representative, a veterinarian, and to look at the skills that it takes to do those jobs and then to train and to  coach them accordingly.

Meg (1m 51s):
Wonderful, so glad to have you joining us Christian. And Jeanette, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jeanette (1m 57s):
Well, as you said, I am a senior partner in the company, Global Learning Partners. I am also the strategic director for the company and have been part of the company for, Oh goodness, 20 twenty-five years now, I was trained by Jane Vella and I – I’m here in Toronto, Canada.

Meg (2m 17s):
Thank you both so much for joining us today. We’re really excited to hear from both of yours perspectives, what this journey to becoming a learning-centered organization has looked like for Elanco. So to start us off, I’d love to just hear from each of you, what did you see as the spark or perhaps the initial challenge that led Elanco down this path? Christian, let’s start with you.

Christian (2m 40s):
Well, first of all, I accepted an invitation by Global Learning Partners to be a participant, a learner in foundations of dialogue education over five years ago. And it was actually Jeanette, who was the facilitator of that learning. And I remember taking that learning and really seeing the paradigm shift that was right before me and in my own life and my own way of, of designing, learning experiences as well as facilitating and then assessing. And I took a lot of the things that I learned in that course to heart and implemented them. And I, I remember it was probably about six months after I took the course. I started to having a lot of people come to me asking me, what did you do?

Christian (3m 24s):
What training did you attend to learn some of these ways that you do training? Because I like it. So one by on, I would have conversations with people, leaders, trainers, coaches in Elanco in my global role at that time. And we started cultivating just this idea of using some of the, some of the tools and techniques and the methodology. And then after that, I had some of those same people really ask me, you know, I I’d like to, to know just a little bit more who is GLP. And I, we started introducing a few close colleagues that actually went to the foundations of dialogue education and also get certified sometime after that.

And it started to pick up from there. And I would say kind of the spark was this idea that many of the people we were talking to and training wanted to implement these ideas in their own designs. And so we sat down with Global Learning Partners Summer of 2018 and asked if it was possible to either have a core group of people go to a public offering or to have one of the core consulting team members come in and actually do an in-house. And that’s what we did. We did the in-house in August of 2018. And that was really the start of what I would call sort of this brush fire of enthusiasm for intentional design within, within our company.

Peter (4m 51s):
You know, that’s such a great story, Christian and, and one I’ve, you know, I have to say, I’ve heard before, you know, that people notice a change, they start to ask questions and they want to learn more. And they, that becomes, as you say, a brush fire, but I want to take you back to when people started to ask you, you know, after the first six months or so, what do you think they really noticed, or what do you think that they felt that was different in your practice as someone who is facilitating learning?

Christian (5m 22s):
One of the core elements of our, of our cultural pillars is this, this word that we take very seriously in our company. And it’s a behavioral pillar and it’s involvement — involvement at all levels. Involvement also means a lot of dialogue, at least that’s our aspiration. And I think that that was, that was one of the key elements that really brought that about. People started asking the question, how can we make our learning experiences more involved versus the monologue, or I’ll say the “Sage on the stage”, the professor sort of mentality. And keep in mind, we have a lot of scientists in our, in our organization, people who become veterinarians and who are known for their subject matter expertise.

Christian (6m 9s):
And we had several of those individuals, as well as people who were learning from some of our PhDs asking for a little bit more involvement than a presentation. And we actually had a few of them, of our veterinarians that are PhDs who attended some of our first cohorts and that’s really, that was the other element that really started the other side of the, of the brush fire, if we will to use that term again. And they kind of met in the middle with sort of the commercial leaders who are more sales-oriented with some of our research and development and veterinarians, you know, asking themselves, how can we make our learning, and I’ll use this term, more stickable.

Christian (6m 56s):
And that was sort of a term that we started kicking around in the early days of intentional design is this idea of stickability of the learning. And that was really the biggest change to answer your question directly. And, and I think that that was, that is still a marker of intentional design today.

Peter (7m 14s):
Super. Such good words, involvement and stickability. And you know, I also hear some wisdom in your choice of the who, of who attended the events, not only the salespeople, but also the veterinarians themselves. I wonder Jeanette, when you first went there, did you see this potential right away? Or what did you see your experience as the spark or the challenge when you first worked with Elanco folks?

Jeanette (7m 41s):
You know, what I noticed immediately was an amazing staff, amazing people in the building, working with customers — highly skilled on their feet, highly skilled with customers, highly skilled in selling their product. And there was also this secondary piece that I think really has driven this whole learning journey that Elanco has been on now for a few years, is this relentless desire to ensure a high value was given to each and every customer they worked with. So that is a constant question is: what else can we do to better our service? What makes us different from any other company that’s, that’s doing the same sort of work.

And so the one thing that Christian really discovered and, and was had a vision for was ensuring that everyone in Elanco is not only content experts, that they are process experts now, and this real desire to not only be able to facilitate conversations and time with customers that’s meaningful, but to intentionally plan and intentionally design the time there with each and every customer, so that customers want people to come back.

Jeanette (9m 4s):
They feel heard, they know that when Elanco comes for that, they will learn something important, that they will be respected for the knowledge they bring and invited in to the space and the conversation and to the time they share. So this was a vision that Christian had. And from the very beginning, that was the one missing piece to really setting themselves Elanco apart and ensuring that customers were excited when they were coming and when they left, because they knew they had something new to try and they know how to do it and why it was important. So that was the beginning really of the journey and created a course specifically for Elanco — it’s called Intentional Design, because everyone is highly skilled in facilitation and being with the customers and knowing what that all means.

Jeanette (9m 56s):
But this one missing piece — design and intentionally working on that before every meeting — that was the missing piece. And it’s been a very exciting to see what has come out of all that.

Peter (10m 9s):
It seems that every client or partner or group of learners that we work with, they come with their own assets and their own strengths. And it sounds like Elanco was loaded with them. I remember too, Christian, you may not know this, but I, I identify the phrase client-facing with you. That’s something that you taught me and no doubt that that attitude in the company too, was, was a driver for being ripe for Elanco to pick up more intentional design about how to be client-facing and involving clients in their, in your work as a company.

Peter (10m 50s):
Meg I wonder if you want to take the conversation a little further?

Meg (10m 54s):
Yeah, you know, Christian, I’m curious to hear from you what you see, if you were to kind of distill it down — What did you see as a Elanco’s vision for this work when you first started?

Christian (11m 8s):
I think early on there was curiosity and, you know, sort of, sort of that vision became quickly: What are some of the, of the, of the learning experience barriers that we, we normally see? How can we overcome them with, with this new, this new idea of intentional design? And so we wanted the pain to go away. And the pain can really be characterized by, as I said earlier, a little bit of the Sage on the stage that the monologue professorial kind of, of training and teaching and, you know, really, really the idea of the vision was to move toward a learning centered approach.

Christian (11m 53s):
Now, we didn’t understand what those terms meant. We could describe it, but when we found out that these terms, this idea, this theme of, of a learning-centered approach, which is center to what GLP does and stands for — when Elanco found that out, and some of our senior leaders, some of our senior veterinarians will learn that this, this is actually the heart of the methodology, as it relates to identifying and overcoming some of the pain, that became the vision of learning-centered approach. And I, I want to reiterate what Jeanette said earlier about differentiating ourselves in the marketplace, because this kind of approach, when you are teaching and training and coaching our customers to be better, caretakers of animals, becomes absolutely fundamental in the way that you approach the customer.

Christian (12m 46s):
And that differentiation has definitely been led by intentional design inside our company. So that became the vision. And I would say that the other, you know, part of the vision is really just the, the idea of intentional design fitting like a glove around our cultural behaviors and our cultural norms of being high involve, being one where we own the processes, we own the company. A few years ago, we, we, we went public and we broke off from our parent company. And so this idea of making a place for yourself in this world and differentiating became very important, and intentional design helped us- help us achieve that.

Peter (13m 33s):
It’s really interesting to hear about that journey. I wonder if you could take us another step on the journey too. I mean, it’s one thing to learn personally and individually some of those skills of intentional design and to teach them to others, colleagues and leaders in your company, but when did it start to become clear that there was another whole layer here about becoming a learning-centered organization? When did that become clear? And, and how did that, how did that journey begin?

Christian (14m 3s):
Yeah, I’ll take, I’ll take you back to the pilot that I mentioned earlier, that the first cohort, August of 2018, we had approximately 15 individuals from our company who were curious. They understood some of the, of the problem statements and opportunities that Intentional Design could help us answer and capture in terms of opportunities. And so they attended, we had a mix of learning and development professionals, we had a couple of veterinarians and we also had some sales representatives. These were sales representatives with key accounts, and they were in the middle of transitioning their, their role to be even more strategic with their customers.

Christian (14m 46s):
And so they wanted to learn if Intentional Design could be, could be a fit for that. And so they’re in this group of about 15 people there were six of them who really wanted to make sure that they could find a methodology that would help the, help them meet the customers, where they were in terms of learning experiences.

I’ll never forget. We actually had, in, in the middle of this, we had one of the senior leaders in that group of six, who kind of had their, their, I would say skeptical hat on — the, the arms were crossed for the first couple of hours of that session. And I’ll never forget getting to the area of how adults learn and the idea of safety and the idea of asking — we in Elanco, we, you know, respect is, is a, is a, a value — we have it plastered on our walls. And respect and safety are super important, but we started asking some really good questions of each other, and that was, are we safe? Are we safe in the way that we learn? And that, that one moment, that one challenge was, was where the ice started to break with this particular individual.

And from that point forward, it was almost like a snowball going down a hill and it became bigger, it became- there was more energy and it started moving faster. I get cold chills just thinking about it because where this developed next was this senior person taking the other five or six individuals that he had in his, from his team that were part of that cohort, and they started to devise a plan on how to speed this up.

They started asking questions like, who else needs to know this? Do we have senior alignment, senior leadership alignment? If not, what do we need to do to get that? How do we build this into a core set of competencies that we would actually evaluate and give coaching and support to? So you can start to see the size of the snowball was now quite enormous. And I remember at the end, it was at the end of that first day of this cohort, the actual senior leader that they had placed on a whiteboard. And they, I heard them talking about this individual came to me as Jeanette and I were cleaning up after that first day and said, “I don’t know what you guys did, but we’re doing this intentional design. You’re going to have to teach me about it. This sounds really important. It sounds like a game changer.”

That was just the moment where you saw a bottom up approach from a group of employees with one senior leader meeting with a senior leader above him, come together in a matter of hours and intentional design within the halls of Elanco. And that, that became the game changer. So today we have, we were continuing on with this journey. We have a whole team of people who are veterinarians inside our company in the U.S, who were providing support for veterinarians from West Coast to East Coast. And in the expectation on how we work and meet our customer’s needs is through Intentional Design.

Peter (17m 54s):
Wow, you know, listening to you, I got chills going up my spine too. And what, you know, what I also noticed, I noticed that you’re really an expert at open questions. They just roll off your tongue. When you’re telling that story about the questions you asked that led people down the path a little further down the path, and that image of senior leaders sitting around the table with their arms crossed. You know, that’s like the image of, of my favorite Axiom, which is pray for doubt. Resistance isn’t always bad. And then to ask the right question, are we safe? Wow, that’s really great.

Peter (18m 34s):
Jeanette, you can’t be sort of designing or leading this kind of change as a consultant, as a Sage on the stage either. You can’t tell folks how to do this. So how do you go about generating buy-in or how did you go about accompanying this whole process? What was important for you?

Jeanette (18m 55s):
Thank you, Peter. That’s an important question. And one that I reflect on often with clients, we work on for many, many years because we’re watching, right, and we’re journeying alongside, and we’re asking ourselves this exact question, what has made the stickiness? What has allowed this to continue? What has helped with buy-in? So I think in Elanco’s case, and what is also often true with with clients, is first of all, train the leaders as soon as possible. So the fact that Christian was the first person who tasted the Kool-Aid, so to speak. You know, he came in with training, with excitement and, and convinced of the approach.

Jeanette (19m 40s):
The first cohort had a leader, had leaders in it, and the second. And these conversations that Christian is talking about — that is a key element — get the leaders in soon, and with the learning, not only the conversations. The second is a commitment to modeling what they learned. So that first cohort was a very important cohort. Everyone was very intentionally invited. They were teams within the cohort. And there was an understanding that yes, if this was all it was meant to be, then yes, we are committing and we’re committing for the long-term.

Jeanette (20m 21s):
And we are important in this journey. So whether we’re in a meeting or a training or we’re invited to plan something, the principles and practices will be used. And two more things I think really helped the buy-in, one was nurturing check-ins within the Elanco. So the first cohort definitely became champions immediately. They were first, but they were also care, very carefully selected for this purpose. So together there, there were numerous people within the organization, not only Christian, but a growing group of people who were from different departments. And were exposing people to the approach in different, at different times in different ways.

Jeanette (21m 7s):
Very, very helpful for the buy-in. And the last thing that came to mind today really was that we really pushed to get Christian and Jill Pattee, colleague of Christian, to be Certified Dialogue Education Practitioners, and certified as trainers, teachers of the course itself. And so this allowed Christian and Jill to offer courses more easily, more quickly with less of a budget, for sure. So I think those four things, training the leaders as soon as possible, modeling- a commitment to modeling those people who are graduates, and the third is having champions within the organization and then getting some, a few people within the organization trained.

Jeanette (21m 56s):
So they can actually train in-house rather than GLP needing to come in each time.

Meg (22m 2s):
Thank you Jeanette for, for summing that up so succinctly. I, I really appreciate having those, those key factors highlighted, because I’m sure that for folks who are considering this kind of approach in their organization, having that kind of laid out clearly is going to be super helpful for everyone. What we’ve talked about so far has been kind of the, the initial with what Christian you’re describing is this the snowballing effect that really put a lot of momentum into this organizational change journey. And it’s really a very expansive effort, which I’m sure came with its challenges. So I’d like to hear Christian, what was one challenge and perhaps a subsequent breakthrough that you had throughout this process?

Christian (22m 52s):
I think one of the challenges that we had in the early going with Intentional Design was the expectation of, and this is, I think this is typical in most Corporate America, Global Corporate environments is the need for speed. And one of the things that we had to do early on was, was to create a buy-in process with our leaders, that this was actually going to take a little bit of time. This isn’t something that you could microwave. It was something that was going to be more, more like a Crock-Pot and something that’s going to be on a, on a slow cook if I can use that, that word picture.

Christian (23m 34s):
But the thing that was really important for those senior leaders to understand is that if we were going to do that, that there needed to be some impact. And so this term that we, that came out of that pilot was go slow, so we can go fast later. And the idea of, of learning intentional design of going through that whole paradigm shift of a teaching-centered approach to a learning-centered approach was going to take time. But if we took the time to slow down and to understand what that paradigm meant and to take, make commitments toward a different change that the proof was, as we say, is going to be in the pudding.

Christian (24m 14s):
And, and we have that. I was just speaking with someone in, in, in that original group just today, her name is Jacqueline, and she mentioned this idea of impact. And the impact was the fact that she’s done something in the neighborhood of 15 different designs, unique designs with different variations in each one, where she’s been able to help veterinarians in her area in the Mid-Atlantic area, overcome challenges from people to process, to customer challenges themselves. In areas where she is, she does not feel comfortable being the subject matter expert, but what Intentional Design has given her was this idea of being a process expert.

Christian (24m 60s):
She said, I am a process expert. I am not a subject matter expert. And that’s, that’s what our customers need.

Peter (25m 7s):
You know, I wanted to interrupt for a moment, Meg, and just note that-that really resonates with me. And I think reflection on time and the time it takes for a process to mature. So you can make real change and go fast. I think that, you know, we don’t reflect on that enough. I think that’s a really important insight. Yeah.

Meg (25m 28s):
I have to say, I also love your metaphor, Christian, of be a slow cooker, not a microwave. That’s going to stick for me for sure. So, Jeanette, I wonder from your perspective, what do you see as one of the challenges that happened during this process and how did you kind of break through or overcome that challenge?

Jeanette (25m 52s):
Yeah, that is a good question. I have to say what, what Christian just shared was the big challenge with just coming with a training that had a very seemingly rigorous approach. I think the second one, and this is a lovely one for me always is to see the importance of a learning community. So when it starts with one person just Christian or one group, the first cohort is always the first people feel alone in this new learning and they feel uncertain and unsure and under supported. So having and building a learning community quite quickly was very important.

Jeanette (26m 35s):
Christian worked on that very hard. Jill Pattee worked on that very hard. The first cohort absolutely I did and GLP did in our supporting of the graduates, but it is essential. Every group definitely has this challenge of how do I do this when I’m the only one who’s been at this training or we are the only ones, and Elanco is huge. It’s massive.

Meg (26m 59s):
Thank you for sharing those challenges, Jeanette. I think it’s key to recognize the go slow to go fast, to, to nurture that, that learning community. And I’m delighted to hear that Elanco has such a strong learning community around this Intentional Design training. So of course you were able to, to overcome these challenges and really get that buy-in that this is going to be a process that will, that will take time. And now you are a few years along in this journey.  Christian, my understanding is that so far you have nine cohorts in the UK, in your Indiana headquarters and in South America with 150 employees who have gone through either Intentional Design or the new adapted version for an online setting, Intentional Design Online. What is one key impact that you’ve seen since this journey started? How has your work changed?

Christian (27m 59s):
Yeah, that one might be a difficult, difficult to question to answer. I don’t know if I can come up with just one there’s there’s lots of impact. I would say probably if, if, if I could maybe boil it to one with maybe branches off of it is, is just the fact that we have higher expectations of ourselves. I think, you know, we, we know that our customers demand excellence and we’ve, we’ve used Intentional Design to expect greater things from our learning experiences that we’re delivering both to our customers, but also to our internal employees. And in essence, you know, that has, that has raised the bar for our whole customer base.

Christian (28m 39s):
And those who know about Intentional Design, who, who have experienced it internally, one of the big pieces of, of impact.

Peter (28m 46s):
It’s such a drag, isn’t it, after you become used to that kind of involvement that level of decision-making that intentional preparation, you never look at another training in the same way, your expectations change the standards shift. It’s such a drag.

Christian (29m 6s):
Yes, Peter, we, we had several, several people and we continue to have people go through the cohorts. And one of the common expressions that we hear them say is Intentional Design has ruined me. And I remember the first time I heard it, I was like, Oh no, what what’s happened? And it was, it was actually out of the first cohort and they, they reported back. It was, it was, I think it was about a month later. They said we were at this conference and we heard these speakers speak. And as you said, Peter, it was such a drag. And it sort of ruins them in terms of not being able to sit through monologue, not being able to sit through 500 PowerPoints in an afternoon. Those things just don’t work anymore.

Christian (29m 46s):
And that’s one of the reasons that the bar has been raised.

Peter (29m 49s):
You know, it’s always so often the case too, when we, when we’re in these conversations, we feel like we’re just started, but we’re actually coming to the end of our time together. It’s, it’s so interesting to hear your stories. So, you know, this is maybe a bit more looking forward kind of question for you, Christian, and then, you know, Jeanette, maybe you could add with some takeaways too, but where is Elanco now? Where are you with Elanco now, Christian? What are some of the next steps or what do you see is, is the next phase of learning for, for you and for Elanco?

Christian (30m 19s):
Yeah, well, I think I’m still building the base. And as we said earlier, we have approximately 150 individuals, employees who have gone through Intentional Design and we have all of the major training networks covered, and so in some way, shape or fashion we’re always training. We’re always enabling through, through the things that we espouse through, the things that we sell, the things we support, whether they’re products or services. So in our organization, I think that customer facing entities, organizations, and teams, individuals need to have Intentional Design in order to be effective. And so, you know, I think, I think that we have, we have a long way to go to continue to develop that base.

Christian (31m 2s):
But in the short term, we do have internal communications where we’re sharing things like what’s on the GLP blog. And so that’s a, that’s a normal occurrence of finding things there and sharing that out with the community. We also have a quarterly graduate call. So these hundred and fifty individuals are invited to attend the best practice sharing session. Sometimes we couch them as what’s, what’s the challenge of, of the quarter for intentional design and in your designs, what are you butting up against? And we, we have sort of a problem solving session. And then some of those just turn into, you know, for instance, last year, obviously the theme was how do we do intentional design in the midst of COVID during a pandemic?

Christian (31m 48s):
What’s that mean? And we quickly found out that there’s more reason than the never, and during a pandemic all the way to now for Intentional Design.

Peter (31m 58s):
Very exciting to see the growth and the change that’s going on. And, you know, I just want to, again, point to one of those key principles, when you say client-facing, you know, that just reminds me that we always start with the, who you always turn with the users, or you start with the learners and what they need. And, you know, I think that client-facing concept is just so important.

Meg (32m 21s):
What a wonderful note to end on — the excitement, what- what’s still to come. I want to thank you both so much Christian and Jeanette for joining us today and taking the time to share the story of Elanco’s journey to become a learning-centered organization.

Christian (32m 39s):
Thank you!

Jeanette (32m 40s):
You are so welcome.

Meg (32m 41s):
And for our listeners, we will close out today as we always do with an away question for you to consider how you might apply this in your own life. So your away for today: What might a learning-centered approach look like for your organization?

Thank you for tuning into another episode of Shift the Power: A Learning-Centered Podcast. This podcast is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton, with music by Una Walkenhorst. To find out more about Global Learning Partners, whether it be our course offerings, consulting services, free resources or blogs, go to www.globallearningpartners.com.

We invite you to sign up for our mailing list, subscribe to our podcast and find us on social media to continue the dialogue. If you enjoy the show, please consider leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or your preferred podcast player. [MUSIC FADES]

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