From the front line of a new work landscape: How Covance uses culture and tech to thrive

Patrick Taylor's headshot

Companies worldwide are navigating unprecedented disruptions to how they work. The most successful organizations are adapting to our new work landscape by powering remote teams (often for the first time), figuring out constantly shifting priorities, and trying to keep all facets of work, from people to data, connected. Reimagining work in this new reality is now a worldwide business imperative no matter the industry. But it’s especially important when you’re in the business of saving lives.

Meet Patrick Taylor, the Associate Director of Transformation Solutions at Covance, a global contract research organization (CRO) that’s helped pharmaceutical and biotech companies develop the top 50 prescription drugs in the marketplace today. I had the opportunity to sit down with Patrick and ask him how Covance, with its mission to improve health and improve lives, approaches work. Our conversation was pre-global pandemic, but sheds light on how Covance continues to meet unanticipated market demands and achieve operational excellence—by focusing relentlessly on people, process, and clients.

How does Covance achieve operational excellence in the face of unprecedented change? Although high-quality data and a proven track record of integrating and streamlining processes are important, the key lies within a single word: purpose. And there’s no better example of finding purpose in work than Patrick Taylor: a process improvement expert and compassionate people leader who’s been with Covance for almost 8 years and is a catalyst for revolutionizing how great work gets done.

Here’s what I learned from Patrick about what it takes to reimagine work in this new digital age.

My personal connection to the clinical trials work we do motivates every decision I make at work. My dad had a very rare heart condition. Doctors gave him no time to live without a transplant. A clinical drug trial saved his life. Patrick Taylor quote

Q: How does Covance’s mission to improve lives influence your sense of purpose in your work?

A: At Covance, our work is bigger than ourselves. There’s a great sense of purpose in what we do. Our business strategy and operations are rooted in keeping the greater good of patients in mind, a focus that shapes our culture at every level.

My personal connection to the clinical trials work we do motivates every decision I make at work. My dad had a very rare heart condition. Doctors gave him no time to live without a transplant. A clinical drug trial saved his life.

In addition to supporting a mission that’s personal to me, I get to lead people, develop talent, and fix broken processes. Yep, process improvement excites me. I’ve hit the sweet spot between personal and professional purpose.

Q: Covance’s business outcomes are closely tied to human well-being, so operational excellence is a top priority. How do you achieve it?

A: We start with visibility. Each piece of work we touch has the potential to be life altering for a patient, so visibility into every facet of work being done is critical. Having a work management solution that drives visibility helps us promote a patient-first cultural guiding light. We also rely on insights from reporting and metrics. Insights allow us to pivot quickly and be more nimble in responding to issues.

Personalization and automation are also key. Automation done right has a huge positive impact, but we’ll always rely on human intervention and judgement that’s based on experience. It’s about balancing human intuition and automation to tackle highly repetitive tasks, sharpen processes, reduce human error, and free people up to do high-value work. We standardize when we should and personalize when we can.

Workplace technology and tools need to make people's jobs easier. If the perception is that a tool is hard to use, perception is truth and we have to work to change it.

Q: Why is high-quality data a core value at Covance?

A: At the end of the day, we’re a data company. It’s our product. We are passionate about accurate, high quality data. Workfront—an Enterprise Work Management solution used extensively within our Central Laboratory Services (CLS) business unit—transforms the way we work by giving us a single source for internal productivity and process data. We’re always looking for opportunities to improve, like developing actionable data so we can go back and analyze and improve processes based on hard metrics.

Q: What role does culture and employee engagement play in operational effectiveness?

A: We have an ongoing initiative within Covance CLS—Covance ID—to make everyone’s purpose visible. We want to know what inspires people about their work. We started by asking every member of the leadership team to share their story—why their work at Covance is meaningful to them on a personal level—with the company.

It’s surprising and amazing how many people have powerful stories, like a loved one being impacted by a clinical trial, without even knowing it. The point is to cultivate a sense of community and inclusivity around personal stories that show the work we do often impacts someone we care about.

Q: What attributes of technology are critical to Covance’s operational excellence?

A: Configurability and ease of use. We choose workplace technology that lets different people, teams, and departments work how they want to work. We value technology that's configurable enough to empower people who want to test the tool’s limits yet simple enough for users who just want to be able to do what they need to do.

Take notifications, for example. Workfront allows each user to determine what notifications they want to see and how they want to see them is critical. We create a basic profile with notifications you need to see. Those who never want to touch those settings don’t have to. But those who want to configure settings to see and do more, can.

Workplace technology and tools need to make people’s jobs easier. If the perception is that a tool is hard to use, perception is truth and we have to work to change it.

Patrick Taylor quote

Q: To navigate this new world of work we need to reimagine work: how we work, where we work, and the tools we use to get work done. How do you inspire adoption?

A: Inspire adoption by showing people the benefits. Make it real for them. Tell them what’s in it for them. Explain how it will make their job easier and what’s at stake if we don’t change. There’s always resistance to change, and it usually flows through the same stages. Keep the end in mind by constantly showing what the future state will look like. Communicate the vision clearly and make time to take a one-person-at-a-time approach. It’ll be worth it.

Q: What obstacles still stand in the way of your productivity and high-value work?

A: I’m not shocked by the fact that when I reflect on my own productivity, I see a lot of time responding to emails and putting out fires. It’s part of my job but doesn’t directly tie to my objectives (or my company’s goals).

Working in silos, duplicate data, parallel processes that don’t talk to each other: these all contribute to work that doesn’t add value. I’m tackling these productivity barricades with Workfront, a work management solution that started in one group and continues to expand to other pockets of the company. It’s exciting to see other groups collaborate to bolt disparate processes together in pursuit of true end-to-end work management.

Covance stays focused on people, process, and clients to do great work—planned or unplanned.

Covance is successful—at both rigorous planned work and out-of-left-field unplanned work—because it balances culture and technology in tandem. Because it keeps people, process, and clients in focus at the same time.

Its leaders, like Patrick, are committed to not only improving processes, but also helping people. They prioritize keeping teams aligned to company goals, giving individuals visibility into how their daily work impacts the business’s bottom line, and connecting all elements of work, like data and the people managing it.

Covance continues to achieve operational excellence in uncertain times; a crucial skill for any modern enterprise, especially when you’re in the business of saving lives.