Nestlé Philippines – Utilizing Unique Approaches to Learning and Leadership Programs

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Renee Valdez fondly recalls having to climb up Mount Pinatubo and Mount Pulag and dive through the waters of Subic less than a decade ago.

The Human Resources Business Partner of Nestlé Infant Nutrition felt she was not too adventurous – but having been head of Nestlé Philippines’ Leadership and Development unit, she felt she had to do it as it was part of her job.

She recalls doing a day trek to Mount Pulag, and connecting management and leadership to diving as some of the best times of her life.

“I wouldn’t do these things on my own. But because of my job and Management Strategies’ (MgtStrat) guidance, I get to experience these. So now I share all of these stories with my children,” she said.

Renee was referring to the Mount Pinatubo climb in 2007 and Mount Pulag climb in 2009 that were part of a leadership training program for Nestlé Philippines’ Management Committee, while the diving sessions in Subic that ran between 2007 up to 2012 were part of a program called LeadGrow, a leadership development program meant for the company’s senior managers.

“We never thought of these activities. I didn’t know you can link diving to leadership. Our employees enjoyed that. I didn’t realize that we can do a lot of things outdoors and not just activities related to leadership that are purely indoors,” Renee said.

These are but a few of Nestlé Philippines’ initiatives to develop its leaders.

The company has forged a partnership with MgtStrat since 2003. There are classroom setup-type of leadership development sessions, but it is the interactive, outdoorsy type of sessions that makes MgtStrat’s engagement with Nestlé quite interesting.

Kick offs and leadership programs

MgtStrat started its partnership with Nestlé with the annual sales kick offs – a crucial activity for the multinational firm as this is a venue for the leaders to discuss targets and initiatives for the rest of the year.

The annual sales kick off, participated in by around 800-1,000 employees, is not the usual convention where top officials speak in front of an audience. Rather, participants coming from various Nestlé units nationwide join in various interactive activities.

For instance, it held an “Amazing Race” kind of teambuilding activity in 2003, Go-Kart racing in 2006, and Marvel superheroes-themed activities in 2010.

“We never thought of these activities. I didn’t know you can link diving to leadership. Our employees enjoyed that. I didn’t realize that we can do a lot of things outdoors and not just activities related to leadership that are purely indoors.” — Renee Valdez, Human Resources Business Partner, Nestlé Infant Nutrition

Together with MgtStrat, the activities were co-created with Nestlé’s Human Resource group as well as a team of management trainees, for which the annual Sales Kick Off serves as a culminating activity for their two-year training.

Kakam Gabunada, now Nestlé Vice-President for Marketing for Dairy, shared how he led the 2010 Kick Off held in Enchanted Kingdom in Sta. Rosa, Laguna where participants initially thought was just about free rides.

“MgtStrat was able to draw out the value of consistency in a merry-go-round. It was something that was really felt. And the gambit that year was there was really no team challenge. They had to win together in the end so it’s like all or nothing. They had to win together as one or nobody wins at all,” Kakam said.

“We had little challenges here and there but with the help of MgtStrat, we were able to get through.”

Dindin San Diego, now Head of Nestlé’s Customer Retail Relations for Modern Trade which liaises with retail establishments, led the Kick Off in 2010 that involved about a thousand employees moving a big, heavy globe from one side of a room to another.

She said she learned a lot of things from the experience that she is using in her current role.

Dindin said: “No activity is too big to handle. You really have to know that you can’t do it alone but everything is possible because there’s a team behind you. I think MgtStrat was able to capture what we wanted. We were able to come up with something new and creative. They were able to change a normal team-building activity into something extra.”

Aside from the Kick Offs, MgtStrat designed with Nestlé Philippines the outdoor activities for leadership development programs that involved diving and mountain climbing, and even paintball games.

Renee’s key takeaway from these activities, apart from the fun experience, is something valuable in her day-to-day role at Nestlé Philippines.

“As a leader, sometimes I think I can only do this much. But then, when you get exposed to the things that you think you cannot do like diving, I didn’t know I could do it! You’ll think it’s difficult but with the right mindset and focus, you can do things that you thought you could not do before,” Renee said.

“What’s nice about MgtStrat is they are able to link it back to the things related to the workplace and not just for the sake of having these fun activities.”

And then there are also the leadership programs, counting among them Life Balance, “Yes You Can” Career Development, Leading in the New Reality, and Executive Coaching sessions.

Leading in the New Reality uses Action Learning as its foundation. Action Learning is a process that involves a process of insightful questioning and reflective listening, develops better leaders and teams, and helps organizations discover creative, flexible and successful strategies to challenges in the VUCA reality.

Something needed

Mitzie Antonio, Nestlé Philippines Corporate Human Resources Director, considers these programs as something needed within the local unit of the global organization. She said that the shifting consumer preferences, for one, makes them think hard about equipping their leaders in these volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) reality.

“We have been operating in the Philippines for 105 years. We’ve enjoyed either number one or number two place in terms of market share. And then suddenly some newcomer brand or product appears out of nowhere, and suddenly steals market share. And we’re like, ‘What’s happening?’ So we’ve realized we need to renew the mindset of our leaders. So when we sat down with MgtStrat, we asked, how can we future-proof our leaders in terms of what capabilities, competencies, and skills we need to have to prepare us in this new reality?” Mitzie said.

The Life Balance program, for another, is a response to clamour among employees for a balance between their careers and personal lives. The program involved a retreat-type activity where employees were able to determine their own definition of life balance and how their peers at work can help them achieve that balance.

“The thing with MgtStrat is they are very transparent with their knowledge, expertise, and approaches. They’re very collaborative. When you work with them, it seems so easy to mount something really big. Hindi sila madamot pagdating sa knowledge.” — Kakam Gabunada, Vice-President for Marketing, Nestlé Philippines

So what changed after employees participated in the programs?

Hannah de Lumen, Nestlé Philippines Corporate Talent Acquisition and Development Head, said based on a survey dubbed, “Nestlé and I,” there was an improvement on employees’ perception of themselves achieving work-life balance.

As for the leaders’ ride through the fast-changing business environment, Hannah said the process is “more of an evolution than a revolution,” wherein changes are being felt in a progressive manner.

“It’s a journey of self-discovery. The MgtStrat team’s high level of competency in this field makes the learning of participants a safe one to go through. They made the process very transformative for our leaders and they did it in such a way that they can take it forward when they go back to the workplace,” Hannah said.

Moving forward

After years of partnership with MgtStrat, Nestlé Philippines decided to run its annual kick offs by itself with the goal of upping the ante of the training of the management trainees. But years of collaboration with MgtStrat enabled the company to successfully mount the program even without the aid of a consultant.

“The thing with MgtStrat is they are very transparent with their knowledge, expertise, and approaches. They’re very collaborative. When you work with them, it seems so easy to mount something really big. Hindi sila madamot pagdating sa knowledge,” Kakam said.

But Nestlé officials said, MgtStrat has become a part of the company that it can rely on when it comes to reaching its goal of being a company passionate about learning.

“If you have a partner like MgtStrat, they put a level of challenge like bringing in ideas that we may not have thought of by ourselves. With that challenge, the end product becomes even more beautiful,” Mitzie said.###

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