Swiss Pharmaceutical Giant

A clash of cultures at a Swiss pharmaceutical was avoided with a two-speed approach to team-building and a clever use of PowerPoint.

Swiss Pharmaceutical Giant
Number of employees: 

For the Serenity in Leadership team, solidarity is vital to changing a company’s culture and improving the effectiveness of its people. Where possible, senior management should seek to persuade an organisation that transformation is needed, rather than impose change from above.

Pace of change is also a key consideration here - it is essential to introduce change at a speed that brings people on-board whilst also creating the necessary momentum for change and excitement. Accelerating initiatives only leads to wasted effort if not enough time is invested in securing employee buy-in at the very start. David Kahneman has it right here - think fast and slow.

The arrival of an American head of department threatened to create friction within the Swiss pharmaceutical company’s headquarters. Despite overseeing a team made up of Swiss nationals who all spoke French, the new executive pushed for the meeting to take place in English.

At this pharmaceutical company, our team were faced with a department of what they called ‘proud French speakers’. It was clearly suggested that conducting workshops solely in English would be a grave mistake. Forcing everyone to use English from the start would have been both insensitive and provocative. 

So when the American executive came to deliver his all-important ‘vision’ speech to his new department, our team advised him to use two PowerPoint presentations simultaneously: one in English, one in French. Similarly, our team ensured all team-building workshops we organised to support the change in direction for the department were conducted in both French and English. 

When the employees saw the French version of the new manager’s speech, the atmosphere in the department improved immediately. Colleagues acknowledged his attempt at respecting their values, even commenting: “The minute that French presentation came on the screen, everyone relaxed. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a room of people smile at a PowerPoint.”

“I appreciated your holding out for the dual language presentation. It made things go much slower than was my natural style but that turned out to have its advantages and it was clear that people were following me when I feared this was going to be a battle. Thanks very much for giving us a new perspective.”

Department Head

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