Office Hours: I'm the head of people and organization for digital transformation at Novartis.Featured

Hi everyone! I’m Miriam Donaldson, head of people and organization for the digital transformation at Novartis. I have worked with Novartis since 2004 in drug development, operations, marketing, and people focused roles. I’m passionate about reimagining medicine, our culture transformation, and setting people up to be their best! I have a bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology from the University of Virginia and an MBA from Harvard Business School. I’m married and have two teenage kids and have been living as an expat in Switzerland for 17 years. Ask me anything about healthcare, leadership, growth, organization, and more!
Thanks so much for joining us @miriamd!Elphas – please ask @miriamd your questions before Friday, April 30th. @miriamd may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hi @miriamd! Thanks for sharing your knowledge here. What advice do you have for career changers who are interested in working at places like Novartis after mid career pivots?
Hello! Have a look at my reply below about how you pitch your career and experiences. I think this is super important. It's also important to understand the challenges a company like Novartis is trying to solve and a bit about how we are organized to start to uncover where the right entry place might be to maximize your previous experiences. One of the things I love about Novartis is people are very willing to connect and engage so I'd suggest trying to have some informal chats with people at Novartis or any company of interest to learn first, then take a more targetted approach on the types of roles you might like to explore.
Hello @miriamd, I am a Co-founder and CEO of an early-stage startup in the AI and deep-tech space. I am interested in understanding your opinions about social media as a source of safety data during the post-marketing period. For example, when a user shares their adverse experience about a new drug in a Facebook post, the manufacturer could collect Adverse Event data from it. I have heard mixed opinions about the approach, and it would be great to learn yours given your vast experience at Novartis.
Hi Miriam - thank you so much for doing this!!In your experience with digital transformation initiatives, is the work always done 100% in-house? If you do outsource, how do you evaluate and choose the right team to help?I'm a biomedical engineer but recently started working for a software design and development firm focusing on healthcare, wellness, and HCIT. We've worked with both small and large companies but struggle to crack the code on consistently getting more enterprise projects.Separately - do you have any tips for language learning and making friends as an adult in a foreign country? My husband and have been living as expats in Costa Rica for about 1.5 years.
Thanks for the question! In my experience it is not done 100% in-house. But it does need to be done 100% in partnership with the business otherwise you are building a separate business, not transforming the current one.At Novartis, capability building is one of our top priorities in our transformation. And there are several ways we can do that - build it internally, buy/hire it, and partner with companies who already have those capabilities. We are leveraging all of these approaches. In my experience partnering is one of the fastest ways to bring in new capabilities to our team and it has been an absolute priority for us. We do this with big companies (Microsoft, AWS, Tencent) and smaller ones. We select our partners carefully after first identifying the business problems we are trying to solve, which capabilities are needed - and where we have gaps in those. Then our partnering team helps us to identify external teams that can bring that in - through all kinds of agreements - partnership, buying services, etc.
And to your second point - I would guess this might be different from country to country based on local culture. Here in Switzerland the way we have made friends has been both through work and through our children (daycare, school, etc). Most helpful for me in learning German was putting my kids in a local daycare and eventually school which forced us all to speak more German.
Thanks for giving us your time, @miriamd! I work on the healthcare delivery side of things helping organizations with their digital transformation initiatives. I’m curious about how Novartis is partnering with provider organizations (if at all) to accelerate digital transformation efforts that more directly benefit patients.
Hi Miriam, inspiring background. I am interested in learning more about product team. What are the main challenges faced by the company during Covid ? I am curious about learning how you used technology to tackle that.
Inspiring background! As a Swiss person living abroad myself, I'm very much interested in how Swiss companies develop in the near future. I'm curious what are the biggest challenges Novartis (or the pharma industry) is facing in terms of digital transformation? And how do you plan to tackle them in your leadership role?
Hi Miriam!Great to see you here! You have such an amazing career! I am a digital health researcher/engineer and I am interested in knowing which initiatives Novartis has on this area and how much this is expected to grow in the next years.Thank you!
Aw, thanks! It's been a fun career - constantly learning and growing and looking at how to connect the dots or find new opportunities by working across a broad range of functions. I feel really at home now in People and Organization (HR) because I've learned throughout my career that ultimately if you hire the best talent and create a role and organization around that person that let's them be at their best, well the rest just happens naturally! And if you have a diverse team of talents, the potential to tackle the most pressing healthcare challenges gets even easier. Now to answer your question - digital health has a broad definition. But we think of it as the opportunities, beyond the medicine itself to try to get our medicines to the patients that will benefit the most from them and not lose them due to heatlhcare system challenges, compliance, adherence, etc. Novartis has a portfolio of opportunities we are investing in in this space of luck to you!
Very excited to see @miriamd here! This is very inspiring, helping women grow both inside and outside the workplace! Miriam, you’ve held very different positions throughout your career, now as Head of People & Organization for Digital Transformation what advice would you give your young self and things you wish you knew as a young woman starting off her career in pharma/corporate? ✨Thanks a lot✨
Oh I just love this question!!! I think the most important advice I would give my younger self is to not worry about "the plan" nor what other people think is right for you. My career path is not a traditional one, but I have loved every step along the way. And I got here because I was willing to drop the idea that I needed to know exactly where I was going - and because I got very comfortable telling others that. The world is changing so fast I think I'd be limiting myself if I picked a destination and only took roles that could get me there. By being open to new opportunities I have experienced things I would have never thought I could have been a part of - and those experiences took me to the next places, and so on. What is important, if a career path like this is for you, is to be very clear about what you are good at and how it creates value for companies, as well as what you are not good at and which of those are things you want to learn and which are things you simply are not interested in. And I know everyone says this, but having great sponsors and mentors is essential. So spend time to cultivate those relationships too.So that is what I would have told myself about my career. There is one other VERY important topic - parenthood. This is a goal I had for myself from the outset. And I am a very proud mama to 2 teens (yikes!). There are jobs that are easier or harder with children, but the 2 things I think are most important on this topic are: 1) Choose a partner that is proud of your career and is willing to play a strong role as a co-parent. Be willing to discuss, and rediscuss, how to balance careers and family, especially if you are both working! Things change overtime so you need to both be flexible in general, and talk about what topics you can't be flexible about so you can jointly manage; 2) Don't wait for the right moment to have kids - there never is a perfect moment. And don't apologize for having a family - ever. People always ask me how I manage to have a career and a family and I always say I couldn't have a career without a family! My family gives me perspective and balance that makes me a better colleague in the office and actually helps me to keep my priorities straight. Hope this helps!
This is such a great thing to hear from someone who's in People ops and has such a wide range of experiences herself! Sometimes it feels like many recruiters are punishing people who've had diverse experiences for their lack of focus even when they can bring a lot to the company, which I've seen multiple times myself. Do you think there is a way for candidates with such diverse experiences to showcase them as a strength rather than a weakness?
Interesting point. I do think there is a way to navigate this. It's all in the story you tell about your journey. What led you from one thing to the next and how did connecting those experiences make you better at that next job and the next and so on. Speak about the outcomes you generated in those diverse roles in a convincing way and people will see you were not just moving because you got frustrated or were not successful. And be authentic, personable and humble in the way you tell that story.
Great advice! Thank you, Miriam!
WOW Miriam, thank you. It took me a while to reply to you because I wanted to make sure I took the time and care to respond properly. Thank you for replying with such honestly and putting thought behind every word. Amazing how powerful words are at conveying feelings. I feel very identified with what you’ve written. I couldn’t agree more with you in not limiting oneself and picking roles based on a destination. The destination changes and what’s important is the path and the people you meet along the way. I have been asked about my 10 year development plan many times and advised on how important it is to specialise. I agree to a certain extent but also feel every experience teaches you different skills which are transferrable throughout ones career/life. In my short career, I have been lucky enough to have taken on different roles which have helped me identify the things I enjoy most and the ones I can do but others would do better and enjoy more. I like to think I have made the most of each opportunity, contributing and learning from every experience. My mum always says to let things come your way and embrace them wholeheartedly and that is what I try and do everyday.For me, the team, my manager and the feeling I get from working with them plays a bigger role than the position itself. I need to admire them, as a manager/leader and as a person. That’s the reason I joined Novartis in the first place. I loved my interviewer and first manager.I lived in the UK for many years and moved back to Spain for family reasons. It is funny how things turn out. As it is normally the case opportunities tend to come at the same time and listening to advice is good but going with ones gut feeling is all the better. For me the interview was decisive, I left knowing that I wanted to work at Novartis and with who would be my manager at the time and that if offered the opportunity I would say yes. I ended up being offered and taking an internship at Novartis Oncology and could not be more grateful for it. Life surprises you in beautiful ways and being receptive and open to new opportunities is all it takes. I have met some wonderful people along the way and have learnt heaps. I would love to pay it forward.I will think this carefully over the coming days “clear about what you are good at and how it creates value for companies” - thank you. Like for you, my family have been fundamental in my education, support and have advised me always - I don’t know what i’d do without them. Thank you for your wise words.I will leave you with a Steve Jobs quote from his commencement speech at Stanford which I love:“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”Maria
Hello Miriam, I have been recently trying to switch my career into People-focused roles. Naturally, that led me to tech and other larger companies. It got me thinking do People-focused roles exist mostly in tech or large corporate environments? Especially coming from design firms, it seems that the already financially growing gap between knowledge-based workers and nonknowledge based workers is growing. I definitely feel that beneifts and the people-focused culture lack in nonknowledge-based job environments. How do you think technology is dividing this further? Could this gap be bridged? A very convoluted question, but Its been on my mind a lot these days, wishing it was more evenly distributed. This might not have anything to do with what you do, but wondering what your perspective is on this. Best,Jenny Park
Let me take a shot, though not 100% sure I fully understand the question. At Novartis we talk about people being our most precious resource and that we need leaders, who are constantly developing themselves as leaders and operate as servant leaders, to unlock the potential of our people. This is a cornerstone of our culture ambition which we sum up as "Inspired, Curious, and Unbossed". Our CEO made the culture of the company his top priority when he took over about 3 years ago and you also see the impact of other leaders who have done this (e.g. Satya Nadella @ Microsoft) on business performance. I definitely believe in the value of a people-focused culture. When it comes to data and technology and the insights we can generate thanks to data science, etc we like to think about this as an opportunity to augment our people - to make them even better at what they do because they have more powerful information to work with. We do also use these approaches to streamline processes and automate some things, but then this frees people up to go do other things. And we invest heavily in capability building at Novartis too. Learning is a top priority for our associates so that we can keep upskilling people. And in my experience working in the digital transformation space for the last 3 years I really feel that the magic comes when you bring expertise and capabilies related to digital together with people who are experts in the business. It's the mix of the experiences that solves our biggest business challenges.