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AstraZeneca’s transformational relocation to Cambridge

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The Enabling Change Specific Interest Group (SIG) organised an evening session in Cambridge for delegates to hear about AstraZeneca’s recent relocation and the transformational changes that were delivered.

The session began with a welcome from the SIG’s Elisabeth Goodman, who opened with a brief explanation as to the role and purpose of the Enabling Change SIG in that they sought to improve the change capability of organisations, that they were ‘method neutral’, and that their website encompassed input from around 17 methodologies. Elisabeth went on to introduce Mike Cadman, UK Footprint Programme Director, AstraZeneca. 

Mike began by explaining AstraZeneca’s role and purpose; this included reference to the main therapy areas they specialised in: oncology, respiratory and autoimmunity, and cardiovascular and metabolic disease. He went on to state that AstraZeneca were opportunity led in relation to infectious disease and neuroscience. 

The first stage in any change process should be the identification of the ‘case for change’ and Mike explained that for AstraZeneca, this occurred in 2011 when they were receiving negative press, had identified their pipeline was drying up and saw their share price dropping. As part of the process to define a strategic approach to delivering the change required, AstraZeneca appointed a new CEO, Pascal Soirot, in 2012 who changed the focus of the company to be scientifically based and developed a 'bold ambition' which was a clear and concise statement of what was to be delivered, and by when. 

The following year, in March 2013, AstraZeneca publically announced its intention to move its operation to Cambridge. The rationale for this was all about the science and meeting the bold ambition – Mike specifically drew the delegates’ attention to the strong link between this rationale and the case for change. Whilst this announcement drew negative press, a significant amount of planning and work had been done in advance of the announcement to prepare AstraZeneca’s leaders and managers to support staff in understanding what was being proposed, particularly those based in London and Cheshire. The new CEO also visited the Cheshire site and presented the case for change to all staff to ensure the message was clear; Mike pointed out the importance of ensuring any change initiative has senior buy-­‐in and that they had kudos, gravitas and energy to present the case in a compelling and confident manner. 

The programme team to lead the change was then formally constituted and the stakeholder management elements were given particular attention. This included the formation of a NW Task Force to bring together all those likely to be impacted by the change outside of AstraZeneca. For their own staff, 1,500 relocation offers were made and, to ensure individuals had all of the information they required, a series of roadshows were delivered followed by 1:1 diagnostics and then site visits for staff and their families to visit Cambridge for a couple of days. The whole process had clearly resulted in a high number of staff being concerned as to their futures, and so the programme team focused a lot of attention on ensuring information was available through a range of channels to support them. 

Currently, AstraZeneca are seeing significant growth and they are on a healthy trajectory towards their bold ambition. In terms of what went well, Mike felt that having a very clear statement of what was intended (the bold ambition) was crucial, as was active sponsorship from senior leaders. In addition, their proactive stance on stakeholder management (internal and external) and maintaining pace throughout the programme were key. 

If they could go back and do things differently, Mike indicated that he would seek to minimise the impact of the change at the outset by working faster and ensuring business process were clear at the earliest point possible, think about how to improve communications to staff as they had been inundated with questions from them and weren’t always able to respond quickly enough), be ready to handle a higher volume of staff wanting to move to Cambridge sooner than expected, and develop better processes for handling “people information” (personal information relating to staff that needs to transfer with them as their locations and/or roles change) to ensure there was only ever one source of the truth. 

Breakout session: How does this story relate to your experiences of leading change? What have you learnt from these?  

Delegates were then invited to split into groups and consider their own experiences and the challenges they had faced. The findings were then presented back by each group in turn with the following being the main themes that were drawn-­‐out: 

1.    The need for effective and timely communication;
2.    Ensuring the ‘big message’ (the case for change) was clearly defined and shared;
3.    Ensuring middle managers are well versed and supported;
4.    Selling the benefits of the change to those impacted by it;
5.    Not making assumptions as to what people think or know; and
6.    Raising the profile of the change by impressing its priority on stakeholders and those with a part to play in its delivery.

(See full notes from the break‐out discussion attached) 

A question and answer session then followed in which delegates were able to ask Mike about his experiences and focus in on some of the areas he had presented on. 

Chris MacLeod 
East of England Branch 

Break out session notes

A complete audio recording of this event is available on our SoundCloud channel.


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