Argenta Dundee
A case study in cultural transformation

Neil Devons

The Company

Argenta provides veterinary product development and pharmaceutical contract manufacturing services to the international animal health industry.

Previously part of a larger pharmaceutical company, the Dundee operation was acquired by Argenta in April 2017.

The 80,000-square-foot Dundee facility encompasses a manufacturing plant, laboratories and warehouse spaces for the production of a broad range of high-quality animal health products, including non-sterile liquids, suspensions, and gels. It currently employs 130 people on-site.

Becoming part of a much smaller company, the leadership team at Argenta Dundee had to redefine their roles and responsibilities and to take on tasks that had previously dealt with by specialists in other parts of the group. These included HR, payroll, VAT returns and managing cashflow.

The change of ownership also entailed considerable culture change, team development and workforce engagement.

Argenta benefited from participation in Scottish Enterprise’s Workplace Innovation Engagement Programme where they were introduced to new forms of training as well attending a series of workshops facilitated by Workplace Innovation Limited where they were introduced to the Essential Fifth Element Diagnostic, an on-line employee survey tool designed to assess a broad spectrum of workplace practices.

The Challenge

As part of a large multi-national, the leadership team at the Dundee operation enjoyed all the support they needed in terms of funding, training, strategy, logistics, exporting/importing, and sales from internal sources at its US based headquarters. After the sale to Argenta, a much smaller New Zealand based business, this support was no longer available and the management team needed to take on responsibilities and new decision-making that they had not previously encountered. In addition, the uncertainty associated with the sale of the business threatened staff morale.

David O'Byrne, Operational Excellence Lead at Argenta Dundee, identified two specific issues following the sale on the business to Argenta:

The senior leadership team had to get much more involved in the strategic management of the business and as a result we had stop focusing on being scientists and engineers. Secondly, the career opportunities that existed in the multi-national company were no longer available. We now have to work much harder to keep our best people engaged and interested. We must ensure that they can see how their career will develop in Argenta. . .

The prolonged sale of the business created uncertainty amongst the staff and, although most accepted that some redundancies were inevitable, senior management recognised at an early stage that this need to be managed sensitively.

David O’Byrne explained the need for adopting personal change if you want to make new forms of communication effective.

We tried to make sure senior managers spend more time with front line staff and less time at their desks. Senior managers are encouraged to get out and make contact with people and ask how are you getting on? Have that personal conversation - how is your process running here? Are you okay?

But it’s clear if you don’t have the right attitude to change, if you don’t have managers who are open to relinquishing power, if you don’t have a strategy from the leadership team that is being effectively communicated, if you don’t have a frontline workforce who are engaged and not scared by change and don’t feel that change is going to cost them their job, if employees at every level aren’t engaged and the culture is not right then you are going to lose every time.

David described the process of creating more effective communication, of getting people focused on the things that were stopping them doing their job better and the importance breaking down silos, getting teams working better together and getting the leadership team around the floor and pushing decision-making down to the lowest possible level.

Solutions can be very simple. A normally stress-ridden morning meeting was pushed back by half an hour giving people time to catch up on any issues that arose overnight or in the previous evening, talk to their team, have a cup of coffee and breath. People then began to come to the meeting more relaxed and with positive solutions or suggestions.

Workplace Innovation teaches you to go and find out what people’s problems really are, to listen to what they are saying and work with them to identify whether there something to it and how you can help? Workplace Innovation also highlights that you must not ignore ideas coming from unlikely sources. It’s very easy to ignore the lone voice but it’s the power of the best argument - the best argument should win no matter where that comes from.

In one case, the management team were considering ways of handling trip hazards in a manufacturing area with multiple hoses on the floor connecting various tanks and some new fixed pipework was suggested. Had they left it to the engineering team, tens of thousand pounds worth of stainless steel piping would have been the solution, but they involved the operators, one of whom suggested using some existing pipes which are currently only used during the cleaning process.

We have multiple PhDs but nobody else had thought of this radical idea to use the pipework that’s already in the room. Just take off the sticker that says ‘cleaning’.

Engagement is key. This incident shows how new thinking at Argenta encouraged an operator to speak up in front of management to make a point where previously he may have said nothing but grumbled down the pub saying “I could have told them that.”

Feedback is not just about making operators feel good, it is about encouraging them to release their potential. If someone makes a suggestion give them feedback even if it’s telling them why you haven’t acted upon it or you may never get another suggestion from them.

According to David O’Byrne, it’s also about identifying with what you’re doing and seeing he bigger picture. It’s about employees accepting and implementing change and future proofing the business and it’s about ensuring there is not only effective and consistent communication but everyone is made to feel part of the decision-making process.