“Freedom within a framework”: how learning has unified Sanofi’s global teams

Published 20 November 2020 by MaryLou Costa

The Sanofi University online learning platform is giving the pharmaceutical giant the resilience to stride into its next phase. 

Global pharmaceutical company Sanofi has had a remarkable 2020, turning what has been a year of crisis for many businesses into a year of transformation and innovation.

Not only has it signed numerous agreements to provide hundreds of millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses once regulatory approval is secured, but it grew its earnings per share over 9% in the first half of this year, with breakthroughs in skin and lung cancer medications just some of its many other achievements. 

In a press statement, Chief Executive Paul Hudson named some of the drivers for such success as a “focus on efficiency and smart spending, and the commitment of our people to patients and our strategic priorities.”

The commitment of Sanofi’s global workforce can in part be attributed to its investment in creating a learning culture, with the launch of its Sanofi University internal platform signalling a shift towards breaking down silos, and unification around common goals.

We already had seen strong pockets of interest around how we develop our people in certain areas and how we’re using digital to start moving the needle around learning. There has been a crossroads between how we’re building marketing excellence within the organisation and a broader effort to become more consistently digital,” explains Sanofi Chief Learning Officer Celia Berenguer.

All of this was happening in pockets and was set to converge around our Sanofi University launch, which had been planned since last year. The context changed, so we made the decision to pivot and drive it forward under the umbrella of supporting our people and making sure they’re able to access what’s most important to them, whether it’s reskilling or upskilling to cope with the situation.

We have really emphasised the content that’s most useful right now for you - what’s available that you can immediately access around working virtually, or managing virtual teams, managing stressful and unexpected situations, but also creating this curiosity of, if you’re home and you have time, which is the case for some of our colleagues, what are areas you can explore?” 

 

Unifying teams around creative learning possibilities

Sanofi University has not only brought to the surface a number of learning offerings that had lost visibility, but have allowed colleagues to create “freedom within a framework” – self-guiding their learning through more creative offerings such as podcasts and playlists, buoyed by team challenges thrown down personally by Hudson himself.

There has been a huge demand for ‘macro-learning’, says Sanofi’s Global Head of Learning Transformation Jason Hathaway – acquiring deep skills to help open up new projects for people, boosting their professional evolution and job mobility. And colleague feedback has so far been overwhelmingly positive.

We have brought to the top all of these great learning offerings, such as marketing excellence, digital and data and even people skills, which are in high demand. We get testimonials from our colleagues all over the world everyday thanking us for the opportunity,” says Hathaway.

Every day on our Yammer channel we see pictures of people holding up their certificates that they have earned digitally. We have colleagues taking photos of themselves learning on their phones while waiting for a meal or to go into a store. When our CEO launches a challenge to the organisation saying, ‘let’s use Sanofi University and let’s do this together’ – that really creates a sense of togetherness.

 

Upskilling talent to succeed in a post-pandemic world

Sanofi University is the product of a number of partnerships with online learning providers, including Circus Street, building on investments made in the company’s marketing, digital and data capabilities.

We’ve really embraced that, and as a result of a committed and concerted launch effort, we actually reached more than 3,200 marketers prior to the Covid pandemic, and we were getting very good traction in phase one from December through to February. We have been doing pre and post testing on the Circus Street modules and there is a significant skills increase in the learning marketers are being exposed to,” says Sanofi’s Global Head of Marketing Excellence Joanna Earl.

What we’re seeing from our work with Circus Street is people recognising a need to do brilliant marketing digitally. That’s a big difference from the trend of consumption pre-Covid. Our teams have had to be very agile and rethink how they do things - they’ve had to reapportion their media investments not just from a budget perspective, delivering messaging through relevant channels and adapting it.”

This whole mix is being illuminated via the modules they’re consuming through Circus Street. There is a spike in a lot of topics but particularly search engine marketing because we need to get great at it, fast, because that is going to be the benchmark for how consumers and customers can access and engage with brands in the digital world we now live in.

It will be crucial to make ongoing learning “compatible for the new world we’re living in”, Earl adds, upskilling in the right areas to tackle a likely continuing global downturn.

Sanofi and Circus Street have also collaborated on a new Digital Data and IT Learning Institute, a programme to build digital and data acumen within over 100,000 Sanofi employees within commercial and support functions.

This is an investment in upskilling and future proofing the entire business from a digital and data fluency perspective,” says Ian Jentgen, Circus Street’s SVP Sales, Americas.

 

Embedding learning as a business continuity strategy

Such future proofing is revolving around learning content based on e-commerce, agile working, communicating through social channels, programmatic trading, and using data to more readily understand customers’ needs ”, observes Circus Street Chief Executive Richard Townsend. 

The engagement is there because the workforce is having to learn new skills to learn new tasks. It’s all about reorganising yourself as a business so you can rapidly respond,” Townsend points out.

We work with up to 17 different job functions in organisations, because what we do is enable organisations to have a common digital language, so they can work across siloes and stimulate innovation.”

Businesses come to us because they’re learning about whole a new world of skills that enable them to keep up with the pace of change. They understand that change is going to continue to happen so they want keep teaching people. If learning doesn’t become part of the day to day rather than something you bolt onto the side, you won’t be able to survive in the next 10 years, because change isn’t slowing down. It’s speeding up, so learning has to be part of your overall business strategy.

 

How learning is taking Sanofi into the future

Indeed, Sanofi’s Berenguer believes the pandemic crisis will show how learning has become one of the core things that has made the company able to adapt and thrive

We will absolutely be taking the new learnings and habits created out of this situation into our future. Some of these behaviours include things like stretching beyond what people are used to, collaborating differently and putting Sanofi as a whole before the interests of your team or your part of the business. Learning is all about thinking beyond your immediate surroundings so I think that will be a massive contributor,” she confirms.

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