4 key elements of Novartis’s performance management

4 minutes read
By Bronwyn Wainwright, Global Content and Brand Specialist, Top Employers Institute

If you’re dusting off your annual performance management process, this webinar is for you. Whether or not we’ll continue to work remotely, one thing is certain: collaboration and team effort is at the heart of high performing teams across almost all industries.

Why then, if teamwork is recognised as the highest priority, does performance management place its emphasis on measuring and rewarding the individual?

In this webinar, we heard from Sonja Fabian, Global Head of Talent Management and Leadership, about how Novartis took organisation-wide employee feedback to heart, and in doing so found themselves removing the ratings system and doing away with incentives that focus on individual performance factors. 

It’s a story that highlights just how complex the HR landscape can be, where pulling one lever impacts so many other aspects of the organisation. In this case, Novartis was looking to improve their culture, and found that operational processes such as performance management had to adapt if they wanted true cultural change.

How Novartis has reimagined performance

"In the summer of 2019, we took feedback on board, and since then we’ve been running experiments to 'Reimagine Performance Management'," says Sonja.

"We piloted the initial approach with 16 000 associates, across 8 countries and 7 business units later, and in doing so we’ve taken on all the insights and experience gathered to make our new approached, called Evolve, the best it can be. And in January 2021, we are ready to roll it out to everyone."

She explains the key shifts in their thinking about performance management:

  1. Strategic approach has shifted from the individual to measuring the impact on teams and the organisation, with a focus on outcomes and behaviours.
  2. Rewards, recognition, and incentives now focus on collaboration, celebrating both 'I & We'.
  3. Real-time performance assessment occurs throughout the entire year, requiring on-going feedback, and ensuring there are no surprises months later.
  4. The role of the manager has shifted to being the performance coach, and leaders are trained to facilitate reflection, learning, and growth.


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4 elements 

The traditional performance ratings approach has been replaced with four new elements:


“Evolve” starts with objectives. These need to be bold, outcome-focused, self-created, and targeted on both long and short-term impact. Crucially, they are no longer created to receive a rating at the end of the year. Instead, Novartis has adopted the phrase “Big Bold Objective” to get across what it wanted from associates – something audacious, inspirational, and with a clear impact for the individual, team and the organisation.

Frequent check-ins and feedback

This means feedback and coaching to strengthen culture through conversations. The rhythm is one of frequent check-ins between individuals, colleagues, and managers, and within teams, to create an environment of personal development and learning.


This refers to spontaneous, ongoing, and timely recognition through a celebration of achievements, behaviours and “moments that matter”.


Collective and personal impact are the basis for the annual incentive. Associates who have achieved “exceptional impact” are those who show performance beyond their objectives, contribute to the success of the team, and act as role models for Novartis's values and behaviours.

Success factors

With the global roll out approaching in January 2021, Sonja notes the success factors behind the project's design and execution:  

  • A focus on what mattered for their associates, the organisation, and their organisational culture.
  • The need to test with select groups and roll out the solution quickly.
  • Effective measuring to make sure changes have intended positive effects.
  • Bundling talent processes that support culture aspiration (performance management, feedback, coaching, values and behaviors).
    Multi-dimensional engagement approach at enterprise, divisional, and country level.
  • Sufficient time and support for leaders and associates to make the mindset shift.
  • Continuous improvement and tweaking of the approach year after year.

The launch of Evolve gave an opportunity to simplify the way Novartis associates expressed its culture, values and behaviors. This successful experience, an example of the latest trends among our Top Employers worldwide, shows the clear shift from “management” to “development” in the way businesses assess performance.

Watch the webinar recording to learn the details of each element that makes up this transformational approach to performance management.

Table of contents
4 key elements of Novartis’s performance management