Last week we launched our ShipIt Day “In the Wild” series, if you will, highlighting some of the amazing work happening at other companies through similar programs. Our first interview featured Lateral, a Romanian design and technology company, that showed us how influential ShipIt Day can be in shaping a company’s culture and injecting a permanent boost of innovative energy. This week’s feature brings us to the US-based pharmaceutical, Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY). As the 10th largest in the world, Eli Lilly employees nearly 40,000 employees, conducts clinical research in more than 50 countries, and has produced some of the world’s preeminent medications, such as Cymbalta and Cialis.

Inspired by Atlassian’s ShipIt Day, Eli Lilly has held 5 “Innovation Days” in 4 separate divisions, with additional employees participating from 6 other divisions. This is a great example of how ShipIt Day can work at any company regardless of industry, size, or age, and in any department (not just tech or engineering-related ones). Furthermore, it’s a great demonstration of what can be accomplished when employees from various departments — who would otherwise never have a chance to interact — get the opportunity to work together on cross-functional teams and combine their expertise. Read on to learn more about how Eli Lilly’s employees came together through Innovation Days to solve complex, high level issues at a large, global company.

How did you hear about ShipIt Day?

We learned about the program from Dan Pink’s video on motivation.

What inspired you about the program?

Eli Lilly Quote 1We wanted to run a program that would encourage people to think outside the box, really entice them to use their experience and knowledge of the systems they work on, and try the things they felt would improve the process but never had the time or freedom to do.  We investigated several programs like this — everything from Google’s [20% Time] and 3M’s programs to Ben and Jerry’s food trips, etc. — and this program had the lowest risk but potentially highest impact (based on the number of people we could engage; the outcomes allowed for continued effort, etc.).

What initiatives have you completed?

We have completed 5 Innovation Day events (our term for ShipIt Day) in 4 separate divisions, and have 20 ongoing projects that were spin-outs from these events.

How many projects have you completed, and how many people participated?

Through the Innovation Day events we have run about 90 projects, with just under 500 people involved.

Which departments were involved?

The program has been run in the Drug Disposition, Process Chemistry, Statistics and Operations groups, with additional participants coming from other functions, including: Strategy, Discovery Chemistry, Global External Research and Development, Sales and Marketing, Packaging and IT.

Have any of the projects significantly impacted your business? Have you been able to quantify the impact?

Several of the projects have had a significant impact on the way we do business; sometimes it is the smallest project that has the biggest impact on the way we run our business. One example is how we improved the way we get feedback on our products before they go into the marketing process.  In the past, we’ve not been able to get feedback from our own employees because of the complexities associated with patient privacy. This represented a huge opportunity for us, not only because of the potential improvement in how we spend our experimental marketing dollars, but also the potential improvements in the time and quality of our marketing campaigns — not to mention the potential improvement in our products.

Through one of the projects that resulted from one of our one-day long events, we’ve been able to design and implement a process that allows us to tap into the experiences of our employees, solving a challenge that we’ve been unable to overcome for years.  This was only possible through the support of the executive sponsors of our Innovation Day event, coordination with key thought leaders across the company, and the cross-functional team that was able to come together and engage for the day. It is hard to judge the impact at this point, but this result is exceptional, especially when you consider the fact that we were unable to solve this issue in the past even when company executives had tried to enable it.

How has ShipIt Day impacted employees?

The original goal for our first Innovation Day was simply to get people to have a good time, to enjoy coming into work and to step out of their role for a day, and think deeper about some aspect of their work; we wanted them to engage in a way that they would otherwise not have done… and it worked! Although it is hard to say if the program will stick, or if the company culture has been significantly impacted, there has been a noticeable effect on the people who have participated.  They had a good time and felt like they made a difference — and they talk about what they did and thank us (the organizers) for the chance.  More importantly, they felt like it was OK to take the day and spend it on something potentially important, but not necessarily in their job description.  This was about more than just improving job satisfaction; it was a chance to have an impact, and to become better engaged as an employee.

How has ShipIt Day impacted your company culture?

This is still playing out… give us a year and we will answer this one…

Sound interesting?

Want to try ShipIt Day at your company? Apply to win a ShipIt Day hosted by Atlassian here!

Fresh ideas, announcements, and inspiration for your team, delivered weekly.

Subscribe now