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Episode Summary

Céline Schillinger is a self-described corporate activist, who was called a troublemaker by her bosses. But thanks to her passion to grow and improve on rigid corporate systems, she was awarded Woman of the Year — La Tribune Women’s Awards in 2013. Céline is now the Head of Quality Innovation & Engagement at Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the multinational pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

Harnessing Corporate Activism To Transform A Pharmaceutical Giant

Hello! This is Mark Bidwell from the Innovation Ecosystem. With me today, I have Celine Schillinger who is head of quality innovation and engagement of Sanofi Pasteur, and who’s also one of an exclusive group of 40 Women over 40 nominees. So these are women who are innovative, disruptive and making an impact in the world. Welcome to the show Celine.

Thank you very much. Thanks for having me here.

So, Celine you’re based in Boston. Let me ask you the opening question: how do you answer the dinner party question “what do you do?”

That’s a great question. My mom asks me this question regularly. I say I do corporate activism. Then I stop for a few second. People are trying to compute what corporate activism is. Then I explain: What I do is leveraging the tools and techniques of social movements for business performance. That is generally the beginning of a very interesting conversation.

Is that your interpretation of your role? If you send me your job description, would it say that’s at the heart of it?

My job description is a bit more complete than that. You know what job descriptions in big pharma may look like, but this is the summary. It means the same. What I just said in fifteen words expresses the same thing as a two-page document.

But, corporate activism is really something that I sort of came up with. It’s not the definition of corporate activism you would find on Google. Corporate activism is often considered as something in relation to stock owners challenging corporations for governance or whatever their business. I used this wording to express the fact that we are really taking inspiration from social movements like the Arab Spring, like the Occupy movement but apply it to a performance objective in the workplace or with customers or external stakeholders.

Okay. Let’s come back to that in a minute but I mean, its social movements, right. I guess the social media piece is part of that as well or not necessarily?

Absolutely! Because it’s a very big enabler of those social movements.

Okay, excellent. I want to get into actually what does that look like, but I mean the other thing that struck me in researching for this conversation is you’ve been — you were described by your bosses I guess, as a troublemaker but then you went on to be named Businesswoman of the year in France. So, maybe just talk us through that journey. What did you do that got you to be described like that? What did you do that got you to reinvent yourself or for them to change their mind, I guess.


I don’t know if everybody has changed their mind (laughs), but I also learned and evolved – which is a good thing – but I think I’m still considered as a disruptor. That goes with lots of successes but also it creates some tension somewhere. I mean that’s the rule of the game, isn’t it? That’s what makes me part of this great pool of women that had been recognized as being the Top 40 innovators and disruptors this year.

It started by a frustration. It started by realizing that I did not evolve anymore in my work, in my company, in my organization, and it had been ten years already. I felt I still had a lot of competencies and skills to bring but the way the system worked didn’t really value the diversity of competencies that different people can bring. It was really focusing on a very narrow bandwidth of talents and promoting always the same kind of people, thinking the same, coming from the same background et cetera. I felt not only was it bad for me and for people like me but it was bad for the organization too. We could increase our chances to connect with the diversity of the external world if we were more diverse internally.

Just to be clear, this is diversity of perspective as well as gender and race.

Absolutely. Perspectives, background, social class, origin and so forth. But of course, there’s a big group that is often forgotten, which is not a minority, which is the women’s group. We are about 50% of the workforce at least in the organization where I am so far.

That’s a huge number for pharma, isn’t it?

It is. From 50% of total workforce and 50% of managers but then when you climb the ladder, the proportion of women gets really really small.

I looked at the Board of Sanofi, the holding company. I wasn’t struck by diversity, put it that way.

Yeah. And you know what? That’s really interesting because you know Sanofi is headquartered in France and the French law requires 40% of either gender in the boards. That’s a requirement by the law, so companies abide by that but the law doesn’t say anything about executive committees. Executive committees all really what reflects the so-called meritocracy of each organization. That is where the situation is generally very very bad. I think if you can find like 10 – 20% of women in big pharma in executive committees, that would be a max.

Yup. So you felt you plateaued. I mean to use Whitney Johnson, Whitney introduced you to me which is why you’re in the show. Whitney was — She wrote this wonderful book “Disrupt yourself” but to use her language you kind of plateaued on your career curve if you like.

Yes, exactly. I found it terrifying because I was only forty years old. I saw a lot of people around me in this organization or other organizations that had plateaued and then had lost hope and that had become either very bitter or that had turned away to other centres of interest like personal stuff, getting involved in their local communities at home and so on. That’s great, but what if we channel a little bit of that energy into what we’re trying to do as an organization? There’s a lot of waste. We’re wasting people. We’re wasting resources. People that had been trained, that had been all loyal to the company and so — we could do better. That was my frustration and that was bigger than myself. So I said to myself “Okay. What do I have to do?” Let’s do something even if it’s a very little drop of water on the fire. I will still give my part, my share. I sent a letter to the CEO. That was in 2010.

A letter or an email?

(laugh) I have sent an email.

No, I’m just wondering because a letter would’ve been even more sort of powerful because it shows that people are still writing letters in 2010 in the corporate world.

That’s shows the power of the digital. Because my letter was an email, I was able to send it to few friends after I sent it to the CEO and those friends were able to send it to other friends et cetera. That letter, that message became viral thanks to digital.


That was the beginning of everything.

Okay. Then just finishing up this piece. The Businesswoman of the year in France in 2014?

  1. That came from this movement that started and that grew. It was a super interesting moment in the very beginning where we sat down, a few friends and I. We said “Okay. Obviously, a lot of people are interested in this topic.” We got so many answers and enthusiasm and obviously we’ve touched on something that was really underlying here but not said. So what do we do? We have two possible path, either we form a protest group and we just protest and say it’s bad, what you’re doing is bad and you got to change or —

Sorry this is within the company, is it?



So either we become kind of a Union, or we become a constructive group. We build something for the sake of the company and the people and we address a blind spot of the company because maybe they are not bad people, maybe they just haven’t thought about that and they don’t know but we know what could be done so maybe we can help. Taking this direction was really for me an eye opener about the power of bringing people together around a shared purpose and how you can co-design, co-build a lot of value together.

I mean it’s lovely. There’s two words in there which I want to sort of unpack. Firstly, you’re bringing people together around a purpose. Then secondly, the kind of the co-building, the kind of co-creation but I mean what is the purpose of the company? Did you have to create that or was that something that was already out there?

We knew what we were doing and the company is making vaccines and that’s fantastic. We’re all very enthusiastic about public health but if we do vaccines with just the fraction of the available talents and it’s not inclusive and people who have a lot of very interesting skills cannot bring them to the table and they are ignored, that goes against the purpose of the company. Our purpose was to make the company better, a better place to work, better for everyone, better for even people who did not conform to the narrow stereotype of a leader. That was on purpose. We’re getting together becoming an inclusive, successfully rich company, a 21st century company, that’s what we wanted. That purpose was so strong that it attracted people from all over the place from various functions, countries, companies within the group, women and men. From the very beginning we understood that if we were to become a women’s group, we would face a dead-end road. If we were fighting for inclusion we have to be inclusive too, right. We have to model the behaviors that we want others to adopt.

We joined forces with everybody who shared this purpose how to make this company a better place for everyone. This got us a lot of awareness and we got the attention of the top management and that was great. We crowd sourced a whole series of proposals, 63 proposals that we brought to the top leadership and they made — Some of those proposals were turned into actions.

To me, it was a real starting point where I realized we can bring as a collective of people unprompted not having to respond to an injunction. We have to invent the way we work. We had no boss. We had no official channel to communicate. We had no money. We had no marketing powers so we had to be super astute. We had to create and creative. Our richness and the diversity of talents got us to develop/ to invent new ways of talking and speaking to one another and creating value together. That was really awesome.

So Celine, one of the big themes there I think just to call it out is the power of constraints. Often in large organizations particularly rich pharmaceutical companies, resources are not a problem if the company chooses to go after it but you were in a very different situation where you actually had to take full advantage of the very scarce resources that you had.


True. I will tell you – we were even so motivated by that, w so much wanted to make an impact, that some of the stuff we did like printing postcards and so on, we did it with our own money, personally. This never happens in the workplace but we did it. We had no fear. We had no barrier.

Powerful. Just talk me through. The beginning of the story was you were plateaued, you were frustrated, you were scared that you couldn’t see any potential. This go forward to when you took the — how many? Did you say 62 proposals into the executive team?

Yeah, sixty three proposals.

Sixty three. Was it a formal presentation with execs?


Here’s the question. If I had been watching you, if I had been sitting in that room as you came in the door, what would I have seen you doing? What would I have heard you saying? Because it must’ve been quite an important presentation for you.

Yes, it was. I dressed up very elegantly (laughs).

I’m sure.

I came with a friend of mine, the co-leader of the movement. We were the two lead activists. We prepared — We were actually invited by the CEO to host a whole workshop, half a day with the whole executive committee, the whole executive team. So that was a big proof of confidence and trust. We acknowledged it this way. We had a presentation of the movement, where it came from. We made it not frightening for these people because we really needed their help and their support. As I said, it’s not something that was done against them. It is something that was done to help them. We needed them to help us too. We ended up with a debate on the top proposals and they voted. Some actions were implemented, some were not. The end of all that was for me a little bit frustrating because I had dreamt of a total revolution, of a total change and people understanding what was at stake, and the whole  company changing its operation modes. It never happens this way in big organizations. Change is much more slower, it goes step-by-step. It sometimes goes like a tango two steps forward one step backward. That’s also important to understand and work with that because we have this ideas of progress and change but if we give up after the first setback we won’t reach our goal so we have to adapt, understand, become very very resilient and keep our focus on our purpose and keep moving.

What happened after that was that some people said to me this movement has been very successful. Well, not successful enough in my view but that’s what I heard. People said it was very successful but it was because of the topic. Because it was about something that is politically correct to support, right? I said no, I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s the topic. I think it’s the way we did. I think it’s all about all this: mobilization, engagement, purpose, co-creation, social media. I said if you want a proof and I think we can do something for the business using the same approach that would work enormously and that would bring a lot of value so please let me try that. So, I advocated and built a business case and engaged many people to get their input and built the project. I finally got heard and got a position that I created – the position I held before the one I have today, which was called stakeholder engagement. That position was connected, was hosted by the marketing department in Pasteur that was getting ready for the launch of a new product, a new vaccine.

And so this is different from the quality role that you are in right now.

Yes. It was just the one before the one I have now.

Okay. Presumably, am I right to say you applied the same mindset, the same approach that you say mobilization, purpose, co-creation.


The other thing that you did differently Celine that you learned from the first time around that perhaps wasn’t quite as effective or were you lucky enough to sort of nail each of those tactics straight away if you like.

It’s the same. I haven’t been successful at everything unfortunately again, but what I did was from the very beginning go find external partners who would share the same purpose as us, as our organization. That was an interesting way I thought to decenter a little bit the organization from its own constraints and fears and resistance because when you’re trying to impact a change in organization there is a lot of counter resistance mechanisms, the antibodies get very very strong but when you’re aligned with other partners, well then the organization has to compromise a little bit. And so control is — they have to question a little bit their own procedures because other partners have their own procedures too. When you have several bosses, there’s less control over you, you know.

So you’re leveraging the ecosystem essentially.

Exactly, yes.

Were you clear what kind of organizations you wanted? I mean clearly you wanted them to be influential back to the home office right.

Yes. I wanted the diversity – again, going back to the diversity and mindset, the diversity of the organizations. So, I didn’t want just another pharma company but any company — the most important criteria was we needed organizations that shared this purpose. We were doing something to fight against a disease and we needed to find partners who shared the same purpose even if they were not evolving in the same space as we were.

And this was dengue fever, was it.

Yes, absolutely. Dengue is a disease carried by mosquito. For twenty years, the company had been developing a vaccine. There is no other vaccine in the world against this disease so there were huge public health stakes and business stakes. We had to do something that was a little bit different because it was such an opportunity. We had to leverage the engagement, the energy that was available in the ecosystem that was untapped, the energy to fight against the disease. If you just raise awareness against a disease, okay you raise awareness but it doesn’t mean that people will move into action. That’s where a lot of pharma companies stop. They just raise awareness. They have the month of whatever disease or the world day of whatever disease and it stops here. It’s cool, it’s fun but it’s not a game changer at all. Well, if you tap into the willingness to be involved and contribute, the activist mindset, then you have people that are already in motion and you are a partner, you are an activist too. You are not sending messages out to them, you are also acting and that’s what I wanted us to do.

Lovely. The results were pretty staggering I think.

Yes. It was really unbelievable. I really had not planned for that at all. The first week — So the whole thing ended up being a digital platform supported by a variety of partners including an NGO, that platform was connected to a lot of different social streams, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, et cetera. It is called Break Dengue. The first week of opening the Facebook page we got 10,000 followers. In nine months, we got up to 250,000. That is just unbelievable but it’s not a surprise in a way because people are tired of corporate speak. People don’t want to be talked to, people don’t want more information, they want action and they want to be involved in the action. They want something that is unbranded, that does not reflect the self-interest of one organization. People are not stupid. If you’re interested in — I don’t know, a cause or something — you are not going to go to a branded website. If it is supported by one partner only, you know that they are trying to sell you stuff but if it’s a community of very different partners and there’s no product involved here well then that’s a different story.

But as you said, this was nonetheless working on the marketing organization. Were you under pressure to say come on put some branding on, let’s see if we can convert some of these.

I have been in a way but I’ve resisted and I’ve been successful. People hear this also in organizations. People understand. If you come with a compelling business case and reasons and explanations… Yes, it can take ages. That’s what get me frustrated but you have to never stop building trust internally. It’s funny for me to say this now, because sometimes I haven’t done that. Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong but one thing is sure — you can’t do things like that on your own. You need partners, you need help and support. I have explained and people understood so that’s how it happened. It got rewarded for best use of social media for healthcare, most impactful emerging initiative in a pharma area so that shows something. It got a lot of interest from big stakeholders in the dengue field. To me it is really promising. More and more organizations could do the same but of course it takes guts and courage from an organization because here you accept to release, to give away control and this is probably the hardest thing for an organization, release control over the message, right? Instead, support free conversations. Oh my God (laughs).

Yeah. But I think you’re being sufficiently modest because it takes guts for an individual to actually align themselves and go the extra mile in the first place but then the organization clearly has to follow through as well.

Well, when you’re driven, when you have this very very deep in your guts, I think… I got this from my first experience as an activist. The more I listened to social media about the dengue ecosystem, the more I knew this was the right thing to do and I was not alone fortunately so that’s how we managed to push this through.

Then Celine, now you are in the quality area.


You’re using the same technology or same approaches to fundamentally change how quality is done in the vaccines business. Is that right?


That’s right. It’s exactly the same story. About two years ago, I was explaining this story, this dengue story in an internal conference that was attended by the new chief quality officer, he had just joined the company a month before.

Within the industry or?

Within the industry but from a very different company and so he had this external look and external views on how we did things in the company. He felt that we were responsible for our own problems, quality problems because we were working as a typical pharma organization, I would say – lots of rules, lots of regulations, very constrained and mostly bureaucratic processes. Of course lots of that is needed, is necessary because we’re manufacturing vaccines. We inject vaccines in healthy people so we have to be absolutely reliable in safety and quality.

Just for the listeners who don’t know and to make it really clear, if anything goes wrong here, the plant gets shut down and the source of revenues for that business unit or that manufacturing facility get dried up until it’s re-approved to open, right?

Absolutely. Yes.

It’s a huge huge deal.

And it’s not a theoretical threat, it happens. You can have companies just losing business entirely because of that. It’s really really huge.

So it’s not an environment in which co-creation and some of this other language.


I’m curious how does that work because I think you said earlier on this is a — I mean let’s just remind for the listeners. Quality is essentially the police force in the industry, right?

Yes, totally.

It’s a mature conservative industry. The other thing I think Celine — sorry to interrupt you is you would be inheriting problems or decisions that were maybe made several years back which hadn’t come to surface, right.


So that’s another thing that’s quite important here for people to understand.

Totally. We are not working in the new economy company or that kind of things. We have factories. We have factory workers and many of them. We have temp workers. Our factories have like 2000, 3000 people, people working on the shop floor, people working at night so how do you engage those people? Those people often don’t even have a computer because of their working with machines — but the starting point of all of that was the fact that this Chief Quality Officer thought by listening to what happened in the dengue story, well maybe if we did the same thing internally that would work instead of keeping/pushing messages to people, keeping telling them how to do work, what to do, what procedure, what systems. What if instead we reverse the flow and we pull people as activists of a cause, activists of doing good things, of improvement, of being the best, of serving people who need vaccines.

That changed the whole thing. It’s just phenomenal. We started social movement. I was thrilled to hear that. I was thinking “Wow, this is a fantastic opportunity to impact change internally, impact the culture internally and the way people work.” That’s totally awesome not just for the company but for the people. I’ve seen too many people being unhappy at work and I think when you are unhappy at work you’re often unhappy at home too. That has a lot of consequences on society as a whole. So I got there and we started a social movement in the workplace. We started by co-creating a purpose, gathering people from different parts of the organization to think. So what is it that we want to do? What is it that we want to fight for? Because it’s a fight, it’s not like a lukewarm corporate statement. We have to have something strong that talks to our head and heart and guts. That’s often a bit scary for corporate communicators but that’s the way things work. People don’t want to hear more corporate lukewarm statements.

This isn’t a generational thing, I guess is it?

Not at all. There are people who had been here for 25 years and they would say “finally! this is what I’ve been waiting for”. On the contrary you have young people who don’t know if they should do that. And so it’s really interesting. Sometimes people who get in the movement are not those who you would expect to see.

So here you are in a very metrics part of the organization I guess.


How did you co-create a culture or processes or a program that actually moved the needle on those metrics?

We decided to seek help from a professional organization. We went to Kotter International founded by John Kotter. I’ve been extremely lucky to work with him and his team for a year and a half. We went to explain and tell site leaderships, site leadership teams internationally because we decided from the very beginning to go global. We have factories in North America, and France, and India, and smaller factories in other countries.

We decided to go explain to the top leadership what it was about that they would see volunteers come up and networks get together without the leaders asking this to happen and that they shouldn’t be surprised, they shouldn’t be frightened, they should support that because that’s what we wanted. We wanted to create a dual organization where you have at the same time the hierarchical pyramid, the functions, the layers, et cetera that does what it does well, that is management (organizing complicated things) but at the same time we wanted a network, people getting together around common interest around their passion sometimes for short amount of time unprompted and doing and building value together. It’s not like creating a sandbox beside the organization because generally when the ideas come back from the sandbox they are shot immediately by the antibodies of the organization. It was really to have a symbiosis between the pyramid and the network so people being both in the pyramid doing their job and volunteers. So the way we did that was as I said, we first created a purpose, co-created a purpose where people from various ranks and functions, then we toured the sites to explain a little bit what would come and to talk about this purpose with first groups of people. Then we let the energy grow around these volunteers. First volunteers went to their colleagues and talked about the purpose and what we needed, how this change could be and an opportunity to work together differently and better. The energy rose around this cause. After a few months, we got enough people convinced and willing to go. Then, that was the time when we decided to channel the energy into action. So you see, we didn’t start by an action plan or by a goal, as most change initiatives do. We started by raising the energy. Only when you have the energy, the people willing to fight together for something, that you say “Okay. Now, what can we do?”

How do you measure energy?  Was it visceral in your guts or did you use some kind of metrics?

We have some metrics. Actually, we didn’t impose anything or suggested anything but volunteers on the sites quickly realized that in order to have more power they needed to show numbers. They need to show how many people on the site were in. So they decided to count people, to count people who were willing to support the opportunity, the cause. So they found different ways. Again, we didn’t prompt anything but they found it. They found ways to become more engaging, to attract more people. They created events. They created whatever mailing list to ask people to join and so on. So it’s really a very interesting moment of leadership development where people find on their own that they have to become better communicators and that they have to be better organized. It was weird for the first movers because they had no boss, they had no instructions, they were not working in the same team under the same department. That is a fantastic opportunity to develop leadership skills at every level of the organization.

It’s almost — as you described this Celine, it’s almost like the exact opposite of the traditional corporate change program. You talked about a cause, you talked about focusing on the purpose, you talked about people actually stepping up and doing the work on their own. I mean it’s exactly the opposite of — I’m interested about how the Kotter guys were able – I mean have they seen this kind of thing before, the Kotter international?


They had.

They had and then they told us that this would happen and we wouldn’t believe them. But what was interesting was also the reaction of some leaders who were a bit worried about that energy being released and saying “Oh my God what’s happening.” For example, one group of volunteers came up with an idea that they should work on a buddy system to welcome newcomers and that buddies would be volunteers or people from anywhere in the organization willing to welcome a newcomer and show him or her around, where is the cafeteria, and what you do for this or that. We had one reaction from an HR person saying “Oh, but who would choose the buddies?” They said “Well, we won’t choose. It’s just going to be volunteers. He said “But how are you going to make sure that they are the right people?” They said “Well, what is the right people? You’re a buddy, you’re welcoming a newcomer. You don’t need to be like a high potential or something like that. You’re just a goodwill person. That’s enough.” Then the HR said “But how are you going to make sure that they say the right things?” Again, were in two different logics, two different planets. One was about control and making sure that everything is well organized. That’s the way organizations work that’s a great for a number of things but not for everything. The problem is that when you put everything in these baskets you create huge bottlenecks because the managers can’t do everything. That’s where you get stuck you know. Paralysis by analysis and these many things.

Absolutely. I mean Celine, we started off the story with you kind of frustrated, plateaued and now where are you sort of emotionally and sort of energetically at this point of the story?

I’m totally high. It’s just amazing. I feel I have — I probably have the best job! It’s emotionally fulfilling. It’s just incredible. I feel my personal purpose is totally aligned with my job role and with the company’s purpose. That’s the sweet spot that Dan Pontefract describes in his book called The Purpose Effect. I’m really there. I’m really in the purpose effect’s sweet spot. I totally love that. I’m amazed that it is showing results. I mean I am not amazed, I’m happy that it does but I’m surprised it does so much. The indicators are totally turning positive while they hadn’t for ten years! We hadn’t made any significant improvement despite everything that was tried before. Here, it’s just amazing. You should see the curves totally changed and it’s changing people’s lives. People who were down in the organization, ignored like totally buried in the layers and layers of hierarchy are now emerging as leaders and recognized as such — because they are engaging, they are creative, they have ideas, they are doers, they make things happen. It’s not just a handful of people. It’s the mindset. The mindset is changing. Some of our regulators who come and inspect our factories tell us that they do not recognize us. They say “What have you done? It’s a 180 degree turn. It’s just amazing.” One of them told us even in a meeting,— it gave me goose bumps: “You are restoring my faith in the industry.”


Yes. That’s just amazing. Amazing.


So it’s an extraordinary story. The final question on this. Maybe it’s a bit of an unfair question but I mean, do you feel something different when you go back to headquarters? Because I mean I think you obviously — as you said you’ve been referring to manufacturing sites around the world. Is there a ripple effect going back into the mother ship or is it too early to say?

There is. It is interesting to see how this thing is becoming viral as well, infectious positively infectious. So some people are like curious and asking questions. Some functions who were not involved in the beginning are now knocking at the door and saying “Hey can I join?” I say “Of course. It’s for everyone. Anyone is welcome.”

There is still resistance and there will still be but the results are here, the external recognition is also here so we’re getting lots of awards, engagement for whatever. So a lot of good things are happening that’s obviously served the company in so many ways. It’s getting more and more difficult to ignore but there is a difference between acknowledging the change, acknowledging that this is good, and doing it. Doing it means people, for example, go on the internal social network and that is something that some people do and then okay they try and they become used to it and they start to like it a lot. Our Yammer group is extremely lively and growing and extremely fast but for some other people it’s still difficult, it’s still too much of a change in the culture and how they behave at work. It’s really changing mindsets from being someone with a title or a job role, to someone coming as a whole person at work. We’re not hiding behind a job title or level. We’re whole. We’re coming with our emotions, our creativity, our experience, our history and that’s fantastic and that’s what we want to share, person to person as a collective of individuals.

Fascinating. Yeah, this idea of work – life balance always strikes me as ludicrous but I mean what is it? You either work or you live. I mean it feels to me that these are two sides of the coin. That’s the — what you’re creating I guess is an opportunity for people to step into that and be completely themselves which is uncomfortable for some I suspect.

Yes, exactly. Absolutely.

Wonderful. Well Celine, this has been fantastic. I’ve got three questions that I really wanted to cover before we wrap this up. First question I asked you, I sent to you in advance: what have you changed your mind about recently?

That’s a very interesting question. I have thought about it. I think the one thing that is probably interesting for you to hear is when I started my change efforts six, seven years ago, I felt there was an “enemy” somewhere that I needed to fight, the leadership or the culture, or the structure or something, the process. The more I get into changing things in depth in the organization the more I realize that there is no real enemy, in fact. There is no externality that I could affect, impact and change and remove and there is a lot of good people actually.

There’s good and bad in this. It’s a bit unsettling because in a way my enemy has disappeared. My enemy is like the structure, its assumptions, it’s people’s assumptions, in their heads. I read an article recently that really struck me because it esonated with that idea. It says “organization structures don’t HAVE a culture. They ARE a culture”. You see? If culture is something that an organization has then you can just dump it and get a new one but if it is something that an organization is then changing it means deep surgery or therapy for the whole organization. I took that from a post from Flipchart Rick dated 2013, that’s really really interesting. I think the job is really never finished, it won’t be finished anytime soon. There’s still a lot of opportunities for change makers to affect those hidden assumptions and show people that yes it’s okay to do differently and it won’t put the system down, it will actually help. There’s still a lot of work but it’s great, it’s a fantastic journey.

But as you say there’s a different energy from us against the rest of the world versus us together with the rest of the world.


So next question, you referred to yourself as a changemaker. What do you do to remain creative and innovative Celine?

I read a lot,— not enough, not as much as I would like but I really love books. I am lucky to know a lot of people who write books and I got to meet them through Twitter and Facebook. Twitter remains an amazing source of ideas and contacts and opportunities. I really cherish this media. I don’t want it to disappear because this is bringing so much to me.  When I just have five minutes, I go to see what happens and then it brings me … It’s serendipity. I love the serendipity that this media brings in making new connections, reading stuff from other fields. That is fantastic when we remain open to new stuff. I think making space for that is important.

That’s interesting. We had a previous guest who said his tagline is never leave serendipity to chance. It is lovely because you can structure it in a way and it sounds like you do by just exposing yourself to what goes on in Twitter and all sorts of stuff pops up that you can expect in advance.

Yes, absolutely.

Then, the final question: To what do you attribute your success in life? I mean are there any specific skills or habits or mindsets that you feel you’ve mastered on your journey that really had a significant impact to move the needle.

I thought about that. I don’t know… I think I’m a doer, I like to do things, not just stay at the level of ideas. I’m a practitioner. I’ve actually built ideas based on my practice and not the other way around. For me, it served well because I had to go through mastering tools and doing things on my own and understanding how this or that works and staying late at night to understand whatever platform. It’s really an artisan work, I would say. It didn’t start from a high, stratospheric level. It really started deep in the trenches. So making things, being a maker is a fantastic way of acquiring skills especially if you’re a maker with other people. Being a collective maker brings you a lot of new knowledge and energy and diversity of viewpoints and trying to build things together. That I think is a critical skill for the 21st century.

A collective maker which is basically co-creating something together.

Yes. Absolutely.

Your implementation plan I suspect flowed far more effectively as a result of having co-created and got the passion everyone lined up. I mean it’s a wonderful way of doing it but you have to invest far more upfront of course.


Yes of course. And you have to put your ego aside and you have to really replace “I” by “we”. I think it’s a very healthy thing to do, it’s a very healthy exercise. It doesn’t prevent me from having my blog and sharing my ideas and doing conferences. When I’m on a stage I’m alone, but I’m speaking in the name of a collective. Actually, when I say alone, it’s not always true: I recently brought one of our operators on stage with me because I wanted people in the room to see what a “real” worker is. I think a lot of people in HR function, comms, or whatever, think and speak about the future work but they don’t often see real workers on the line and it is really important to hear them – and not just hear but build things with them.

Yeah. I mean it’s a great story. It’s a rare story in the industry, I suspect. That’s what makes it so compelling over and above the results that you’re generating.

Yes, rare especially in the pharma industry. If it works in pharma, it can work everywhere.

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Let’s go for it (laughs).

So Celine where can people get in touch with you?

So I have a blog named I need to write a bit more often but when I write it’s a lot of work— English is not my native language and writing in English requires a little bit of effort! Besides I have so much to do because I’m “in the work”, I’m changing the real work with 4,000 activist now in the workplace so it’s taking a lot of time but I love having my blog, it’s my digital home. I have also a Twitter handle, @CelineSchill.

We’ll put all these in the show notes. Are you in LinkedIn as well?

I am. I am on Facebook. I’m everywhere.

We’ll put it like that. I’m glad to hear it because it would’ve been, for you not to have a social media platform, it is hard to believe.

Yes, of course!

So I mean it’s been a great pleasure having you on the show Celine. I’m sure our audience has enjoyed it as much as I did. I’m sure many of them would be in touch to learn more about what you did because it is a remarkable story of change in a mature, long product life cycle business in a regulated industry and particularly in the quality area. Best of luck with everything. Good luck with the Forty over 40. Thanks very much for coming on the show.

Thank you very much Mark for the opportunity and I welcome all new connections. That’s fantastic. Thank you.

What Was Covered

  • 03:20 – What does Céline do?
  • 05:35 – Céline’s bosses described her as a troublemaker, yet she later went on to become business woman of the year. How did she do it?
  • 09:10 – When Céline felt like she had hit a plateau in her career.
  • 11:30 – You can take 2 paths: You and your co-workers can protest from within the company or you can band together and become constructive.
  • 13:15 – How Céline and her co-workers chose to make their company a better place to work.
  • 16:15 – Céline took 63 proposals into the executive room.
  • 17:55 – Why at the end of that meeting, Céline came out a bit frustrated.
  • 21:05 – When you’re trying to make a change in an organization by yourself, there can be a lot of backlash. When you present new solutions in a group setting, organizations by nature have to compromise.
  • 24:35 – People are tired of corporate speak. Customers aren’t stupid.
  • 25:55 – Céline says to never stop building trust internally.
  • 27:50 – Right now Céline is heading up the quality control department, working on new and innovative ways to change the way quality is monitored in vaccines.
  • 31:50 – Too often, Céline sees people unhappy at work. When you’re unhappy at work, you’re probably unhappy at home as well.
  • 33:30 – How does Céline contribute to creating an innovative company culture?
  • 36:35 – Céline talks on how she kept her team accountable and hitting the right metrics.
  • 40:35 – Where is Céline emotionally today? Does she still feel frustrated?
  • 46:05 – What has Céline changed her mind about recently?
  • 48:50 – What does Céline do to remain creative?
  • 50:15 – What does Céline attribute her success to in life?


Links Mentioned

Sanofi Pasteur Website
We Need Social Website
@CélineSchill on Twitter
CélineSchillinger on Facebook
Céline Schillinger on Linkedin

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