Six Steps to Successful Change Management within R&D

Leading an R&D organization is difficult. It involves assessing the environment and managing the work flow to support the process of turning innovative ideas into prosperous business results. On top of that, the environment in the life science industry is always evolving and leaders must have the ability to effectively change with the environment.

Whether it be to increase innovation, improve productivity, reduce operational inefficiencies, embrace new technologies, or oversee a merger integration, introducing changes often results in disruption and conflict. Successfully managing the change in an R&D organization involves helping employees implement their vision while overcoming resistance to organizational transitions and transformations.

Step 1.) Creating a Compelling Story Line

R&D organizations are run by highly educated team members that often hold a Ph.D, PharmD, or MD qualification. These employees have spent a significant portion of their career defending their work and are well trained in using concrete evidence to argue their position. Any proposed transformation changes will need to be accompanied by significant and logical justifications. In order to create successful change in an R&D organization, leaders have to first develop a sense of urgency by effectively communicating why we need change and why we need it now. This isn't simply a matter of showing people poor results or areas in need of improvement. Leaders need to start an honest and convincing discussion about what's happening with operations, the pipeline, or competition, while providing reasons for change and potential implications if change isn’t implemented.

Step 2.) Bring together a Powerful Team of Change Ambassadors

Equally important as communicating why we need change is identifying who will lead it. Employees will embrace change if they believe in those leading it. To lead change, you need to bring together a coalition, or team, of influential people whose power comes from a variety of sources and levels. The company will need both leadership to drive change and influencers in the lab to reinforce change. Not only does the transformation leader have to convince the department that change is necessary, but s/he has to empower a team of talented and credible people to make it happen. It isn’t enough to just assign people to work on the project, the group has to have belief and be committed to seeing change occur in their organization.

Step 3.) Create a Concrete Vision for Change

R&D is the creative mastermind of the organization, but without a clear vision they will begin to move in different directions, or worse, no direction at all. Developing a clear and detailed plan for change can help everyone understand the vision. A successful transformation is the result of the scientific and business leaders developing an Ideal Future Organization (IFO) that is easy to communicate and appeals to all stakeholders. Leaders must do this by determining the values that are central to change and by creating a detailed strategy for executing the vision. However, employees need to believe that useful change is possible. Change leaders need to continuously capture the hearts and minds of their employees who are necessary to make the change. Without lots of credible communication people will hesitate to embrace change. When leaders are effective at communicating the change vision, organizational buy-ins occur. When buy-ins occur, change begins to happen.

Step 4.) Carefully Select Cultural Artifacts

Cultural artifacts are symbolic, tangible elements of a company culture. Change leaders need to identify the beneficial artifacts and develop them while removing any negative artifacts that persist from their old culture. In an ideal setting, successfully implementing the first 3 steps will begin to lead to change, but all too often negative artifacts or road blocks will occur along the way. Sometimes the obstacles will be processes that are preventing change from moving forward or managers who are still resistant to organizational change. If not addressed, transformation will never fully spread throughout the organization and will begin to plateau. Change leaders need to focus on empowering people by removing any processes that are preventing change and by enabling managers that are resisting change to see what’s needed.

Step 5.) Identify Concrete Improvement Initiatives and Celebrate Victories

R&D programs are in the business of finding lots of failures and few successes, but the few successes can turn into industry changing products. R&D personnel stay motivated by focusing on the small wins along the way. Visualizing short-term wins is critical to maintaining credibility, resourcing, and momentum to the overall effort. Not providing the organization with short-term wins will slowly lower faith and empower the cynics and skeptics to sink any effort. Continuously presenting the results each step of the way will help people to justify their efforts. If they can see successful results from change, they will be more inclined to keep advancing forward, momentum will build, and change will flow through the organization.

While celebrating a win is fine, declaring the war won can have adverse results. Although R&D departments should always be continuously improving, too often, organizations see immediate improvements and begin to slow down their efforts. Within a few months to a year the organization begins to revert back to their old ways. After every win, change leaders need to analyze what went right and what needs improvement. Instead of declaring victory, leaders should use the credibility of short-term wins to tackle even bigger problems.

Step 6.) Build a Framework to Manage the Progression of Company Culture

True changes take years to be fully integrated into a company’s culture. At BSM we refer to this as the “Sustain” phase. Without proper infrastructure and a company culture that embraces the changes, the initiative could potentially revert back to the old ways. Leaders need to institutionalize changes into corporate culture. They need to make it “the way we do things around here”. As your company grows, new employees will join. Soon the only thing the organization will know is the new culture and resistance will fade away.


Successfully following these 6 steps will provide R&D leaders with the best chance to implement their new vision while overcoming resistance to organizational transitions and transformations. The most important part of the change journey will be building infrastructure around a company culture that believes in the new changes. At BSM, we work very hard to ensure that every transformation project we do for our clients is backed by a detailed framework that enables new changes to stick. We take great pride in turning vision into reality and have an excellent track record of success.


Our consultants can provide further information on the above and discuss any aspect of Real Lean Transformation, simply set-up a call today.