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    How Bob Calvano Is Building a Strategic In-house Team (Part Two)

    inhouse_calvano_wall
    As part of restructuring the in-house design team at Merck, Bob Calvano has introduced a collaboration wall, where designers can display their works in progress for impromptu conversations and critiques. (Image courtesy of Bob Calvano)

    Bob Calvano heads up the Media Services group, a 50+ multidisciplinary in-house creative team at Merck, one of the leading pharmaceutical companies operating in today’s global marketplace. In this edited three-part conversation, he outlines the strategies and tactics he and his group are employing to raise their stature and increase their impact—and offers valuable insights to help you do the same.

    Part one of the conversation focused on marketing and account management. In this segment, Bob discusses the structural changes he made to his department, how he convinced management and his team to get behind those changes, and the benefits he’s hoping will result from the reorg.

    What are you doing internally with your team—the structure, the people you have, the way they’re working together—in order to make your group more strategic?

    I needed to simplify the structure, and I think we’ve done that by taking out some of the layers and distinctions of visual communications, research communications, and creative communications, so that the perception and line of communication internally is more straightforward and not siloed.

    In other words, they’re now broken down more by function than by what internal businesses the staff were servicing?

    Yes. So the legacy of how this team came together…at one point it was five or six groups that were kind of mashed into one, and they continued operating the way they had always operated. Now internally I’m getting the team to operate as one team, think as one team, and to have one budget versus multiple budgets. I’m to simplify the organization as much as we can for clients and for ourselves by consolidating the groups by the services they can offer to our clients.

    What is it that would happen on the client side with the more complex modeling that you had in place?

    Well, there was a complexity in understanding who should they go to. Say they went to media services. Well, who was media services? It was really no one until they got into one of the silos like research communications or visual communications. And then in visual communications, well what was that made up of? It was photography and webcasting and video production. And then, who should they talk to there?

    A client really doesn’t know who to go to because there are so many different functions and skill sets and lines of business. So from a client perspective, simplifying the way the organization is structured helps them understand where to go, and by putting account management in place [read more about that in part one of this conversation], we’re really going to be able to hold their hands a bit more and have a single point of contact, and they shouldn’t worry about well, do I need to talk to the webcast guy or the video production guy? They should just know what their needs are, and we should have account managers on the front line understanding those needs, bringing that business into the organization and having it be really transparent for folks. They shouldn’t get caught up in the layers or complexity of the organization or how we’re structured.

    So what’s the benefit for the people on the inside?

    Well, Merck in general is siloed by the different divisions they have, and then it’s siloed by the different organizations within those divisions. Our setup was no different than the rest of the company’s, so we had these silos too.

    I think what this new structure will do is open up collaboration across all the different areas where we provide creative services. So photography and video production and print design and interactive design will all feel a bit more like one organization versus multidisciplinary teams working for different corporate business areas. It’ll help everybody collaborate or see things a little more holistically. There is an “us and them” vibe going on right now, and I want to eliminate that internally and have the group be one very cohesive, collaborative organization.

    You’re reorganizing who reports to whom and what the different teams are, so I have to ask, did you get resistance to that and how did you address that resistance?

    So the first part of the question is, has there been any resistance? And I think yes is the simple answer. But I’m getting the buy-in.

    Merck is a place that loves to talk about change and then when you actually go to implement change, it’s a culture that’s not very receptive. People have been here a long time, they’re very set in their ways, it’s a wonderful place to work and trying to change all that is stressful for folks. So I’m seeing that; not so much that there’s resistance, but that there’s anxiety or fear about change, and it’s upsetting what people have known for the past twenty-five years.

    The way that I got buy-in from a structural perspective was going to my boss and presenting her with what I thought had to be done and the foundational elements we needed to put into place if we were to scale globally, which I know the company wants to do. Part of that requirement was having a flexible workforce, partnering with a staffing agency to put that flexible workforce in place that allows us to grow where we need to grow.

    So once I presented the structure to my boss and she said OK, I took my strategy up another level to the vice president. In that presentation, I showed the vice president, from a vertical perspective, all the different areas that we were addressing: how we were going to address customers with account management, how we were going to address the business needs around the scientific side of this company, and how we would address issues from a design studio and media perspective.

    Then I also showed the horizontals in this model, what the Merck full-timers would offer on a strategic level. They were going to be the leadership team to help drive the studio where it needed to go, shaping our future and current business, helping to direct the growth and really owning the quality of the work of the group going forward.

    I was pitching a whole business model, and at the VP level it was very well received.

    What effect did the restructure have on the staff side, the studio side? What was happening there that you had to address?

    On the staff side, what I did to make sure I was going to get all the support I needed, to get the buy-in, was to bring in my managers as early on as I could and get them involved in the decision-making process with an understanding of the “why.” Why were we doing this? What did we need to put in place and why? What were our goals? What were our challenges going to be? Once the mangers were on board, they could disseminate the strategy down to those reporting to them and from there down to the individual contributor level. I needed my managers to support this because if any one of them didn’t believe in it or support it, we’d be, I’d be, doomed.

    What are you doing to create this more collaborative environment beyond just the reorg, the structural changes within the group?

    Yeah, so there’s the reorg on paper, right? To break those silos down on paper is one thing, but I’ve actually gone ahead and said, OK, we need to change the way we work physically, our spaces. Merck is your typical corporate cube environment, and it doesn’t promote collaboration in any way shape or form, so we’ve taken all the cubes out of the space, we’ve knocked down walls, we’ve created an open space. We’ve changed everybody’s desks, the way that their monitors are mounted and their work space so that it’s completely open. You’ll be able to see across the entire area versus that land of cubes.

    I’ve put in a wall that is a collaboration wall where designers can go and hang their work up and have impromptu sort of collaborative conversations around the state of a poster or project or any design work, to get people openly critiquing each other’s work in a space where you can actually see that the conversation is happening.

    We’ve also created collaborative work areas within the space, so what was an office is now a room that’s a collaborative workspace where the entire wall is a white board to get people into rooms having conversations, very authentic creative conversations, and to get everybody thinking out loud so that people can see these conversations and join in the conversations. It’s about as big a change as you can do to people here at Merck—take away their cubes, their own little private spaces.

    I’m going to have to lead by example. I’ve started doing that by having conversations in front of this wall, this design wall, to get people out there hanging their work up, sort of exposing themselves and getting adjusted to and comfortable with what criticism sounds like. It’s a really tough environment at times, but I want it to be very constructive, to be supportive of people’s work but also try to get the level of the work up a bit higher. The only way to do that is to have some conversations around hey, what’s going on? What’s working, what’s not working? How do we make that better?

    About the Author: 

    Andy Epstein started his career as a freelance designer and illustrator with clients as varied as Bacardi, Canon, Bantam Books and Merck. Jumping into the world of in-house in 1992, Andy created and grew in-house design teams for Commonwealth Toy and Gund. He later restructured and expanded the hundred-person creative team at Bristol-Myers-Squibb and consulted at Johnson & Johnson. After a three year stint at Designer Greetings leading an in-house design team responsible for the company’s product lines and Point Of Sales materials, Andy moved back into pharma heading up a 65+ managed services team at Merck.

    Andy has written and spoken extensively on in-house issues and published “The Corporate Creative”, a book on in-house design, in partnership with F&W Publications in the spring of 2010. He is a co-founder of InSource, an association dedicated to providing support to in-house designers and design team managers. Most recently he was head of INitiative, the AIGA program dedicated to in-house outreach and support where he expanded on his efforts to empower in-house teams and raise their stature in the design and business communities.

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