Have you ever heard a bold vision or idea that left you feeling inspired – but also scratching your head wondering how it would ever become a reality? After 15 years in management consulting, I saw so many companies struggle with turning a compelling vision into a strategy and plan that they could deliver.

When I first started working with Ultragenyx in 2015, I collaborated with the Executive Team to create the company’s 2020 vision and strategy. We shared it with the then 100-person organization and integrated this vision into the fabric of the business, which included creating a strong culture to support it.

After two years of tremendous growth, we observed that our bold vision – while clarifying, inspiring and unifying – wasn’t enough. We needed to chart a clear course to achieve the vision. This meant having robust, thoughtful conversations about the intentional choices we would make and the milestones we needed to hit year after year. From those series of conversations Our RARE Formula was born.

Our RARE Formula was inspired by the 20 Mile March concept Jim Collins describes in his book, Great by Choice. Collins uses the analogy of someone hiking across the United States by marching at least 20 miles a day, every day. He explains how that person could accomplish their goal faster by committing to walking 20 miles every single day, rain or shine, rather than walking for 40-50 miles in good weather and then very few miles or not at all during inclement conditions.

The lesson here is successful organizations have a set of self-imposed performance markers that they hit with great consistency.

Inspired by this idea, Our Rare Formula became our own 20 Mile March to clarify what we need to do across our business, our pipeline, and our people to reach our bold vision. For each of these three areas we carefully spent time clarifying, crafting and pressure testing each element to ensure it was an achievable stretch.

When we shared Our RARE Formula with the organization in 2017, it was a light bulb moment for our employees. And as we built it into New Hire Onboarding and other forums, we found significant organizational benefits, including:

  • Embedding Deep Understanding of the Company Vision & Strategy: For many employees in a fast-growing and fast-paced environment, it can sometimes be challenging to see and understand the bigger picture. Furthermore, for new hires coming into an organization like Ultragenyx that is trying to create a new model for rare disease development and commercialization, it is critical to understand what is distinct about our approach. Our RARE Formula is a valuable tool to help new hires and all employees understand the underlying business rationale and choices behind their work at Ultragenyx. Providing our teams clarity on not only what we are trying to do, but how we are going to do it has led to a greater sense of empowerment and increased motivation and inspiration.
  • Clarifying Focus Areas for our Business, our Pipeline and our People: With Our RARE Formula we were able to clearly state what kinds of rare diseases we will target, and just as important, what we will not; how we seek to have a positive impact on the lives of rare disease patients; and what type of culture and environment we are deliberately creating so people can do their best work. This gives everyone in the organization a shared understanding of our priorities and our focus.
  • Allowing for Adaptive and Dynamic Thinking: As we recently crafted a new 2025 vision and strategy, we had to revisit Our RARE Formula to see how it aligned with our new vision. In doing so, we found there were some areas of our business that were not accounted for in the original 2017 framework. After evolving and refining Our RARE Formula, we shared it with the organization and explained the rationale for some of these changes and evolutions. This demonstrated to the broader organization the importance of being dynamic, which is one of our company values.

Since 2017, Ultragenyx has grown to over 1,100 employees, and while we will periodically assess and refine Our RARE Formula as we continue to grow and evolve, I’m proud that the framework we created back in 2015 enabled us to achieve the audacious 2020 goals and vision. Furthermore, it inspired us to stretch ourselves in new ways to create our 2025 vision to “lead the future of rare disease medicine.”

As you look at your organization’s vision and strategy, what is your 20 Mile March and how can it support you in achieving your vision and strategy?

Bria Martin is Vice President, Organizational Strategy and Leadership Development at Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical, Inc.

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