Florence Lecoutre, Global Head of Human Resources shares her vision about a people-centric strategy

EULER HERMES FOCUSES ON SKILLS DEVELOPMENT

Group Director of Human Resources at Euler Hermes since 2016, Florence Lecoutre has lived in different countries. She first joined the company as CIO for Euler International in London, then CIO  of Euler Hermes Benelux in Brussels. She became Group CIO of Euler Hermes in 2009, before taking over as Group Director of Human Resources in 2016. She also took 1 year of sabbatical leave in 2015 to pursue the International Business Management Executive Program in GeorgeTown University, United States, before returning to Europe. This unconventional career path has shaped her dynamic, pragmatic and innovative approach. Her aim is to introduce new strategies to support Euler Hermes’s 5,800 employees. She talks to us about her views, plans and ambitions for the group.

Euler Hermes places a great emphasis on internal skills development. Why is this essential for you and how are you going about it?

Florence LECOUTRE_ Our business activity requires very specific skills, and it takes time to train people from outside our environment. Therefore, as the Director of Human Resources, I tend to encourage skills development within the company. The idea is to invest in our employees, who already know our business well, and upskill them through training.

Skills development is therefore a core element of our HR policy. To succeed, we have put in place several approaches. 

In September 2018 we launched our platform ‘EH Learning’, which brings together a full catalogue of both classroom-based and online training programs. We also added LinkedIn Learning modules to our existing programs. This gives us access to an expandable catalogue allowing us to add new training programs. In time, this dedicated training platform will also be available on iPhone and iPad, so that employees can learn on the go. My vision for the future is to create a true “digital campus”. We’re working to move towards this and we frame training within a process of permanent individual growth.

We also have our ‘LEAD Program’ specifically reserved for 16 talented managers whom we handpick every year. We bring these 16 individuals of very different backgrounds together to work as a group on three sessions over three days. It’s always a rewarding experience as they have to deal with new situations and this is well appreciated. At the end of the program, they present a project to members of the Group Board of Management. The LEAD Program allows managers from all over the world to meet and create their own network. They tend to stay in contact at the end of the programme, and naturally form a network across different countries.

Skills development is my obsession for 2019. We still have a lot to do to optimize our programs. My aim is that, upon completing their training, employees feel like they’ve learned and achieved something. Too often, training days are seen as a waste of time. This has to change and we're working on it this year by offering modules that will really make a difference. 

Skills development can happen not only through training, but in other ways too. Euler Hermes encourages mobility. Is this also a way of exploring and learning throughout one’s career?

Florence LECOUTRE _ At Euler Hermes, we encourage mobility by geography and by function. In real terms, this means that we support employees who want a change, but we don’t force them to do so. Our employees are perfectly within their rights to refuse to take up a post in another country, or to change their role, if they don’t feel ready. It doesn’t change our attitude towards them or stop us from making them a new offer at a later stage.

Taking into account these basic principles, we can be sure that we’re doing all we can to encourage mobility. The people we take on speak fluent English and know that there are good opportunities at Euler Hermes. Some of our employees have worked in four or five countries.

Part of encouraging mobility is offering it throughout people’s careers. We offer it to young employees, but also to those over 50 or 55 if the opportunity arises and the person is motivated. We cultivate the attitude that mobility is always possible. It can even be a wonderful way of rounding off a career. When the group gives you an opportunity to take a management role on the other side of the planet, two or three years before your retirement, it is also a sign of recognition.

For us, mobility is enriching both for employees and for the business. We like to see employees moving to other countries and taking their perspectives and knowledge with them. Someone who brings their experience and working methods can be a valuable addition to the new team.

Functional mobility is a bit more complicated. People often think that someone has to be an expert in a particular field before taking a post in that area. On the contrary, I think that not knowing the job, not having been in that role before, is a good thing. Why? Because you’ll have to ask your team for help and you cannot make any progress without them. In some cases, you might have been a customer of the department before and you remember what your expectations were. You’re bringing a different perspective. It helps to shake things up.

So, personally, I’m always looking for employees who want to change countries or roles. I welcome them wholeheartedly! 

Does this mean that Human Resources initiates this mobility?

Florence LECOUTRE _ I’d say it’s 50/50. Some people tell us they’re looking to move, so we get in touch with our network and see what comes up. However, it also works in the other direction: we might get in touch with people who hadn’t considered it before. Or, maybe they had, but they were not sure and were hesitating. This is where we have a role to play. First, we explain what mobility can offer them and how we can support them, especially in terms of logistics. Some employees have doubts, but at the same time, if we look at the figures, we can see that mobility at Euler Hermes is increasing regularly (83 geographic transfers in 2018 compared with 59 in 2017, and 188 functional transfers compared with 163 in 2017). The culture of mobility is becoming embedded. Mentalities are gradually changing.

It’s also true that at HR we talk a lot about mobility. We're developing programs to raise awareness among employees. We also use shadowing a lot, where an employee goes to another country for a week to work alongside another employee. We offer job swaps too. For this, people stay in the same line of activity, but change country. There are a number of benefits: it creates an interest in other people’s culture, it develops people’s networks, and gives them a better idea of what a future job transfer could look like. These days, mobility is also a question that we always put to employees on different programs. It’s totally part of our culture.

At Euler Hermes, mobility is a reality, not a promise. It’s central to our corporate culture and helps us reinvent ourselves every day. Our activity consists of supporting change. We are open to development and growth. Ultimately, it’s normal for us to want to see our employees evolve throughout their careers. That’s why we focus on skills development and mobility. 

 

EULER HERMES, OPEN TO A WORLD ON THE MOVE

With more than 80 nationalities and a presence in 52 countries, the Euler Hermes group has turned its diversity into an asset. The group embraces different cultures and is permanently evolving thanks to the experience contributed by all of its employees. Euler Hermes keeps a close watch on cultural changes in the countries in which it operates. The group's Human Resources department is working on projects relating to diversity, flexibility and internal communication. Florence Lecoutre, Euler Hermes’s Global Director of Human Resources, talks about these thought-provoking, strategic subjects.

Diversity is a reality at Euler Hermes. What does that mean in real terms?

Florence LECOUTRE_ Euler Hermes is made up of about 80 nationalities. Many people work in multicultural teams. I believe that, today, in our group, nobody asks themselves if they are working for such and such a country. Everyone is completely used to working with different cultures, and this is one of Euler Hermes’s great strengths. It’s an incredible asset, because when you’re constantly in an international environment, you’re forced to adopt new behaviours. You’re forced to communicate in a more nuanced way, and this leads to calmer, more relaxed relations.

So, we’re very advanced in terms of cultural diversity, but we’re also progressing on the issue of gender equality. This is reflected in the objectives assigned to our directors and in our recruitment policy. We’re trying to become more balanced in all areas. We’re more focused on finding a better balance between men and women rather than the systematic promotion of women. In most regions, executive teams are made up of 30% women. In management posts, we’re currently at 40/60. We’re keeping a close eye on the figures, but we know this is gradually progressing.

In the same quest for balance, we have our Network for Opportunities (NEO), which takes a more general approach to balance in the group and is working well.

Let’s talk about flexibility. As Director of Human Resources, how do you see this issue for Euler Hermes?

Florence LECOUTRE_ In recent years, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on remote working. This is a major organizational topic for businesses and for society too. Things have changed: we’ve moved away from managing working hours to managing performance. We need to organize ourselves and find a balance that is beneficial for the employee, the company, and society.

Remote working lets employees create a better balance between their professional and personal life. It’s also a positive approach for the group, even if it initially came up against resistance. We’ve sometimes had a problem with a lack of trust, when managers want to see employees to be sure they’re working. In some countries and in some organizations, this principle is still strong. But once again, things are changing. In China, for example, where this wasn’t at all the culture, we initially put in place a pilot scheme and gradually we’re introducing it everywhere. Today, 53% of our employees benefit from it. This is important, because remote working is also an issue for society. There’s a lot of debate about how we can manage mobility better and find solutions for sprawling cities clogged up with traffic. In cities such as Paris and London, where there’s a real problem with public transport, there are solutions. One of these is remote working, and perhaps complementary measures such as staggered working hours.

With the younger generations, there’s less of an obsession with having to be on-site. At the same time, mobility issues are becoming more pressing. The idea would be to allow for greater flexibility with arrival and departure times at work. We really need to look at what we can do in large cities on a case-by-case basis. We need to look more closely at this question for the future. We don’t yet know how to put it in place, but it would definitely help some families manage their lives better, especially single-parent families.

With the same purpose of supporting our employees’ families, we’ve also been looking at paternity leave. This is another revolution! We’re currently introducing it in the United States, where it is very unusual. It’s the same length of time as maternity leave. It’s completely changing the situation. Next, we’ll see what we can do in other countries where we operate, bearing in mind that each country has its own legislation.

Managing human resources also involves welcoming new employees and onboarding them into the group. How do you think Euler Hermes manages this onboarding process?

Florence LECOUTRE_ We’re working on this issue, and we know we need to make further improvements. Our first priority is to adopt a similar approach across our different countries. I would like for us all to share the same process. We’re working on this and have adopted for the whole group a pilot developed by the Northern Europe region, which we’re introducing into other areas. We’ve worked on onboarding modules, which explain our business.

At the same time, we’re developing a program that gives new employees access to a specific person in the same building, who can give them information and answer their questions. It's a type of buddy program, which we’re rolling out worldwide. In my experience, this type of initiative can create new connections.

All these measures in terms of flexibility and onboarding new employees are actually pretty simple to put in place and they have a real impact.

Do you also use social media to communicate internally and for HR?

Florence LECOUTRE_ Social media is very important for us. We’re going to launch an operation this year on Instagram, which should be good.

Each week, we’re going to let an employee tell their story, their experience at Euler Hermes. If we think about the number of countries in which we’re present, and the wide variety of activities we cover, there are some really interesting stories. 

We also have another program that we’re trialling in Morocco, which is producing encouraging results. We’re getting employees involved in our recruitment campaigns. This lets the Human Resources teams show the rest of the group what their work involves. Employees taking part feel like they’re playing a real part in decisions. It’s very exciting. Of course, we’ll look at countries' feedback and will decide if the project is of genuine interest, and whether to implement it on a wider scale.

Today, it's a major priority to get employees involved, give them a voice, make them feel part of the group. We're keen to introduce new approaches to support this approach. By also working on internal mobility and the quality of training programs, we’re constantly trying to enrich our employees’ careers and offer them real opportunities for development, both by geography and function.