Optimistic, determined, collaborative… What does it mean to be a resourcer manager?

We meet Jean-Marie Lambert and Isaac Getz.
Published in the dossier of June 2018

Over and above his expertise, the way in which a manager behaves and works is a source of inspiration for their team. At Veolia, this behavior is based on three fundamentals: “We are optimistic,” “We never give up,” and “We move forward together.” This is showcased in the Group’s new employer brand campaign. How can this attitude be embodied and shared on a daily basis in the company? A dialogue.

The #WeAreResourcers campaign showcases the distinctive attitude demonstrated by Veolia staff: “optimistic, determined, collaborative.” How has it been received internally?

Jean-Marie Lambert Senior Executive Vice-President, Human Resources Veolia

“We are moving into management via support and acknowledgement.”

Jean-Marie Lambert : The campaign was an instant success among the Group’s younger generations, whatever their position. Today, when we see how it is attracting attention on social media, the way in which everyone communicates and talks about their job very simply through videos, we see that it is working well. And that in the end even the most skeptical are won over. Like any good communication campaign, it only works if it has an impact on the social fabric and corresponds both to a given moment and a vision of what we want to do. Over and above motivating senior management, what interests me is getting the staff on board. If they embrace it, management will follow.

Isaac Getz : Seen from the outside, if the Group wants its staff to embrace the corporate vision, i.e. “resourcing the world,” they have to be able to work in an environment conducive to this: taking action and responsibility must be facilitated if this vision is to become a reality. The manager plays a key role in this. If they don’t do the work that feeds their staff ’s basic psychological needs, you may as well forget any contribution to this vision from staff.

Which managerial practices should be adopted to encourage a sense of initiative in the company?

I. G. : Whatever the company, managers must abandon traditional impulses to control members of staff. Instead, they should put themselves at the service of their teams and create the conditions that enable employees to decide for themselves the best thing to do. In other words, create an organizational environment that treats employees with respect, makes it easier for them to fulfill their potential, and allows them to manage themselves. This suggestion is not theoretical but the result of observing hundreds of companies of all sizes and across all sectors that have adopted this approach, some for several dozen years. Managers are sometimes unsettled by this transformation, because in this new model, rather than directing and controlling, they are being asked to trust people and give them responsibility. Of course, some managers embrace this transformation and choose to become “resourcers,” facilitators, coaches… But the majority hesitate, or even refuse. You must then offer them support, training, coaching or any other alternative to advance in the company that will allow them to move in this direction.

J-M. L. : We have gone from a time when secrecy and discretion determined power, with the obligatory traditional communication channels — an internal magazine, a “central body” and memoranda — to a situation where employees have access to an unequaled level of information and are developing an unprecedented analytical ability. All the same, they expect both to be allowed to take part in decision-making and for senior management to make the decisions. We therefore have to change the way we function and move into innovation management, which is more demanding than before. I’m thinking, for example, of the approach initiated by Veolia’s CEO for the future strategic plan. It’s now a matter of expanding the previously confidential thinking to discussions with executives beyond the Top 500 (Ed.’s note: the Group’s 500 senior managers). We’re not burying our heads in the sand, we must successfully manage three kinds of innovation: that of which we are on the receiving end, that to which we agree, and that which we initiate. It’s far from simple, because this involves shaking up management’s genetic code. Some are ready, others less so. The key is to steer the transformation with people who inspire confidence across the whole social structure and at all levels of hierarchy.

In this respect, do imperatives such as integrating the digital innovation and meeting the needs and expectations of up-and-coming generations involve profound changes to the managerial culture?

J-M. L. : As long as it’s working, there won’t be any opposition. Staff expect these tools to make their lives easier. They won’t forgive us if the new collaborative tools that we put in place with the program don’t work! But tools don’t make the company’s HR policy. This requires new training for the teams, and management is ready to facilitate this change. Bit by bit, we are moving into management via support and acknowledgement. This entails Veolia organizing staff creativity at every level. If the Group wants to move forward, it must be able to take advantage of the vast innovation work carried out on the ground. This means adopting clear strategies, not just on a Group level but also in the business units. This also means providing sufficient human and material resources to win staff over. We must be able to offer alternative positions to those whose jobs are going to disappear and train others in the professions of the future. Take the plastic waste recycling market, in which Veolia is involved. To win this market, we must be credible in three or four years in terms of human resources. It’s through innovation that we are going to be able to improve our core business. That’s where people will be waiting to pounce on us! We have started to thoroughly change the Group’s training policy, focusing more on forward planning with respect to jobs and skills.

Isaac Getz Leadership and Innovation Professor at ESCP Europe (Paris business school)

“Whatever the company, managers must abandon traditional impulses to control members of staff.”

I. G. : Digital practices are only contemporary tools. They are reinventing learning methods and sometimes smoothing interactions between members of staff and their managers. However, if they are not based on trust, working relationships will stay the same, along with the unwillingness to collaborate. On the contrary, if the manager works to serve their teams, these teams are going to make the most of digital tools to collaborate with each other.

How does the Resourcers’ commitment and performance take concrete form? What inspiring initiatives would you like to share?

J-M. L. : Lots of members of staff need to express themselves externally, in every way possible, and take part in social and humanitarian actions, etc. We must be able to tap into this underexploited source of individual creativity and not miss out on interesting ideas, opinions and views. Veolia must at all costs enrich the jobs and the content of the missions, so that everyone finds something to interest them and develops solid, motivating and engaging projects that they can have a stake in. Tomorrow’s manager must provide meaning. Even though — as shown by the Social Initiatives brochure — employees haven’t waited to get involved, whether in the area of training, social responsibility, health and safety, help with reintegration, etc. The whole point of this compilation is to encourage best practices across the Group and make people want to duplicate them. The #WeAreResourcers campaign also provides a way of formalizing these practices that had been rather scattered up to that point. I expect management all around the world to be inspired by it and take a daring approach.

To what extent is the “Resourcer” attitude, as defined by Veolia, in line with your concept of a “liberating leader”?

I. G. : I would specify that a “liberating leader” is the head of an operational entity — a Business unit, subsidiary, etc. — who initiates a transformation approach, which I call “liberation,” across their entity. From then on, everyone has the responsibility of doing something that they believe is in line with the company’s vision. This boss sets up a new organizational mode: new structures and new organizational practices, including managerial ones. Neither a manager nor an HRD can transform the company’s organizational mode; it’s not their remit. However, an HRD can help the liberating leader by providing them with their training expertise and supporting the managers, for example. On the whole, HR experts can become Resourcers, too. In particular, they can help review the manager recruitment and promotion practices: it is no longer a candidate’s performance and expertise that take precedence, but their ability to serve teams and help them advance.

The outlines of the “liberated company’s” organizational mode are “borderless.” On a global scale, do you think that we have to take into account cultural and economic differences from one country to the next to adjust their approaches?

I. G. : It’s good to specify that we are talking about an organizational mode and not a model. It’s organic and therefore takes shape within the context of specific cultures and over time… In big groups, there isn’t an organizational model either. With their staff members, they have to coconstruct an organizational mode distinct to their specific cultural context. The liberated company is a philosophy, the belief in human beings who prefer freedom and responsibility to control and subordination.

“Resourcing the world” implies coming up with solutions and creating synergies between sectors. How can Human Resources support managers in achieving these goals?

J-M. L. : The “Resourcing the world” promise was quickly understood by management. Staff really grasped the idea that it gives meaning and perspective to the company’s strategy. Besides, Veolia’s Executive Committee totally supports the campaign, which sets the example. Another sign is that the “cooperation” aspect has more weight when assessing senior management. And this performance is beginning to boost the Group’s indicators… All this creates an important feeling of solidarity. Today, my focus is not so much the perception of Resourcing the world, or the need for change and the actions to be carried out, but rather consolidating them on the ground by relying on everyone involved.