Muriel Pénicaud, a former minister concerned by social and labour issues, now represents France at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). She has always been sensitive to HR questions and used her organizational skills in big companies like Danone and Dassault Systemes.
We had the opportunity to interview her as she could tell us how she expects our future in terms of societal, ecological and economical impacts. Through an inspiring testimony, she gave us her opinion related to today’s HR situation.
What are the 3 major HR challenges for Next Generation Enterprises?
I think that HR Directors today and tomorrow have and will have three major challenges:
- The first is how to articulate the ecological, the economic and the social.
For 40 years, I fought and served for 20 years as HR Director for Danone, Dassault Systèmes, to articulate the social and the economic, growth and the human. But today there is also the environmental dimension that runs through all companies.
HR Directors must take over this, because the HR Director, which is a strategic function in my view, must find the link, must be the one who organises the link between the objectives of the company and the way in which it operates, it is organised and allows men and women to develop within this framework.
In this context, there are major challenges.
For example, if you’re in an energy company and you have to completely change the vehicles you make tomorrow, you have to shut down a coal-fired power plant, in short, that your business model is going to completely change.
If we do nothing, if we are not active, there will be serious social consequences. There will be job losses and people will remain on the sidelines.
On the other hand, the ecological transition will create a lot of jobs. But those jobs have to be invented. Everyone must be allowed to change skills, to do a new job.
These are challenges in which the HR Directors cannot simply be a follower, but must be at the heart of decisions to ensure that these transitions are integrated into the economic, environmental and social roadmap.
- The second challenge is about collective intelligence.
I never believed that much, because it bothered me when I was young, but I no longer believe at all in purely pyramidal, hierarchical, top-down organizations.
If management by objectives is a cascade of saying everything we need to do and giving no space for initiative and freedom, I think we lose the essence of collective intelligence. Not to mention that it’s a deterrent to recruiting young people.
I think we have to invent what we used to call network companies, but really, that the company itself thinks of itself as a network with its employees, its suppliers, its customers, its ecosystem, with its territory in order to mobilize all this collective intelligence.
Tomorrow, an HR Director will be an engineer of collective intelligence mobilization, it’s going to be exciting.
- The third issue is, of course, meaning.
The meaning, the purpose that we put into the French PACTE law with Bruno Lemaire for companies, is self-evident.
Because the world is changing so fast: the digital revolution, the ecological transition that must be and will be massive, whether we like it or not, whether we are for or against, is happening.
It’s going to be so huge that if we don’t know why we get up in the morning, we go to work, why we find other people to produce, to serve others, to do something for the community, then it won’t work in companies.
And that’s in high demand, especially by young people. This is requested by employees in general. When we work on the purpose of a company with the employees, it can be a way to revisit the business project in a way that engages everyone.
But I think that on the young side, there is no choice. We will not be able to recruit young people tomorrow unless we are clear and consistent. Greenwashing, social washing, it won’t work. It’s not working well already. But the real meaning is that we commit to that meaning. I think collective action is what businesses need, and for HR Directors, there’s a lot of exciting things to do.
How can governments accompany and support these Next Generation Enterprises?
What is the role of governments? What is the role of businesses?
The role of governments is to invest in the future over the long term, the infrastructure that helps businesses. It is to put in place the legislative and regulatory framework that accelerates these changes, that allows them, that supports them, that does not thwart them, but on the contrary that encourages them.
And then it is to support the weakest, both the most vulnerable people, but also companies that may have difficulties in this transition and that must be supported.
This is the role of states, for example in the French PACTE law, there are measures for businesses to simplify and mobilize resources. And we changed the Civil Code of 1833 to stipulate that all companies have to take into account their social and environmental impacts, that those that wish to do so can include a purpose in their Statutes, and could even transform their Statutes to become a purpose-driven company where economic and financial, social and environmental objectives are on the same level. That demands a high level of engagement.
In France, we are also committed. Green budgeting has been done for the first time, i. e. the state budget was carefully reviewed to identify all its positive and negative impacts on the climate.
In the European recovery plan, the environmental aspect is essential. It is one of the driving forces of the stimulus package because it is going to change a lot, but there is a lot of job creation behind it, creating value, creating meaning. That’s why, I believe that it is the role of the states to do so and that, on behalf of France, I am working on this as an ambassador to the OECD. I’ve been chairing the Climate Friends group at the OECD for a few weeks on this subject so that we can move faster and help companies that are ready, that are pioneers, to go even faster and be inspirations for others.
Do you think all this is utopian or realistic?
I’ll give you my personal testimony. For 40 years, I have been fighting for the convergence of the economic and the social. Ecologically, I was in favour, but 15 years ago, I would have said ’nice to have'. It’s great, it’s a supplement, it’s great. Maybe not utopian, but hey, it’s for the few who want it. I think it’s very good. Now, I’m totally convinced that this is our new horizon.
We don’t have a choice from a planetary or climatic point of view, but it does affect our health. Cities that will have to be abandoned because they will be too polluted. The massive climate migrations we’re going to have because of rising waters, it concerns everyone. We are economically interdependent. We are also ecologically and socially. The world’s upheavals create inequalities that create revolts and also impact other countries.
So I think that this subject is no longer at all utopian. It is an absolute necessity and if I wanted to put it in one word, building the future is urgent.
The above interview was recorded during the 2020 edition of The NextGen Enterprise Summit.