A French Pharmaceutical Firm

When this French pharmaceutical company became stuck in a rut, an innovative use of 14th Century Masks helped modernise its corporate culture.

A French Pharmaceutical
Number of employees: 

The arrival of a new CEO was the perfect opportunity to refresh the company from top to bottom. Although its products were innovative, the company’s culture had grown stale. Growth had been affected by the stagnation of senior management figures, most of whose roles hadn’t changed for a considerable time.

Although executives remaining in the same position for many years used to be commonplace in France, it produces a culture where timely decisions are not made, risks are avoided, and young talent is blocked from ascending the ranks, making retention difficult. So, soon after arriving in his post, the CEO invited Serenity in Leadership to work with him to change the pharmaceutical company’s culture from the top down.

The key challenge for Thom and our French associate Patricia Bouvard was to give senior managers the confidence to behave differently. Simply promising everyone below them that things were going to be different wouldn’t bring about the transformation the company so clearly needed.

“You can’t impose a new vision and values on people,” says Thom. “They need to see the new behaviours being lived every day by senior management. When that happens, the vision and particularly the values can cascade all the way down the organisation.”

To change the behaviour of the senior team, Thom and Patricia created a workshop incorporating masks representing different characters from the 14th century Italian theatre, the Commedia dell’Arte. The personality of each character was identified by the group of executives and then they were invited to try on the mask they felt best represented their own character. Next, they were encouraged to try a different character that was nothing like them. The result was astonishing. 

The CEO immediately saw the value of this exercise. Patricia recalls, “The masks changed the way that people looked at each other. The team could then understand and recognise how people are different and they learnt to be more tolerant of each other. This led to more adaptability and flexibility. You recognise how you look at people and how they look at you. Individuals also experienced, and learnt from, behaving in a way that was different to their normal habitual practices. People lost their inhibitions very quickly. For the first time in a long time, the executives began to open up and talk honestly about the company. Those historic masks gave them a new burst of life.”

Thom and his team continued to work with the company for over two years. During that time, the company’s whole culture was transformed as everyone - from senior managers to cleaners -developed new ways of expressing themselves and dealing with difficult issues - thanks in no small part to the seven main characters from the Commedia dell’Arte!

“The method using the Masks was not something that we’d heard of before. There are a great number of consultants dealing with change but working with the Masks turned out to be an innovative method that worked very well and was applicable to people at all elevations in the company and it had a positive impact with them all. People were all interested and it sparked many conversations afterward. It looked strange at the beginning but it worked very well.”

CEO, French Pharmaceutical

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