HRD Summit: This is how Nestlé builds an agile talent pool

Written by: Endouble Endouble

To remain competitive today, organisations need to remain nimble and flexible to meet the demands of a disrupting environment and competitive landscape. How to build an organisation which fully leverages the energy and innovation skills of its talent base.  How to master agility and transform your talent and leadership strategy to grasp new market challenges and opportunities? How to build an agile talent pool by understanding the future of your business? At HRD Summit Jean-Christophe Font, Chief Talent Officer at Nestle answers these questions.

Case for change of talent strategy

The industry where Nestle acts in is heavily changing, especially the competitive landscape. Consumers’ expectations are changing and new players - mainly startups - are entering the food industry. Next to that, new technologies and AI change the way we get work done.

The most important trend of all is the evolvement of workforce expectations. Millennials are still willing to join large companies, but want to be entrepreneur or have a sense of freedom at the same time. You need to offer more purpose in order to be considered as potential employer. These elements have been shaping Nestles people strategy.

Nestle’s key ambitions

Nestle needs to become more agile to be able to react faster to consumer needs while also fully leveraging the energy and innovation skills of its talent base. Their new talent and leadership strategy consists of three pillars:

  • fostering speed of innovation
  • drive agility and efficiency at scale
  • offer an inspiring environment where people thrive

Fostering speed of innovation

How do we get the best out of our talent and our organisation is quite a challenging question when you have 360.000 (!) employees. In order to find an answer to this question, Nestle have been experimenting with several initiatives:

  • To stimulate creativity, Nestle have created a network of design thinking workers. In every team there is at least one person with a design thinking background: workers who are able to come up with creative strategies.
  • They created an internal crowdsourcing platform: this stimulates workers to post ideas. The 3 to 5 best ideas are selected by a jury and will be funded. As everyone can have an impact, this initiative creates a huge impact within the organization
  • Nestle captures innovation by partnerships with startups. This resulted in much more agility in the management team on making business decisions.

These initiatives drive value for business as:

  • They lead to faster decisions and execution
  • More ideas are generated and evaluated more quickly.
  • Employees are empowered: their view is taken into account and they have the opportunity to innovate and experiment.

Drive agility and efficiency at scale

Nestle did several experiments in order to drive agility and efficiency at scale. An example is the introduction of virtual teams. Nowadays it is more difficult to form teams than in the past. Virtual project teams are the answer. People contribute (part-time) to projects virtually and are able to work and cooperate from distance. This increases flexibility and engagement.  

Offer an inspiring environment where people thrive

In order to create an inspiring environment where people thrive, Nestle adapted the concept of “Give and Get”.This is about creating a environment where you stimulate dialogue. Performance is about giving. The question is, what get people out of it?

You build your future as you go.

The concept generates value for business as well, as it creates a passionate and performing workforce with a learning mindset. Employees are more focused on development opportunities and have a flexible and personalised work environment ‘for me’.

Make things simple in a complex world

All these experiments helped Nestle to rethink their take on leadership. Two of their main takeaways:

  • Nestle operates in a world of strong competitive pressure. This requires creating a culture where people thrive and are ready to give their best.
  • In a world of complexity you need to make things simple. Nestle felt that they had not lived up this expectation earlier as they tended to make things complex by different kinds of leadership development frameworks. Moreover, they were confusing people by giving too much advice.

These insights made Nestle realise it was needed to re-focus leadership development on what really matters: increasing agility. Their revamped talent and leadership strategy, focuses  only on four pillars now:

  • leadership is externally focused
  • entrepreneurial
  • winning
  • result-oriented

Nestle’s learnings

Nestle’s most important learnings in their search to meet the demands of a disrupting environment and competitive landscape.

  • Leadership and culture matters. Adapt your leadership style and empower your team.
  • There is no silver bullet. Some will work, others not. Try different things at the same time.
  • Success starts with try and errors. Making mistakes is a learning.