I spoke with a friend about innovative management in France the other day, and she said: I know of this a company with a really interesting approach, you should check it out!
The company is called Poult. It makes biscuits that are sold under customer brand names.
When I “Googled” Poult I was taken by surprise, because finally, creative management is making its way to (almost) mainstream French television!
The Net provides a lot of articles in French press from 2011 and 2012 about this company, and quite a few from this January. Companies mentioned in relation to the programme, which will air on Arte 24 February at 8.50pm French time, are Poult, together with Favi, and Chronoflex. Harley Davidson and Gore (as in GoreTex) are also mentioned in an article, but it is unclear whether they will feature in the programme.
Poult, a biscuit company based in the south-west of France, started to think about making a total overhaul of its management processes in 2006. Employee satisfaction was poor (by the way, only 11% of French employees are explicitly happy about going to work in the mornings), decision making processes were management driven and took forever, and sales were slugging.
The company broke every pattern of running a traditional business in most of the world, and even more so in France. It now stands out in stark contrast to the otherwise hierarchical and process driven French corporate culture: The entire middle management was removed, and a “tu” reform, in line with the Swedish nation wide reform in the late 1960’s in Sweden, was implemented.
So what does the change translate into, in practice?
It is a great example of “schoolbook leadership theory”, if you like. The employees are no longer directed by their managers, who, by the way are now acting as, and called “animators” about how to do their work (“today you do this, that and that”), but are now responsible for their production lines themselves. Employees are free, and encouraged, to implement new ways to improve work and output “without waiting for the boss to approve” – as is the traditional modus operandi in French companies (see a previous post on this topic here). They become owners of their ideas, and are responsible for their implementation and success.
Everyone is encouraged to use his or her leadership. This, many employees think, increases your job satisfaction tremendously.
With a flat organisation, the relationship between employees and animators has also changed. In one of the factories, workers said they could not address a manager or a white-collar worker with the informal “tu”, but had to use the formal “vous” (another post on this on the blog here). Now they all address each other using “tu”, which increases interpersonal exchange between traditionally separated “levels” of employees.
Employees also volunteer to improve conditions that are not up to par by participating in different task forces, bringing a dialogue between people working on different production lines and in different functions (line workers with purchasers, finance people with technicians, etc.).
Working in a flat organisation does not mean total freedom, like coming to work when you please or deciding to stop a production line. But by empowering employees, tensions between “management” and employees have lessened considerably, and the (in)famous French striking culture seems to be a far away memory. (Favi, another innovative company featuring in the TV programme, has even done away with unions because of the employees’ opinion that these are not needed, but that is an entirely different topic.)
Today, as a result of the change in organisation, Poult has been able to increase its growth to 12%.
As Jérôme Introvigne (who lead the change at Poult) puts it : if you want to pursue “intelligent projects”, you have to stop using a carrot/stick approach, it doesn’t work.