EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Boehringer Ingelheim, Germany: Fostering employability


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Fostering employability

Pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH has implemented a comprehensive strategy of personnel and organisational development and further training of the workforce in a long-term perspective. The corporate culture and human resource management strategies are driven by the aim to strive for excellence in pharmaceutical innovation. Much significance is attached to internal and external measures of further training. In the Lead and Learn approach, departments play a crucial role in human resource development.

Organisational background

Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, founded in 1885, is a global research-based pharmaceutical company and fully owned by the founder’s family. The number of employees worldwide increased from 23,277 in 1995 to 27,980 in 2001 to 37,406 in 2005. The number of employees in R&D increased from 4,828 in 2001 to 5,678 in 2005. Boehringer Ingelheim is number 15 in the international ranking of pharmaceutical companies, but number one in terms of growth. The company is characterised by organic growth. The long-term strategy planning goes beyond 2010.

In Germany, the company had 10,685 employees and received the ‘Workplace Investors’ award for generating the highest number of new jobs in 2005. Further growth is envisaged for the next few years. Some 45% of the German workforce is female and 12% of employees work part time. The average length of service is around 11 years and the average age is 39 years. The qualification level is very high.

The three locations in Germany are the headquarters in Ingelheim, Biberach and Dortmund. Boehringer Ingelheim has very cooperative industrial relations. The company has local works councils at each of the German locations: a company works councils, a group and a European Works Council.

In 2005, Boehringer Ingelheim attained second place in the ‘Best Employers’ competition in Germany in the category of companies with more than 5,000 employees.

Description of the initiative

From the mid-1990s, the corporate culture built on the vision Value through Innovation (VTI). This is reflected in long-term personnel and organisational planning and immense investment in R&D. In 2005, Boehringer Ingelheim invested EUR 1,360 million, which covers both medicine innovation and pharmaceutical production technology. The strategic approach considers the different recruitment and qualification needs in the 11 divisions of the company.

The approach of personnel and organisational development includes the development and implementation of management instruments; organisational developments; instruments of long-term personnel development; and programme offers of the Boehringer Ingelheim Academy.

In 2005, the Lead and Learn approach was introduced to outline ways to enhance the company’s culture and of working together to realise and deliver VTI. The core principles of Lead and Learn encourage increased questioning and seizing opportunities while fostering a culture of shared leadership and learning. Lead and Learn has a strong focus on departments and the responsibility of the heads of departments in the development of human resources. Departments play a strong role in training and competence development. Personnel and organisational development accompany change processes in organisational units with systematic process consultation. Coaches and consultants from the personnel department function as moderators in the rapid processes of change.

International assignment programmes serve as a vehicle to enhance knowledge transfer, cultural understanding and the broadening of a global mindset. Much emphasis is placed on the integration of new recruits with the background of massive shifts in the workforce and the strong employment growth.

The central instrument of leadership is an annual employee–supervisor dialogue, which was introduced in 1984. Until around 1990, this instrument was a regular trust-building talk between supervisor and employee. In later developments, a stronger obligatory character regarding an agreement on targets was characteristic. Emphasis is placed on intensive training of all managers in the use of this instrument. Managers and employees are supported by checklists for supervisors and checklists for employees. These talks are very intensive and take two to three hours on average. A retrospective view and future development and training needs are both discussed. Career aspirations and perspectives for professional development are addressed. Every individual is expected to have a valid and forward-looking development plan to meet qualification needs. Binding and demanding targets are formulated and agreed jointly and opportunities for occupational development are discussed. Supervisors have to asses how the employee can best be promoted within the company. The individual advancement plans are seen as essential in view of the increasing qualification needs in the rapidly changing innovation culture. Analyses of employee potential with regard to both personnel responsibility and expert competences take place in the annual planning of the personnel department in cooperation with the departments.

The annual employee–supervisor dialogue has various aspects: it is a basis for training and career planning for individual employees; a general assessment of available and required qualifications; for long-term personnel and organisational planning for the next year(s); and for planning programmes for the Boehringer Ingelheim Academy.

The company-owned Boehringer Ingelheim Academy encompasses a variety of development courses and approaches in numerous countries. Each employee can avail of information on the Boehringer Ingelheim Academy local and international offers of training on the intranet.

The Academy offers a wide spectrum of options of specialist vocational subjects and leadership development programmes for managers. The concept differentiates between specialist qualification and personnel development, which includes all aspects that are not related to qualification in the subject. The BI Academy offers courses on training in leadership, self-management, communication and languages. In 2004, 2,500 employees participated in internal measures; 1,600 participated in 116 measures focused on team and organisational development. In cooperation with chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, qualified measures of further training are provided. Specialist and technical qualification are primarily obtained by participation in external measures. Based on the potential of new media, e-learning at the workplace increased. Shifts in programmes and particular offers of the Academy are strongly related to the needs of qualifications and competence, both in terms of internal and external offers.

Intensive coaching is another important aspect of the BI Academy. At the individual level, measures include personal coaching, advice regarding external qualification measures and language training for particular tasks. Measures for departments with special qualification needs cover team development and process coaching, trainee programmes, advancement programmes as well as consultation on qualification development for future demands.


The approach of long-term orientation of personnel policies is comprehensive, focused on strategic innovation and supported by targeted instruments of personnel and organisational development and qualification and competence development.

The approach of combining a comprehensive programme of personnel development with a specific focus on the division is an interesting one. The personnel department consults in the change processes for the divisions and departments, which, according to the Lead and Learn concept, have a certain degree of autonomy in the development of human resources. The role of the BI Academy is innovative in providing coaching and consultation to departments to accompany processes of change and qualification development.

Employability is seen as an important issue to keep the interests of the company and of the individual employee in balance. The central instrument of an annual employee–supervisor dialogue had been developed comparably early and had constantly been further developed and supported by the intensive training of all managers in the use of this instrument.

Key factors for success are the cooperative industrial relations and the involvement of the works council in all aspects of qualification, training and personnel development. The works council is involved in the entire process of training and personnel development from a very early stage.

Exemplary and contextual factors

Boehringer Ingelheim is characterised by an impressive increase in employment and a comprehensive approach of personnel and organisational development guided by the strategic aims of the company. The culture of innovation is accompanied by huge efforts and investment in qualification and competence development. In the area of R&D, there is a worldwide internal labour market.

Anni Weiler, AWWW GmbH, Göttingen

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