“You Can’t Rush Change”: Lead the Future Podcast with Frank Stramaglia, General Manager, Astellas Pharma Canada


Culture change takes time. 

When it comes to culture change, “the benefit in the journey is what you learn and what you experience along the way,” Frank Stramaglia, General Manager of Astellas Pharma Canada, said on our Lead the Future podcast recently. “So, you can’t rush too much because then you miss out on those things,” he said.  

Stramaglia spoke to us in the middle of a culture change journey at Astellas. He emphasized how deliberate his leadership team has been about trying to get each and every individual and team on board with changing their behavior, in order to sustainably change the way the company operates. Through that process, Astellas’ leadership came up with three words to sum up the culture they will need to move forward: ambition, competitiveness, and accountability. 


Everyone at the company needs to change their behavior to make culture change stick. 

Like many organizations, Astellas is facing an urgent business challenge. After having restructured and gone through downsizing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company now needs to launch several new products in the next 18 months. More broadly, Astellas must change its business model to move into more specialty markets and therapeutics.  

In order to make all that happen, Astellas must change its culture. “The environment we’re in is a unique environment, it’s one that none of us have dealt with before,” Stramaglia said. “In order for us to be successful moving forward, we can’t rely on how we’ve operated to date, we’ve got to change and evolve.”  


People will engage if you bring the conversation to them. 

Stramaglia and his team knew that they couldn’t drive change with only the executive team on board. “We didn’t take anything and push it down the organization,” Stramaglia said. They brought the conversation to all layers of the organization, including individual contributors.  

As a result, Stramaglia said, after less than a year, employee engagement had jumped more than 20%, and they’d also grown the business by 15%. Stramaglia also said that it was clear in conversations with people across the organization that their thinking had changed: “It was rare that I’d be in a meeting where I didn’t hear somebody use one of those three words” that summed up the three pillars of their new culture, he said.  


Focus on building change from the bottom up. 

Here are a few of the strategies Stramaglia and his team used to drive sustainable culture change over the long term: 

  • The era exercise. They broke the history of the organization into 3 distinct eras, and ran workshops where employees could learn about those eras from people who had been there. “That led to a call to action with the blank slate of Era Four,” Stramaglia said. “Now it’s up to all of us to define the next phase of our history.” 
  • Asking, not telling. Leaders at all levels of the organization ran workshops with their teams where they presented the business challenge facing the company and explored the changing market dynamics. Then they asked teams and individuals to define what those challenges would mean for them—how their behavior would have to change to meet the moment. 
  • A road show. Stramaglia also took the unusual—and time-consuming—step of meeting one on one with every single employee in the organization. “It worked out to be just over three months,” he said. He asked everyone what they thought were the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, and what they needed from their leaders.  

The road show in particular was game-changing for Stramaglia. “I’ve never been more inspired and fired up as a leader than I was coming out of that exercise,” Stramaglia said. “I was really impressed with how people came prepared. I was impressed with how transparent they were, what they shared with me. And I was overwhelmed by the amount of trust that people put in me to share that type of information,” he said.  


Take our Leadership Culture Survey to assess the health of your team or organization. Are your leaders aligned with the culture you want to create? 

Download the Astellas Pharma Canada Case Study.

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