Businesses and People : performance according to Antoine Riboud

A reflection that is not very far my usual discourse since it’s about optimization under resource constaintes. Most of all human resources.

Everybody know that a company’s goal is to make money in order to create value for its shareholders without whom it wouldn’t exist.

As time went by the need for making profit was turned into the need for maximizing it. A vision that made possible the strongest and longest period of growth, more than a decade ago. But it seems that the engine is now jamming with consequences we can all observe in our daily lives.

At a corporate level it implies the will of doing always more and keep with growth rates that are incompatible with the mere logic. A logic that becomes counter productive when it lead to halve strategies and promising linear performances where people end one day or the other by meeting a ceiling. Both leading to cyclic crisis.

Outside of companies, this lead to a period when, for the first time, growth creates poverty, this poverty being a threat for tomorrow’s growth, destroying current markets and making it impossible for new ones to emerge.

In one word, we have the evidence that, in order to continue to grow rich tomorrow, people must may not ask for the impossible today. In other words one don’t run a marathon by linkinng up sprints.

The event co-organized by Danone and HEC which I attended recently gave me the idea or reading again a collection of Antoine Riboud’s speeches and interviews (Antoine Riboud : Un patron dans la cité) [Antoine Riboud was the founder of Danone]

According to Riboud, “economic and human goals are not dissociable”. He repeated that from speeches to speaches but also put it at work as an entrepreneur : whether you consider employees, clients, partners, suppliers, all the human surrounding, theu need healthy companies but no company can remain healthy if its human ecosystem is not. Companies are not built to support a surnumerary workforce or hire people for the only purpose of hiring them because it’s impossible to have any social policy without means to fund it. But they must be responsible for their own decisions, even the more painful and have to make their consequences smoother.

From is famous “Marseille speech” to the day he retired for his son Franck, all his vision is written here. And, now we have some distance, we are forced to admit that his famous “double project, both economic and societal” coined in the 70s has never been a burden for the company to be profitable and remain a world class player. The purpose is not to compensate on the one side the arm that is done on the other, but to be responsible and perceptive of the future impact of one’s decision. As his son and successor Franck said before the conference, both social and business are not incompatible : it’s a matter of settings. And Emmanuel Faber, continued later “no settings without vision”.

I will end quoting what Antoine Riboud wrote in 1987 in a report he was asked to write about the introduction of new technologies in the workplace. It was a long time ago but his words are still very accurate.

We have to be aware of the ongoing nature of technological evolution. There will never be any before or after. Modernization will never end. So organizations have to become flexible enough to evolve“.

” We still think we can buy times, invest in better days, then redesign work. We must not take these issues upside own. What keep us into crisis is refusing technology or, even worth, a bad use of it”.

“The act of production is neither efficient nor profitable if it doesn’t take the most of all the productive capital. So we need all people’s rigour, imagination, motivation, autonomy. The ability to obey, to use force, to repeat, all what is a well mastered routine, is becoming obsolete.”

“We can’t direct people, manage them, the way we used to do, nor keeping the same work division or definition of skills. Our contribution is built on these concrete experience : the most successful companies are those that think about technological change, work design and the change of internal social relationships as a whole”.

Was Riboud a visonnaire ? I can understand why many people use the word “special” when talking about Danone.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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