The Chapman Consulting Group’s Global Series of HR Leaders Meetings has moved on to France and Benelux, with three separate groups of around 20 global and international HR decision-makers, two in Paris, France and one in Heerlen, Netherlands in the Limburg region near Maastricht. The first meeting was co-hosted by Credit Agricole CIB at its Paris headquarters with stunning views of Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower. The second meeting, also in Paris, was held at the Capgemini headquarters next to the Arc de Triomphe. Finally we moved on to Heerlen near Maastricht to join DSM at their Global HQ complex for the third meeting in the France and Benelux sub-region.
Attendees at these small groups included Global HR decision-makers from companies such as Allianz, Carrefour, INSEAD, Schneider Electric, Sodexo, Solvay, Alcatel-Lucent, Dassault Systemes, Philips, Sanofi, SGD, Veolia Water, ASML, Atradius, Gazprom, ING, KPMG, Danone, Rabobank, SABIC, Stork and UCB to name just a few.
In order to preserve the anonymity of the information shared from these sessions, we will not be reporting on all the findings discussed. However, below is a short summary of some of the most interesting points raised:
- One financial services company discussed how, after many years of inadvertently breeding a ‘compensation culture’ in the organisation, the stricter European rules on compensation have now necessitated a re-education of their global employees on the importance of nonfinancial rewards. This is an ongoing battle, but successes have been made in a) elevating the status of personal training as a ‘reward’ for performance, b) using long-term career paths as another ‘reward’ in itself, and c) creating ideas based on a country or regional basis, so that the communication is tailor-made to the local market and takes into account the areas in the world that are still showing more positive growth than others.
- One services company shared how their ‘Leaders for Tomorrow’ programme now includes a prerequisite for being open to global mobility. And this doesn’t mean just places such as London, New York and Singapore, it means places such as Luanda, Atyrau and Wuhan. While the company recognises that this currently limits the number of people who want to participate in this programme, they feel that it’s part of a shift in culture where employees will start to realise that they can’t progress their careers in the organisation unless they put themselves forward for these experiences.
- One French company discussed the limitations of their corporate culture, both in terms of the way that promotions and redeployments can often be based on personal connections, and also in terms of the use (or non-use) of the French language. The group in question all shared their experiences in this area, and discussed the need for more internal communication and informal international networking sessions so that the spirit of ‘personal connections’ need not be focused on people who happen to be located in France. The companies also shared their various experiences in moving away from using the French language, but some French companies do continue to experience backlashes to this. Some companies found there was still a prerequisite for board members to conduct conversations in French only. In summary, there wasn’t one overall trend that could explain where companies are generally heading towards in this regard.
- A retail organisation discussed the successes of ‘career committees’ in China, which has helped to minimise collusion and cronyism in the promotion of local talent in China. So for every key promotion taking place across China, a group of one HR Head, two operational VPS, and two regional MDs must all agree.
- One professional services company realised that one of the key traits they need from their global leaders was the ability to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. To remedy this they set up an extremely innovative training programme, which puts potential leaders through an assessment centre with a great deal of ambiguity. There’s no agenda sent beforehand, and participants are set tasks throughout the course where the rules unfairly change all the time. If the participants get used to all the sudden changes, then the rules suddenly stop changing. The course takes an incredible amount of effort, because it’s never the same twice and requires course leaders to be very involved. However the anecdotal results have been extremely positive, and people who attend the course have come out much better at handling ambiguous, disruptive and unexpected situations. In general, it also encourages leaders to focus on leading in their own style because of their own personal characteristics, rather than conform to a particular model at the expense of being authentic.
- One financial services firm had a novel idea of instigating ‘CEO swaps’ so that a CEO in one geography or business line can spend just one week being the CEO in another business. The CEO is completely cut off from their original market, and is dropped into a new environment without any preparation. One particular advantage of this is that it allowed the CEO to carry on performing the skills of their everyday job, so there were fewer objections from leaders about being taken away from their responsibilities to attend external training. And other advantage was in the results — the CEO Swaps allowed the company to pinpoint many areas for improvement, both in the CEOs themselves and also in the businesses that they were dropped into. The knock-on effects of this have been extremely positive.
- A French services company have been extremely innovative in linking their talent development strategy with their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy. They have done this by partnering with local charities and community groups in setting tasks for team building and leadership training. So rather than just set leadership tests ‘in a vacuum’, this allows the company to actually achieve something ‘in the real world’. The downside of this plan is that they do lose some control over the process, and a task may not test all the leadership qualities and competencies that they want to cover. In these cases, the company can later set supplementary tasks to ‘fill the gaps’ of any extra knowledge they need.
- Finally, a Dutch professional services company shared some great information about how they have started to encourage top talent to leave the organisation! As a partnership company, they realised that it was better to be totally transparent about the chances of anyone on the internal senior leadership development course becoming a partner in the future — namely that it simply isn’t possible for this to be the case. Associates within the company were indeed highly intelligent and could already work it out for themselves, so by encouraging senior talent to assess external career paths, the company built a great deal of goodwill with the company’s alumni. And whereas before there may have been some bad feelings
about the company that didn’t make them partner, the current environment actually breeds a great deal of loyalty. So people who were joining external companies were referring more work back to the original company. And around 20% of the people who left on these terms actually ended up coming back to the company, armed with a great deal of extra insights that they would not have had if they’d stayed in the company. It should therefore come as no surprise that these returning talent actually then made partnership grade in the future, and in many cases more quickly than their counterparts who had stayed within the organisation. Certainly a thought-provoking case study on successful alumni management.
It has been great to reconnect with our network of global leaders in France and Benelux. While there’s no substitute to attending one of these meetings in person, we look forward to sharing more findings such as those in the article above with our Global HR network from the rest of the series as it continues across Europe and North America in the weeks ahead.
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