Shaping the Cultural Agenda or How to Make the Invisible Visible in Everything We Do [Session Summary]


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The following article is a short summary of a presentation by Valérie Robert, the CHRO of Nestle Skin Care at The CHRO Virtual Summit 2018.

If you approach the question of defining organizational culture, it’s clear that different people are going to have potentially very different definitions. Furthermore, in a given organizational context, it’s important to take the legacy of the environment into consideration. This could include everything from how the company is structured, through to communication norms, and performance expectations. Even within small companies, it’s a complex question.

Valérie Robert of Nestle Skin Care therefore suggests that changing a culture is a challenging process, because often what’s established within an organization is the result of years of accepted behavioural patterns, experiences, and actions. These factors contribute to what she terms the “smell of the place”. To address how this varies between companies, Robert suggests looking at ‘organizational touch-points’ – great potential indicators of culture, as well as the underlying environment and behaviours. These touch-points could include; how people in the organization interact, what communication patterns are accepted, and how customers feel about the services offered.

“Managing the organizational culture so that leaders, managers, team members and employees think and act in the manner necessary to achieve desired results has never mattered more. Doing it well is not an option: it’s a necessity!”

Robert argues that organizational culture is clearly shaped by a long chain of experiences, actions, and behaviours organization wide. It’s of no question that culture is important, as it differentiates organizations from each other, perhaps stratified by industry prestige, or by overall business success. The bad news is that ‘cultural slide’ is a real phenomena, the good news is that businesses can change their culture and therefore get different results. Robert suggests that if you change the fundamental experience, you’ll get different cultural outputs. But how does this change process occur? There are a number of practical means to do this; but first and foremost, any initiatives must come from the top of the organization, for without executive support, most initiatives will fall flat. This is where HR leaders have a responsibility to ensure that senior business management leaders have the insights from the employees and the market at hand.

To demonstrate how cultural transformation could occur, Robert presented a case example from Nestle Skin Care. To start, culture cannot be worked on in isolation, so the business transformation agenda has to be clear from the very beginning and should be rolled-out en masse. The business leadership group must agree that culture matters and is something worthy of devoting time and resources on to improve. In Robert’s example, Nestle Skin Care used the acronym PACE as a primary touch-point model, which stands for:

  • Passion for purpose
  • Accountability
  • Collaboration
  • External focus

The primary focus of this model was on shaping individual behaviour by decreasing the importance of silos, empowering authenticity, and providing agency through meaning-making. In this sense, the every-day goal was to make the invisible aspects of ‘culture making’ a little more visible and conscious in the mind of every employee. This could mean anything from providing more comfortable chairs in the front row at meetings, to going to on-site visits in groups, rather than individually. The idea was to present a more cohesive image of culture in practice, and not simply as some detached theory. Throughout this transformation, Robert described that there were engagement workshops for employees designed to develop PACE awareness, where ‘artifacts’ were identified as means of assisting cultural change. It was also crucial that this transformation process was properly mapped for all stakeholders. Robert suggests that this is important because even though you’re dealing with something abstracted, it’s imperative that you need a action plan and significant progress reports to demonstrate how initiatives are moving in the longer term.

“The best way to make the invisible visible on a daily basis, is to consider that every conversation is a culture conversation, because everything we do, everything we don’t do, everything we say, everything we don’t say, has a direct impact on the way we work, a direct impact on the smell of the place, a direct impact on the environment.”

If you missed Valérie’s presentation (or indeed any others), you can sign up on The CHRO Virtual Summit website for free and view it until June 30th!


The 3rd HR Congress Brussels, November 27-28 will feature a selection of sessions that will explore this topic and much more! Make sure you follow The HR Congress Blog and #HRCongress18 to stay posted on all the latest news, updates and content from the world of work!

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