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Strengthening connection and organizational awareness for employee and company success

Stephany Foster Spahr is chief human resource officer at QIAGEN, a diagnostics and life sciences company, and sponsors the DEI program. She started her career at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Global Risk Management Services.

These past few years have been a time of profound change, with a constant stream of new challenges to navigate as a people leader. On top of the pandemonium of the pandemic, our company navigated a leadership change and a failed takeover bid in quick succession. Now we navigate those seismic shifts and ask two key questions as we grow: how do we keep people connected to each other and our organizational purpose?

As a 6,000+ person globally distributed company, we have molecular biologists, sales professionals, mechanical engineers, regulatory experts, marketers, and lab technicians—all of whose roles and personal preferences vary. How can we help them understand how their work fits together?

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In October 2020, we launched a cultural transformation program to better address the solutions to these questions. Every QIAGENer was invited to give feedback. Their responses pointed to three clear focus areas for the organization: developing leaders, being more strategic about prioritization, and stopping siloed thinking. These became our building blocks to strengthen organizational awareness.

How we foster interpersonal connections

Our executive team has found that the biggest wins in all three areas—developing leaders, strategic prioritization, and expanding siloed thinking—are driven by fostering interpersonal connections. Here’s a look at how we do it.

Focus on leadership: We started by focusing on leaders, knowing they can make or break interpersonal relationships on their teams. Every leader at QIAGEN must identify and work towards a culture-focused goal tied to 15% of their compensation. For example, one leader has committed to holding monthly meetings to share insights from senior leadership with the broader team and obtain feedback. While another leader has implemented “fail forward Fridays” as a safe space for team members to share where they failed and what they learned from it.

Expand understanding of the business: To help employees increase their understanding of the different parts of our business, we developed an internal course on biology for non-biologists and finance for non-finance folks. We implemented online onboarding to help new hires understand their organizational context, with pre-recorded welcome talks from each executive committee member and a guide to help people find essential company information.

Better prioritization: Pre-mortem meetings were introduced to identify key risks and mitigations and aid prioritization by killing off dud projects earlier. We realigned our guiding values to meet the feedback and perspectives of QIAGENers.

Investing in tools

Today’s employees have high expectations for technology and its use at work. So, in early 2021, we enhanced our investments in our leadership, processes, and values and invested in a tool that would help us stop siloed thinking and build interpersonal connections across the company.

When selecting a vendor for the technology, we wanted to find a tool that would foster authentic interpersonal connections at scale. We found Mindr, which impressed us as a one-stop platform for mentorship, ERGs, and best practices for building belonging. They were also great at translating best practices into action by delivering bite-sized “calls to action” through the platform to guide QIAGENers on how to strengthen interpersonal connections in their day-to-day work environment. And with our interest in supporting diverse suppliers, we were excited to learn they are one of <2% of enterprise technology companies with a woman founder.

Strengthening mentorship and ERGs

We have long understood that mentorship is critical to fostering interpersonal connections, but mentor relationships tend to exist within silos and reporting lines. So we leveraged Mindr here to scale impactful interpersonal connections authentically and globally. Our employees were excited about the Mindr Mentorship Exchange feature that pairs QIAGENers with a colleague who has complementary goals and skills but sits within a very different role, business unit, or location. For example, in the program’s current cohort, a field service specialist in the US is paired with a Romanian-based curation scientist and a life sciences marketer in Sao Paolo with a genomics sales manager in Finland.

Brazil-based marketing leader Carolina Souza was paired with Finland-based sales manager Mika Remes
Brazil-based marketing leader Carolina Souza was paired with Finland-based sales manager Mika Remes

Brazil-based marketing leader Carolina Souza was paired with Finland-based sales manager Mika Remes

Hundreds of QIAGENers are selected to participate each year. The chosen pairs advance together through Mindr’s virtual curriculum to build their networks and skills in setting goals, overcoming roadblocks, expanding their circle of influence, and creating a professional presence. They meet with each other and in groups with colleagues across their broader cohort. Suddenly, they’re learning about QIAGEN through entirely new eyes. We run three global cohorts of the program each year, covering different time zones, and have plans to offer the program in multiple languages.

The impact is significant. “This is a life-changing experience from a professional point of view,” reports our head of lifesciences marketing for Latin America and program alum Carolina Souza. “People are different. There is beauty in diversity. Practicing active listening may empower you so that you can achieve your personal goals faster. Learning from others, in my opinion, is still the best way.”

As in life, organizational awareness and self-awareness go hand in hand. “This program is helping me to understand our corporate vision better and also to become a stronger leader and professional.” Carolina’s experience is reflected in the numbers. For example, 88% of participants agree the program has fostered a greater sense of connection to the company, and 85% say it has improved their QIAGEN experience across the board.

Many mentorship alums have gone on to lead or champion one of our four ERGs: QIAwomen, Thrive@QIAGEN (our disability and mental health community), QIAGEN Parents & Caregivers Community, and Pride@QIAGEN (our LGBTQ+ community). These groups utilize the Mindr platform to develop impactful ERG events, tap into DEI best practices, grow their subscriber base, and access analytics on where the most significant DEI impact and business ROI are coming from. These communities build another layer of mutual awareness and understanding. “You don’t need to identify as part of a community to join, as allies and supporters are welcome,” says Mattias Finnström, a Manchester-based digital business manager and a leader of Pride@QIAGEN. “In all honesty, I think I will probably learn the most from the communities I identify the least with.”

Mentorship alumni Dorcas Ogundipe and Mattias Finnström have utilized their organizational awareness to advance the learning and involvement of their colleagues.
Mentorship alumni Dorcas Ogundipe and Mattias Finnström have utilized their organizational awareness to advance the learning and involvement of their colleagues.

Mentorship alumni Dorcas Ogundipe and Mattias Finnström have utilized their organizational awareness to advance the learning and involvement of their colleagues.

Planning for the future of belonging and organizational awareness

As markets, industries, and organizations shift and change, so does organizational awareness. In 2023, we will be launching our second phase of the mentorship exchange: the Mindr Mentorship Ambassadors, which helps program alums harness their increased organizational awareness to build a culture of mentorship across the company. We will also be empowering a group of diversity ambassadors to host site-specific roundtables, trainings, workshops, and events to educate the QIAGEN community on different perspectives than their own.

In the words of Mindr Mentorship Exchange alum Dorcas Ogundipe, “there is something extraordinarily powerful about connecting with colleagues you would never otherwise have met and realizing how much you share in common. At the end of the day, we are all QIAGENers, and we are all in this together.”

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