How do ACTELION pharmaceuticals get staff to talk to each other?



Actelion is a $2bn/year pharmaceutical company in the Forbes Lists Global 2000
They asked The Hunting Dynasty to “Advance the skills and ability of 403 staff in giving and receiving feedback – both written and spoken ”.



1. Literature review, London

Our literature search studied 50+ peer-reviewed papers in social psychology, organisational psychology, attitude research, business and management, and interpersonal communication, including seminal findings in social and organisational psychology from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (e.g. goal orientation theory, regulatory focus theory), more recent studies fine-tuning knowledge about feedback (e.g. multisource feedback, orientations to feedback), as well as insight from the Harvard Business Review.

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2. Interviews & observations, Switzerland

Actelion Research and Laboratory Building

Through May–June 2015 on-site in Switzerland we observed reviews of staff by managers (three psychologists and one Anthropologist). We interviewed managers separately, and also a complete run of line-managers and their staff – the employees were from around the world.

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3. Anthropological study, Switzerland

As part of the overall project we used grid-group analysis to determine the culture at Actelion and, in so doing, to see which conditions help to stop and stimulate the giving and receiving of feedback.

Commonly used in Fortune 400 companies, including Microsoft, a Grid-Group analysis requires an anthropologist to grade parameters (e.g. selection and promotion, distance from home, time as a pressure) and arrive at a reading composed of one or more of the four standard classifications.
1. Fatalist/isolate, 2. Hierarchical/positional, 3. Individualist/egalitarian, 4. Enclave. An analysis where only one characteristic asserts a strong role, without any other characteristics to temper its effect, threatens the viability of the group.

In terms of established patterns in group-grid analysis, the results show a tendency towards the diagonal of withdrawal or ‘negative diagonal’ – this diagonal is the opposite of the diagonal of affirmation, or ‘the establishment’ which is characterised by hierarchy and individualism.

Therefore, the teams need to have more of the hierarchical characteristics to pull them to the middle of the grid-group, much like the (more balanced) skill-set groups, in order to create the cultural conditions that drive identity, engagement, and feedback.

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4. Test implicit & explicit attitudes of staff to feedback using Emotix©, Worldwide

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We built an online 10 minute Emotix© test to deliver a computer-administered categorisation task to 400+ staff members from around the world.

The test is developed from the work of Greenwald (Implicit Attitude Theory, 1990’s), the engine has been jointly developed by our neuropsychologists and psychometricians from our partner InnovationBubble to reveal people’s subconscious influences and associations that impact on their decisions and behaviour. At The Hunting Dynasty we use a version closer to Greenwald’s original now Try our example Implicit Association Test.

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We gathered a list of key words that represented the concepts and characteristics associated with feedback that staff have, and we found four key images to represent each of the feedback conditions: Formal, informal, written, and spoken.


We graphed the 400+ respondents’ combined categorization of all the keywords for each feedback condition (giving, receiving, etc) to show us overall trends of the strength of response. We performed a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) to get statistical significance of keywords.


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General trends are observable:

  • Giving is instinctively more positive then receiving – those giving are in control (message, timing, etc)

  • Informal feedback is more positive than formal

  • The slow responses – which tend to give away the culture as they ask the user to think about what they’re saying about their coworkers and bosses – said formal feedback was positive, but the fast reposes showed the opposite

Recommendations, Switzerland

  • ‘Five Minute Feedback’ after project team meetings to decrease negative characteristics seen in the Implicit Attitude test
    1. What could we do better? (Evaluative – looking at the quality of the completed task)
    2. What did we do well? (Informative – behaviours necessary for successful performance of a job)
    3. How shall we do it in the future? Focuses on ‘mastery’, which is positively correlated to performance (rather than ‘avoidance’)

  • Feedback in department groups to remove in-group/out-group bias and improve hierarchy as asked for by the Anthropological study
    1. Discuss the problems that some ‘other’ group in the business have caused (enables staff to air frustrations in their ‘home territory’)
    2. End with discussion of what this/these group(s) are contributing positively to the overall business group (reinforces that all groups play a vital role, and that membership of these groups is positive)
    We used implicit response data to

  • Replacing part of email communication with Slack (or similar), as Zipf’s (1949) principle of least effort predicts that the closest colleagues will have the most conversations and we can increase psychological ‘closeness’ (as opposed to physical closeness) with public combined narrative.
    Where there was significant difference in the reported strength of association that related to written feedback from the implicit association test we used these a pilot groups to trial the intervention

And more.

Actelion Research and Laboratory Building

Stylish workmates having coffee together in break room



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