PULSE Lab – Leveraging a “Big Business” skills-based volunteering initiative to create a strategic model for intrapreneurship which builds human capital and delivers innovation to the global community.
Tell us about yourself/your team.
GSK is committed to supporting the global community in the not-for-profit arena through the PULSE Volunteer Partnership. All 4 members of the core team (Kevin, Graham, Michelle & Ann) did PULSE assignments in the UK, Kenya, Ghana, & South Africa in 2010. We have a united mission to explore how GSK can harness its reputation for “quality” & “focus on scientific excellence” to magnify the efforts of external organisations to bring innovative solutions for healthcare in the developing world.
Alongside our full-time scientist roles we imagined how impactful & empowering PULSE Lab could be, as a hub to incubate & leverage the delivery of innovative ideas conceived by PULSE alumni & other employees from across the entire GSK corporation (over 100,000 staff).
What makes you an intrapreneur? What are the skills, capabilities, and personality traits that make you an intrapreneur?
Scientific roles in GSK demand tenacity & innovative thinking, all directed towards helping people do more, feel better & live longer. Our experiences living & working in the developing world added a richer understanding of global development needs, coupled with passion & energy to strive towards making a real difference.To thrive during our PULSE assignments, we demonstrated self-confidence, excellent problem solving skills & sensitive cross-cultural communications.Back in GSK we have spent over 18 m networking widely across the entire enterprise to inspire others with our PULSE Lab vision. We have bonded as a cross-functional matrix team, learned from our mistakes & grown as leaders. Intrinsically we have resilience to bounce-back in the face of obstacles & work harder towards our goal
About Your Organization
United Kingdom, ESS
Primary country where this project is creating social impact
Additional countries or regions
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Select the stage that best applies to your solution
Growth (your pilot is up and running, and starting to expand)
The Need: What social or environmental problem are you trying to solve?
GSK gives staff the opportunity to volunteer for 1 day a year in their local community. The GSK PULSE Volunteer Partnership is a skills-based initiative that matches motivated employees to a non-profit organisation, full-time, for 3 or 6 months. We know, from personal experience, that volunteers return to their business area with innovative ideas about how GSK could do more to help the global community but lack a structure or network to test & support delivery of these intrapreneurial ideas.
Because this structure didn’t exist for us we decided to invent it! We wanted a novel strategic model of intrapreneurship to unlock the silo-thinking which often exists in big business & unleash the passions of people to deliver innovative, high quality solutions for issues in the developing world
The Solution: What is your solution? Be specific!
PULSE Lab builds on GSK’s corporate responsibility strategy and its volunteer programme.
PULSE Lab is an enduring, but virtual, hub for returning volunteers, the GSK corporation and external partners who can see opportunities for partnership and innovation to benefit the developing world. It provides a platform for ideas to be heard, a forum for incubation and evaluation together with a proven pathway illuminating the route to delivery.
Looking to the future, beyond the pilot phase, the success of PULSE Lab will be assessed by the commercial and/or social value of the projects delivered. For intrapreneurs, working on PULSE Lab projects alongside their day-job, they learn to be highly successful networkers and leaders, collaborating across silos to harness the breadth and depth of GSK intellectual, human and financial capital.
The Solution: Why is this solution innovative for your company and industry?
Creates a bridge between GSK, external partners & those in the developing world enabling delivery of sustainable not-for-profit healthcare solutions.
Is seen as innovative from the perspective of large funding bodies, e.g., The Wellcome Trust, “providing a missing Portal into all areas of big Pharma outside of the traditional commercial routes”.
Creates a community for volunteers to collaborate across functional silos to deliver intrapreneurial ideas from GSK
The Model: Walk us through a specific example of how your solution makes a difference; include your primary activities.
In 2011, 5 PULSE volunteers, independently, identified opportunities for GSK staff to help magnify the existing efforts of multiple NGO’s by leveraging the scientific skills & competencies of staff at GSK. Individually none of these ideas could be supported by their managers because they were not aligned with departmental goals & strategies.
We invented PULSE Lab & spent 6 months refining the design talking to as many people as possible. This included identifying a sponsor in the CEO Office to launch the PULSE Lab process as a “call to action” seeking innovative, game-changing ideas where GSK could do more to help the global community.
Collating the ideas we recognised that the 5 ideas mentioned above could be combined to create a more impactful micro volunteering model (ie short term volunteering done alongside a persons day jobs utilizing their professional skills & networks).
This was presented to a Dragons Den panel of senior managers drawn from multiple businesses across the GSK Enterprise. The Panel were really enthusiastic about the concept & made resources available to refine the details of the micro-volunteering model & then implement it across the organisation.
As a result of PULSE Lab individual ideas from a disparate group of volunteers were given a voice & heard, unfiltered by departmental goals.
In the future, we anticipate all staff will be able to micro-volunteer with a philanthropic or NGO-led project if they choose. In this way, NGO’s gain short-term access to new skills which enables them to deliver their quest to benefit humanity
The Marketplace: Who are your peers and competitors? Identify others also working to address the needs you are and what differentiates you from them. What challenges could these players pose to your success or growth?
Other multinationals run volunteer schemes or have created portals into their business for NGOs & funding bodies, e.g. Dow Corning, IBM, & Pfizer. PULSE lab is differentiated by the goal to harness resources across GSK in addition to existing healthcare projects whilst providing a single entry point for 3rd parties along philanthropic lines.
As human capital is the primary resource being made available, the competition for employee time will be against GSK’s commercial objectives.
NGOs that see a role in managing this interface with multinational business could help in inter-business relationships along philanthropic lines.
Existing NGO partners could feel pressure from new collaborations. Relationships will require careful management to ensure a strategic & deliverable portfolio
This Entry is about (Issues)
Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world.
Through her PULSE assignment, Ann recognised the lack of low-cost, child-friendly formulations for fixed-dose combinations (FDCs) of HIV medications in resource-poor settings. Generic manufacturers operating in local settings typically do not have the expertise or funding to develop these complex FDCs that would improve paediatric compliance.
Since legacy GSK company Burroughs Wellcome first developed AZT, GSK has consistently led the way in developing many of the gold-standard treatments vital to developing these paediatric FDCs. Ann solicited help from PULSE alumni to bring this idea to life. These conversations led the four of us PULSE Alumni to recognise that the PULSE Lab innovation model could be used to bring scientific rigour to a more diverse collection of innovative ideas. The goal of PULSE Lab went from being a delivery mechanism for one idea to becoming an incubator & accelerator to support a whole host of novel ideas.
What has been the impact of your solution to date?
In the past 12 months, we launched a world-wide call within GSK for PULSE Lab submissions. Highly motivated, passionate individuals now have a mechanism to seek business support for their ideas. Through a Dragons Den process, a panel of senior stakeholders & PULSE alumni with relevant experience evaluated the 35 ideas submitted in this first round & prioritized the ideas by their potential for success. Visibility from the panel has helped submitters make connections across the business & gives them implicit approval to continue working on these ideas. PULSE alumni submitters & panel members continue to be engaged in the highly-impactful goals they had on their assignments eg the micro-volunteering idea now has dedicated resource to develop the model & deliver it across GSK. This will open the opportunity to thousands more people to engage with philanthropic projects.
PULSE Lab is building the capabilities of key talent & is developing the next generation of GSK leaders.
What is your projected impact over the next 1 to 3 years?
The PULSE Lab process builds human capital by unleashing the passions of talented individuals, honing their ability to write persuasive business cases & build traction for their ideas. Through the panel review process, they are connected to senior stakeholders & other PULSE alumni, building a network across GSK. Pursuing these projects in addition to their core jobs diversifies their skills & builds resilience through managing the challenges of pursuing novel ideas. PULSE alumni involvement in the panel increase employee ownership & engagement in the PULSE Lab. This process empowers employees to realize their unique talents & unleashes their passion to support GSK’s core mission. As PULSE Lab projects find traction, it starts a virtuous cycle to further support talent development.
What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?
We lack dedicated resource to manage the PULSE Lab, as all of us intrapreneurs are leading PULSE Lab in addition to our day jobs. We need robust mechanisms to connect related ideas/proposers, track the scope & delivery of the ideas portfolio, & assess the impact & effectiveness of a philanthropic/not-for-profit value-stream. Changing business priorities pull the PULSE Lab developers & other intrapreneurs away from this model.
Embedding the microvolunteering program within the organization will provide a secure resource option to deliver PULSE Lab projects. We are also exploring whether the PULSE Lab management can be brought under the remit of the PULSE Programme office to provide stronger, enduring senior sponsorship.
What is the benefit or value you're creating for your business?
PULSE Lab helps GSK build human capital. Specifically:
LEADERSHIP:to craft persuasive business cases, attract other alliances, build intellectual property & manage projects.
EMPOWERMENT:to break through silos, facilitate integration across the enterprise, strengthen participation/ownership of decision-making & develop a stronger psychological contract with GSK.
INCREASE TACIT KNOWLEDGE:PULSE alumni have specialised scientific skills & real-world NGO experiences. This has uniqueness, is inimitable, creates value & contributes to GSK core competence.
How are you leveraging internal resources (funds, time, knowledge, etc.) to support this initiative?
Creating PULSE Lab has drawn significantly on discretionary effort from the PULSE alumni. The core team has negotiated informal arrangements with local line management to create & develop relevant cross-functional networks. We have consulted broadly with key stakeholders & knowledge workers across the enterprise to scope & refine the project. We have leveraged these relationships to secure both central (CEO Office, HR Talent & Leadership Development, PULSE Programme Office) & local (R&D leadership) sponsorship for our vision. This has accelerated communication efforts across the organisation. At a team level, we have made selective use of change management models & collaboration tools for knowledge sharing.
Expand on your answer, explaining the long-term funding and support plan.
The endgame vision is for a self-sustaining PULSE lab with a portfolio of projects. Engaging staff in these projects will enhance the employee value proposition & build human capital for GSK. Our goal is to have a Board of senior stakeholders (academic/GSK) to review projects for suitability & to network for funding. PULSE Lab will remain a global matrix embedded within the enterprise & minimal central management, limited to coordination of funding applications, internal network maintenance, external network development (includes NGO’s, academia, & other GSK partnerships with a complementary CSR offering). Senior stakeholder support is critical to endorse selective commitment of resource from the lines & capitalise upon the model as an innovative forum for talent development.
Tell us about your partnerships across your company and externally that are key to your project's success.
Clear sponsorship from the CEO Office
Re-enforcing sponsorship from the PULSE Programme Office, HR Talent & Leadership Development, GSK Functional leaders
Ideation partner support from NGO’s, PULSE alumni, academia, GSK staff, Non-profit organisations, external innovators
Critical resource providers are funding bodies, employee resource groups
What internal support have you gotten for your project? What kind of push-back have you received?
Unconditional support from PULSE alumni who want a forum to get their ideas heard.
Conditional support from line managers allowing us to operate as “skunkworks” alongside our daily roles.
Initial push-back when PULSE Lab was proposed as a co-located team with management overhead. Re-defining it as a cross-functional matrix aligns better with the corporate culture.
Initial struggle to find the right sponsor because it spans such a large enterprise.