Ludovic Guilcher (Orange) : HR at the heart of digital transformation through the employee

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Orange announced its new strategic plan, Essentials 2020 in march. Without any surprise we can find all the building blocks of digital transformation applied to a large business that needs to make a slight move without being able say “let’s switch everything off and start something new”.

I’ll focus on two points of the announcement : reinventing the customer relationship and building a people oriented and digital employer model.

Here’s the ambition in terms of customer relationship

 

“To reinvent the customer relationship, Orange will approach all of its operations from the perspective of customer uses and experience, by anticipating their desires and responding to them in a personalized, targeted and effective manner.”

The promise is keeping up with the times but, in my opinion, won’t be delivered by working like in 90s. It requires empowered employees, new ways to work and manage and a digital transition of talents and human capital (I’m using the word transition in purpose, instead of transformation) which is the biggest part of any digital transformation initiative even if invisible from a customer perspective.

So, Orange’s promise to employees is the following :

Securing the skills needed for tomorrow
Orange will identify and develop the skills it needs for the deployment of its strategy, in particular in new digital areas. Orange will build on high-quality digital training programs and aims to reach a level where in 2018 half of all training will be given via a digital training platform (digital learning, MOOC, serious gaming).
Developing collective agility
New, more agile and more collaborative ways of working will be introduced, which will also contribute to the quality of working life. Special attention will be paid to the tools we provide to employees who are in contact with customers.
Fostering individual commitment
To increase employee commitment and participation in the life of the company, Orange will reinforce its management culture by strengthening the level of confidence and responsibility with the aim of giving employees additional means and more autonomy in front of customers. Orange will also promote employee share-holding with the aim of reaching 10% employee ownership going forward.

I had the chance to discuss this announcement with Ludovic Guilcher, HR Group Deputy Executive Vice-President at Orange, who kindly answered my questions about what Orange meant by being a “digital employer”.

Bertrand Duperrin : Every business is talking about digital transformation and customer experience. But customer experience is something one thinks and delivers. It’s a way to get work done that goes beyond technology. What does the new promise made to the customer mean for Orange employees ?

Ludovic Guilcher : First, the primacy of customer experience is not new. Today, employees in front of the customer are facing the difficulties caused by having to deal with multiple screens and applications. What makes it difficult for them to simply respond to the customer.

Saying “customer experience first” means to make the employee’s work simpler so he can respond more easily and quickly.

So we had to work on different things. First on IT : it’s about complex systems that are not easy to migrate. Plus, there are legal constraints : if we have so many applications it’s because we had to while, from the customer perspective, everything must form a coherent whole.
Then there’s the need to have internal communications that look more like a social network than like email to make it simpler for anyone to help a colleague. When one is working on a customer case and wants to respond as fast as possible, there’s nothing more efficient than chatting on the internal social network so see if a colleague has already dealt with something similar. If we can’t do that, the customer finds the answer on the web. He has the impression that the knowledge is outside of the company and that’s not a good thing for us. It’s a real change for employees because we must admit that the use of internal social networks is often quite artificial. It’s not deeply rooted into business processes.

Tomorrow it won’t be possible not to use a social network. But that’s not today’s reality.

BD : disconnected from business applications…
LG : yes…and from business processes. The social network is not a reflex ! It’s “something more”, the cherry on the cake. It’s like an offsite work seminary : it’s a tool for thoughts, not for action. We have to make it used in people’s day to day work and that’s a big evolution.

All the company and not only employees in front of the customer, are engaged in a program named “listening and responding”. That’s what we’re doing for the customer but we must do the same for employees !
BD : Today it’s obvious that customer experience won’t happen without employee experience. So there’s a need for a customer-grade employee experience…
LG : That’s were we’re headed. We won’t be successful on the customer experience side if we don’t reach the same level in employee experience.

We can’t tell employees “listen to the customer and respond” if the company is not organized so that the employee can respond. And today that’s not the case. For instance, if we use a Saas application, it’s hard to customize it and the quality loop happens only when the software is deployed. If there’s already something wrong at the beginning, it’s hard to move forward. Contrary to marketing operations were the quality loop is upstream, in employee facing operations it’s downstream.

So I asked the marketing department to borrow them some people so we could do for employees what they do for customers. They listened to employees for months to identify their needs, define the promises and build the roadmap regarding to some generic processes : learning, talent management, access to buildings, day-to-day requests to general services.
BD : Are you saying that employees must be treated like customers ? And that internal change must come with a promise, a marketing plan instead of saying that the customer must be convinced because he pays while the employee does not because he’s paid…
LG : Yes ! In fact it’s all about engagement.
BD : The employee buys the company project with engagement…
LG  : Yes. Paying is not enough to have engaged employees. At Orange, engagement is not a critical issue right now because our employees are proud of the company and the brand. But we can see with the new generations that the link with the enterprise, the adherence to the brand are weaker than before.

So if we don’t start working on employee satisfaction at work, they will disengage, we’ll have productivity issues and then they’ll leave. And it won’t be because they were not good at their work ! That’s the problem !

BD : So can we say that HR are a pillar of the customer relationship ? A co-owner ? That’s a new discourse but if nothing is done for employees, the customer relationship will get worse and worse.
LG : Yes. We’re a player in the customer relationship because of the impact of engagement. But we’re not the only one.
BD : a lot is said about the rise of the Chief Digital Officer, marketing and IT’s leadership in digital transformation but I rarely see HR in the landscape. For instance, the CHRO of Toyota Belgium as the title of  “Customer relationship director”
LG : And at AirBnb he’s “Chief Employee Experience Officer”.

Things are definitely moving.

But we can’t make a full parallel. The fact the customer pays and the employee is paid sometimes justifies that we say “no” to the employee. It’s less likely to happen with the customer. The company is a collective with rules that can go against individual satisfaction but favor the common good. That’s the limit of the symmetry of attentions.
But businesses are so far from having the basics of a good employee experience that I don’t consider possible excesses in this direction as a risk.

BD : Talking about employee experience…there’s obviously an impact on employer brand..
LG : Yes. Even of the employer brand was already subject to competition. That’s the only internal component in this situation. But, obviously, employee experience impacts the employer brand.

First as a function because it forces the company to listen to candidates. Then, because as employees share their experience, what really happens in the workplace, on the web, the power of the corporate discourse weakens. Most of all for those who are here for a short time like trainees. They are the employer brand.
BD : So it’s like a “real” brand experience : there’s the promise, the projected experience, the actual experience and the shared experience which is how the brand is measured..

LG : Of course. What is shared is a measurement. That’s why, for instance, we’re proud of having the ‘happy trainees” label. There’s no better assessment than the one made by those who worked for the company.

But it changes the employer discourse. The era of “brochure discourses” where all employers were perfect is over.
BD : As for customer experience, employee experience is what happens at touchpoints. We mentioned the digital work environment but the main touchpoint between the company and the employee is the manager. What have you done on this side ? Did it lead to a new management set of reference ?

LG : We already  had an internal set of reference with some criteria to evaluate managers. But that’s the deepest part of the change. It will take time to change what’s on screens but we’ll get through that…but humans is what takes the most time to change. We’ll disrupt in an unprecedented way the way teams are managed, the company is run.

Managers are moving from point A toi point B and we must admit that we don’t know where B is and how long it will take to get there. We’re accompanying managers but also employees : when you’ve been in a top-down model for 30 years it’s impossible to change over night.
Today, managers are managing teams where some prefer the old model and others the new one. It’s schizophrenic for the managers who have to manage both and find the right balance. We’re working on it and, also, trying to make managers more comfortable for digital tools. As a matter of fact if one does not master the basics of email, social networks, IM…he can’t manage since he won’t be able to accompany his own staff and will feel at risk. We’re also helping them with the managerial and behavioral side (delegate, trust, give others autonomy, vision, doesn’t micro manage, let information flow..).
HR have role to play in all that.

Let’s, for instance, consider  disintermediation, which will happen everywhere. Take the example of learning/training sessions. Today an employee attends one because his manager has told him do. More and more are already learning by watching videos on the web, attending MOOCs. Learning is already disintermediated.

Another example : the annual assessment meeting, which is very top-down. It’s contradictory with a discourse of autonomy, initiative and we will need to make it evolve.

BD : Is annual the right pace, considering how fast the world is moving.
LG : Maybe not… For skills development maybe but not for many other things?

But I find it normal that an employee can give his opinion on how his manager delegates, empowers, trusts his staff. I’m comfortable with that provided it’s fair.

BD : Last point.There is no digital transformation without a clear and exemplary involvement of leaders. For the same reasons that employees won’t use the internal social network if leaders don’t. What’s the role of leaders at Orange and what do you do about “Digital Leadership”.
LG : At Orange this is less critical than elsewhere. First, we had nothing to do to convince the C-Suite that digital was important. That’s not the case everywhere.

When we started our digital academy, Excom members were proposed to choose three topics for mentoring. And they did. They’re all on twitter. We’re not starting from scratch.

For me it’s not a priority anymore. We have exemplary leaders and top managers, starting with our President. They lead the way while staying humble because no one has the absolute truth. We try things and we admit that sometimes we may be wrong.

We’ve spent a lot on time on the Digital Academy. Every employee took his “Digital Passport” test. They’re explained what a social network is, how to speak there, what’s the risks. We don’t want to be the “blissful ones of digital”, and hit the wall at high speed like we did with email.

 

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Many thanks to Ludovic who took some of his precious time to answer my questions.