Directors Corporate Culture and the Role of Boards GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) – providing assurance on company values

GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) – providing assurance on company values


Companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of evaluating values and behaviours. GSK’s Values Assurance programme is at the forefront of this change. It is designed to evaluate the maturity level of each of the four GSK Values in the culture and to support the business to further embed the Values in a meaningful and impactful way. The work was piloted before being rolled out.


The methodology is analogous to a 360 degree feedback process; it includes a leadership self-assessment supplemented by an independent evaluation conducted by Audit & Assurance. The process captures both quantitative and qualitative data to form a holistic view of the culture, values maturity and behaviours.
Conducted in commercial markets and manufacturing sites across Europe, Asia and the US, Values Assurance has gained traction as a programme that drives positive organizational change. Whilst it can be used to identify issues and correct course, the programme is equally valued for its ability to capture good practices and recognise leaders who are making a difference. Recently the insights from these reviews were shared by the CEO during a General Manager meeting to illustrate the importance of embedding the values and reinforce the accountability of leaders to focus on building and sustaining a common GSK culture. One site leader commented, “Values Assurance discussions were positive experience for the site. I think this will develop into a very insightful tool for GSK leaders to improve our connection with core Values and how we use them to run our business”.
A number of actions have been taken to address the areas of opportunity identified in the Values Assurance process. They include: creating values-based case studies for training; integrating Values into recruitment and selection processes; implementing recognition programmes to reinforce Values-based behaviour; storytelling to role model the Values; and conducting resiliency programmes to sustain energy and good health during change.
At an organizational level, the insights gleaned from Values Assurance are being utilized to drive culture change across emerging markets. Priorities include promoting speak up behaviour worldwide.
Values Assurance has been well-received by leaders and employees alike. Whilst leaders value the rich, candid feedback, employees also appreciate the opportunity to share their views. Values Assurance addresses a critical gap in traditional audit programmes, providing an independent perspective on leadership, mind-sets and behaviours that underlie the internal control framework. It is delivering fresh insights that are making a difference to risk management, strategy and GSK’s reputation.


The nature if the Values Assurance reviews requires the following skills and benefits from a multidisciplinary team including auditors, psychologists, operational staff and those with lean Six Sigma experience.
Interpersonal Skills – For the programme’s success, auditors must quickly build trust with interviewees. It is critical to establish strong personal connections through active listening and demonstrating empathy. A number of techniques are employed by the team to build an atmosphere of trust: setting context, addressing confidentiality explicitly; transparently sharing how the information is going to be used; showing appreciation for the local culture; and conducting interviews in an open, conversational style. Translators are also leveraged to the full extent for not only their language skills, but also their ability to read cultural queues and subtext. A focus on relationships and interpersonal capabilities has made a difference in the quality and richness of information provided.
Strategic & Systems Thinking – Auditors for Values Assurance possess a high level of business acumen with an ability to see the bigger picture. The ability to interpret and integrate disparate information in context of the broader organisation is essential to high quality outcomes. Our auditors must be able to ‘connect the dots’ and provide the strategic context for observations. For example, understanding market dynamics and local culture is critical to understanding the potential challenges in successfully embedding and sustaining values-based behaviours. Effective solutions (e.g. high impact case studies) can only be implemented once this is fully understood.
Advanced Analysis – Effective Values Assurance specialists, synthesise quantitative and qualitative data into a clear, accurate, and impactful story that inspires action. Auditors take complex and often conflicting information and make it simple by categorizing observations and distilling significant amounts of qualitative and quantitative data into focused themes. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, taking issues that may be familiar, but connecting them in a compelling way that delivers fresh insights. For example, observed performance issues may be related to an underlying resiliency challenge.
Emotional Intelligence – When dealing with sensitive information, it is important to perceive, manage and evaluate emotions effectively. This is perhaps the most important skill required for the Values Assurance role. Our auditors must navigate highly sensitive territory, actively listen, accurately read and respond to verbal and non-verbal cues, and have a strong self-awareness about their impact during the review process. This allows the team to draw on all data points (both soft and hard) to build understanding at a deeper level.

In addition, auditors must have strong business acumen, be enterprise minded and challenge with positive intent. This must be supplemented with the ability to land difficult messages.


Values Assurance has support from the organisation’s most senior stakeholders for its ability to hold a mirror up to the organisation and challenge leaders to embed the values in a meaningful, impactful way. The programme is not only an important component of their internal assurance plan, but also supports our public commitments and builds GSK’s reputation externally.
Weaknesses in “soft controls” will always undermine even the best hard controls. The Values Assurance work flies in the face of the belief that you can’t audit the “soft stuff”. It delivers insights that a traditional audit approach would not.
Where other companies have ventured into the culture space by measuring the “risk & control culture” or auditing HR processes like remuneration, this is a fundamentally new approach. Their methodology puts the central focus on values and behaviours with the aim of understanding what is working (or not) by listening to the voices on the ground. Furthermore, they have put significant focus and attention on what is working, recognizing strong Values-based leaders and good practices, and propagating what good looks like so the organisation can leverage these practices more broadly.