Unlocking Leadership: Novozymes’ Journey to Unlock Growth
Novozymes is on a mission to unlock growth. But how do you preserve the essentials of a thriving culture while nurturing change and transformation to create a profitable business?
As a company powered by biotech, where nature meets engineering, Novozymes found inspiration for their approach to meaningful leadership in how a flock of birds navigates together toward their destination.
Novozymes exists to find biological answers for better lives in a growing world. With increasing populations, fundamental changes in nutritional habits, and protein demands that far exceed the practices of today, the world is screaming for sustainable solutions.
But while Novozymes has become a leader in the industry, the company has for consecutive years struggled to grow in an increasingly competitive market. To beat the trend of some years without growth, the company launched its strategy ‘Unlock Growth’ under the leadership of new CEO Ester Baiget. But to make the strategy move from paper to reality, one particular issue needed to be addressed.
“As much as we believed in the direction of the strategy, we actually put a dedicated must-win battle into it, that we labeled ‘succeeding with the strategy’,” Marianne Bie Frydendahl explains.
“It may sound redundant or even borderline foolish, but it serves as a constant, tangible reminder to always think about how to execute. And with the number one driver of succeeding with the strategy being a unified leadership, we gave birth to our global program: Unlocking Leadership to Unlock Growth.”
DKKb 17,553 (2022)
To find biological answers for better lives in a growing world
The solution: Unlocking Leadership
The first step in the program was to translate the strategy into the core leadership capabilities needed to deliver on the strategy, defining which behavior and attributes from the existing culture to keep and which to evolve.
One core theme across the new leadership framework was unity.
“In Novozymes, we are often inspired by the attributes of rapid animals like cheetahs or falcons. But as leaders of Novozymes, we need to be in formation, in unity, like the birds who fly side-by-side in the hundreds or thousands.
It is fascinating how they can constantly change shape and direction without becoming apart. By flying together, they can fly longer. Science tells us that every bird is attentive not only to its neighbours in the flock but also to the 6-7 birds around them – some close, some far away. In many ways, they think end-to-end, they think holistically, they think as one enterprise. In Novozymes, we are privileged by having good leaders. But we needed to support them to succeed as one, in flying even closer together,” Marianne Bie Frydendahl.
“As much as we believed in the direction of the strategy, we actually put a dedicated must-win battle into it, that we labelled ‘succeeding with the strategy”
Marianne Bie Frydendahl
Vice President, People & Organization
In collaboration with Voluntās, each leadership capability was broken down into globally aligned, measurable behavior so that three distinct traits accompanied each of the four capabilities (See purple box below). As such, the capabilities outlined the specific criteria every leader, from CEO to team leader, from all functions and markets, should navigate by to contribute to better unity.
“We are not changing our purpose. We do not compromise our values or our sustainability pledge. But we need to constantly stay in formation, change shape and direction together when needed to protect our core and translate our purpose into growth in our top line. This agility requires four leadership capabilities that we all share and aspire to live up to. Together, they define what good leadership looks like for us – to unlock growth,” Marianne Bie Frydendahl.
A global success (so far)
But with limited time and resources, how do you make all leaders relate to the same leadership capabilities at more or less the same time in a meaningful manner? The recipe for Novozymes consisted of four elements.
First, make it simple and tangible. Unlocking Leadership was tied closely to existing concepts, making it clear how it is a natural lever for the already known strategy and a leadership-specific extension of the organizational values.
Second, “toolify” it. “Unlocking Leadership” was translated into a data-driven 360-degree feedback tool, a revised template for the Individual Development Plan, and specific training modules targeting each leadership capability.
Third, focus on facilitating meaningful conversations between human beings. Not trying to control every single outcome with rigorous supervision but instead giving leaders the means and inspiration to have good, genuine conversations, weaving the thriving and self-awareness of the individual into the needs and development of the organization. And then trusting them to apply the global framework locally how it makes sense to their context and team.
Over the course of a year, 583 leaders at Novozymes have received 360-degree feedback through “Unlocking Leadership,” with 95 percent receiving in-person feedback on the insights. 82 percent perceived it as meaningful and valuable, and 73 percent anchored specific learnings into development plans.
“It works, because it is concrete”, Marianne Bie Frydendahl explains. “It tells us what we need to do, using fewer words and leaving little room for confusion, creating a common language for good leadership and a few impactful tools to support it,” Marianne Bie Frydendahl.
And fourth? Humor. Using a bit of irony generates smiles and laughter, fostering a sense of belonging and humanness. “We expect a lot from our leaders. They need to be good people managers, be on top of their function, and navigate the many changes we are making in a competing business landscape, while coping with the uncertainty of an incoming merger. So, when we introduce new global initiatives, we need to be incredibly mindful of balancing the need for unity with respect for the individual context. We are all human, so we decided to create a small sit-com-like film, where we exposed all the worst-practice examples of how not to conduct development conversations to make it more fun and engaging and less corporate,” Marianne Bie Frydendahl.
Leaders have received 360-degree feedback
perceived the IDP as meaningful and valuable
anchored specific learnings into development plans
Movie to launch individual development plans
While Voluntās were responsible for the directing, filming, and editing, the movie consisted of Novozymes staff as actors giving a human touch to an essential topic.
Scenes, characters, and punchlines were later repurposed as GIFs and images to serve as a reminder to prioritize meaningful conversations. Knowing that in this year’s Meaningfulness at Work report, the lowest scoring item globally was “my leader takes time to ask how I am doing both professionally and personally, and I feel that he/she listens and takes action,” then nothing is more important to improve our sense of meaning and belonging in the workplace than exactly that.
In the words of Marianne Bie Frydendahl, “A thriving business needs a thriving organization and vice versa. While we are far from perfect, I am proud of what we have achieved with Unlocking Leadership and how our leaders across the globe have used it to drive change and follow through, all while leading for purpose and with a human touch. It shows that it is here to stay.”
Interested in more?
Nicolai E. E. Iversen
Chief Philosophy Officer & Ass. Partner