From Underperformance to Overachieving: Culture Change at Bayer Berkeley

Implementing Lean has transformed Bayer’s B55 team.

By Cathy Keck Anderson and the B55 Team at Bayer HealthCare, Berkeley, California

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Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series featuring manufacturing teams that are excelling and moving the industry forward. If you have a team that deserves notice, please email us at

Over the course of more than five years, Bayer HealthCare has undertaken a formal operational excellence initiative within its biotechnology operations. Deploying Lean Six Sigma has created significant operational efficiencies and cost savings. In fact, Bayer employees have generated millions in savings in the past few years by implementing changes to their work processes as a result of Lean Six Sigma projects. These strategies are often applied on a project-by-project basis as organizations continue to focus on operational excellence. This case study describes how one team at Bayer's Berkeley biotechnology manufacturing supply center has piloted an approach that uses a foundation of cultural change to bolster operational excellence initiatives—transforming their operating model for continuous improvement.

The Before Picture: A Glaring Need for Improvement
B55 is one of three production facilities at Bayer HealthCare’s biotechnology manufacturing campus in Berkeley, Calif. The facility was significantly underperforming compared to other production facilities on the same site, with lower production volumes compared to other production facilities on campus, higher rates of incident reports and batch record errors, and a higher number of OSHA reportable injuries.

Whether it was a cause or effect of the underperformance, morale was low. Operators in B55 describe a “before” picture of an organization with significant employee relations issues. The organizational structure was very hierarchical. Information was available to staff on the production floor only on a “need to know” basis, and decisions or changes imposed by management created an “us vs them” culture, leading the staff on the floor to behave in self-protection vs. business-protection mode.

Operators were rarely challenged or challenged themselves. They did tasks they preferred or felt confident doing. As a result, there was moderate technical proficiency in the entire fermentation and media process in B55. In addition, employees tended to work in silos and this limited their shop-floor interactions. There was an environment of individuals working side-by-side, but not together—that is, doing independent work on a continuous work stream. This poor communication extended to within extended to interactions with other functions, such as quality, warehouse, and procurement.

There were other problematic issues as well—the frequent wasting of materials, operating in a “fire fighting” mode, viewing Quality Assurance as a policing function—all of which were symptomatic of larger operational issues.

The Steps Toward Success

A change in production management at B55 provided Bayer, and the B55 team, the opportunity to alter its course. Saulye Sherrell had previously worked for Bayer in operational excellence and after a brief hiatus returned to the company in the new role of B55 production manager. Her first step was to take stock of the situation. Sherrell met with every supervisor and operator as well as the people who provided support to the facility, from manufacturing sciences to quality and from procurement to warehouse. She saw an opportunity to create a new cultural foundation to support operational excellence on an ongoing (vs. a project-by-project) basis.

The first step was to change the role of the supervisor from director to facilitator. The continuing change has had a profound impact on morale and on technical proficiency.

Today, supervisors in B55 no longer control key steps in the manufacturing process such as ordering reagents or other supplies. Instead, they focus on “Servant Leadership,” a philosophy and practice defined by Robert Greenleaf and supported by management writers from Peter Senge to Stephen Covey. B55 supervisors work to coach and support the operators who are working in self-directed teams. 
In addition, supervisors are charged with supporting the professional development of the operators. In fact, every employee in B55 has a Development Action Plan that traces his or her technical certifications, business process knowledge, and alignment with Bayer’s cultural values. Not only do supervisors meet regularly with every operator, Sherrell meets with each on a quarterly basis to review development goals, training needs and career aspirations for each employee. These “skip level” meetings are a great source of ideas and help build operator confidence as subject matter experts.

Bayer Berkeley

The team worked with Manufacturing Sciences to develop the MS Academy to deliver key training programs that operators needed to achieve greater technical proficiency and to better understand underlying scientific premises in the manufacturing process. Safety initiatives have also paid dividends, reducing OSHA recordable accidents over a two year period to zero. The outcome of all of these changes is a highly motivated work force which has increased its technical proficiency, from operators who were certified on 69% of process steps to those who are certified on average as proficient in 93% of the process steps.

Out With Elephants, In With NASCAR
Lurking in every organization is at least one elephant—the problem that some can see, but no one wants to acknowledge.  Poor performance was our elephant, and Sherrell had to begin to make operators aware of significant performance issues of the team while also tackling low morale. She set the stage for B55’s first-ever Kaizen event by making sure everyone understood the performance issues to be addressed: the 25% lower fermenter productivity, higher error rates and recorded accidents than other teams; misguided employee attitudes toward compliance; poor working relationships with other functions, and poor relations between supervisors and employees.

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