Genchi Genbutsu: Lilly’s Lechleiter Visits the Night Shift

I don’t know about you, but the relentless drum beat of negative news has been getting to me lately.  Every day seems to bring news of some drastic four-figure, restructuring, whether in pharma or other industries.

Last week brought some points of light:  meeting a young Genentech manager who is making employee development and the “human touch” part of overseeing the company’s manufacturing operations at a new facility; visiting the Toyota NUMMI plant and having a tour led by a zany (and zealous) employee who wasn’t faking the enthusiasm. Sara was a Trekkie for Toyota.  More on both counts, soon.

Most intriguing, though, was hearing of one pharma CEO who is actually in touch with employees, who is overseeing corporate Six Sigma efforts and blogging.   Rumor has it that he recently visited a night shift crew at a relatively remote location in the midwest, and blogged about it. I read the recent WSJ article on Lechleiter that mentioned his blogging, but I figured it was another “corporate” (read: stuffed shirt)  blog… 

Blogging about shift employees is just the kind of thing that managers at Toyota might have done if blogging had been around back then. If you want to know what your employees are dealing with, and what’s going on, go and see for yourself (Genchi Genbutsu!) 

The blog is a corporate one, and is safely behind Lilly’s firewall.

I made the mistake of asking the company’s media affairs people to send one or two noncontroversial sample entries from that blog…like the one about the night shift visit.    I knew that the interview with John was a long shot….although I gave them an open-ended time frame…but I thought the blog request was a slam dunk.

I had wanted to see a few posts, in case they might inspire any top managers stumbling upon this blog who behave like “young” Mr. Grace (for any of you who haven’t seen the old comedy, Are you Being Served, Mr. Grace would leave corporate parties saying, in effect,.”You’re all doing very well…now who the hell are you”? A clip here )

Again, I didn’t ask for the blog excerpts immediately…just for the request to be put into the queue.Here’s what I heard back.

 Thanks for your interest in John and his leadership of Lilly. I've looked into this, and unfortunately we will not be able to participate in your story at this time due to competing priorities. However, we appreciate you contacting us with this opportunity.  
“Well surely someone could cut and paste a few samples that were not controversial, no?” 
Reply #2In regards to this request, I'm afraid that what you're asking for isn't as simple as it sounds. Hopefully you can understand that in this current environment, we have limited staff resources and therefore must prioritize -- especially when it involves our CEO 
Couldn’t someone review quickly and cut and paste a sample in the time it took to fire off three emails?  
Every request for information of this type must go through legal channels… followed by a fourth, “If you cover this industry, I’m surprised that you would think it’s so simple.” 
I replied that some pharma PR departments apply common sense to requests that aren’t demanding trade secrets, formulas, or whistleblowing data. Not many, but some. I have worked with such professionals and I know that they do exist.   
If there are any Lilly employees out there who can email excerpts anonymously via a hotmail or other personal account and using a non-office computer, I think they’d be educational. Or maybe this story is just a sub-urban legend…like good king Wenceslas...("good chief exec Lechleiter".).. Rhetorical question: Why is media relations such an oxymoron at so many pharma companies?