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Views on Leadership – Interview with Elie du Pre de Saint Maur

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Interview with Elie du Pre de Saint Maur and Frédéric Lhospied  (October 2020)

We are delighted to inaugurate our 1st interview around the theme of Leadership, with Elie du Pre de Saint Maur, in such an extraordinary year, which brings its flood of questions and new questions.

Elie has held numerous Marketing and  Strategy positions for 20 years in international groups, particularly in France (Oliver Wyman, Neopost, Cromology, Edenred and Doctolib). Through these different experiences and in particular as SVP Marketing and Strategy of the Edenred Group, he has refined his leadership style and his convictions.

Frédéric: Elie, delighted to meet you for this first interview with a focus on leadership.

Elie: With pleasure, Frédéric.

Frédéric:  Reflecting on these last exceptional months, we would like to know your vision about this emerging world, and what this implies in terms of leadership.

Elie: I see two major strong trends emerging, two complementary trends – the paradigm shift concerning two-three key aspects of the professional world, but also the need to return to some major fundamentals. In short, “Everything changes, but nothing changes”.

Frédéric: Interesting. Let’s start with the paradigm shifts you perceive in the professional world.

Elie: I see two: the new demands posed by the generalization of remote work and the growing role of the “Company Purpose”, or as we say in French “Reason to Be”.

Frédéric: What are these new requirements brought about by telework?

Elie: The rapid emergence of a job that is mostly, if not exclusively, done remotely, presents the Leader with many new questions about the commitment of employees at the highest level: How to avoid employees feeling isolated? Are they looking after their physical health? What new routines and common rituals have emerged? How to integrate newcomers?

First of all, good practices are emerging, such as investing more in the rare moments so that everyone can recharge their “relational batteries”, increasing vigilance on disconnection at the end of the day, and increasing transparency and clarity in information, decisions and priorities.

But much remains to be invented about remote human relations. Technology will help, but it would be a mistake to believe that it will solve everything. The remote human relationship is one of the big challenges facing today’s Leader.

Frédéric: This issue goes beyond relations between employees.

Elie: Exactly! These questions also arise for social dialogue in the company, relations with customers or with partners.

Beyond the enterprise itself, other human communities such as the teaching community are asking many questions about how to ensure a long-term distance engagement between students and teachers.

Frédéric: And the role of the Company Purpose, what do you see emerging there as trends?

Elie: In the disturbed and uncertain times that we are going through at the moment, an approach concerning the “Purpose” can prove to be extremely fertile, in that it makes it possible to fight against two phenomena which can pull teams down: the dispersion of effort and lack of meaning. But on condition you approach it in a simple and pragmatic way. First of all, the “Purpose” is like a memory: it only fades away if you don’t use it!

The role of the Leader, when working with the team, is to use the “Purpose” as a tool, a compass, which makes it possible to sort between the essential and the accessory, to avoid the dispersion of efforts, in particular in an uncertain environment where action priorities can change very quickly, each time asking this simple question: does this project, this initiative contribute decisively to our “Purpose”?

Frédéric: And what about the meaning that “Purpose” brings?

Elie: The “Purpose” also responds to the employees’ obvious thirst for meaning. In a pragmatic way, it consists, beyond the “What” (the products and services we sell, their characteristics and their benefits), to answer the “Why”: Why are we doing all of this? Basically what is the problem in this world that we want to solve? What would the world be missing if our company wasn’t here?

Much has been said about the importance of the meaning of work in a company for the younger generations, and I must say that, factually, I have seen it very often in recruitment interviews with young talents: an explicit “Purpose” simply and with conviction does at least 50% of the work to convince the candidate to join your company.

Frédéric: Do you also see the emergence of new ways of taking care of its teams, a new role for the Leader in this dimension?

Elie: This is the dimension I was talking about earlier: the “return to basics”. Remote interaction with his collaborators forces the Leader to be more demanding, obliges him to return to the basics of his mission and the relationship he has with his team.

Frédéric: Indeed. What fundamentals emerge strengthened from this crisis, according to you?

Elie: I see three: “Learn & Document”, “Organize & Recruit”, and “Coach & Develop”

Frédéric: Let’s talk about this first principle “Learn and Document”

Elie: The idea behind this principle is to create a spiral of efficiency for the team, by practicing a few simple routines.

The first routine for the Leader is to regularly help his team take a “step back” from their projects, by asking themselves simple questions such as: Are the results really achieved? Does the work done raise new topics? What did everyone learn from this project? What will we do differently next time?

This hygiene allows the team to avoid reinventing the wheel, creating new knowledge, but it must also formalize it, put it in writing, “document its learning”. This will not only be useful for existing team members, but even more so for new team entrants, who begin right off the “starting block” built on the sum of the team’s experiences.

A second routine for the Leader is to take the time to make his team smarter. Intelligence is knowing how to make connections between things. In short, the role of the Leader is to help his team to make connections with the work of other teams. This causes many positive impacts: it makes the two connected teams smarter, it increases the connections, social and intellectual, within the organization, it gives more meaning to work (what I do and what my team does has an impact on the work of other teams) and more recognition between teams.

Frédéric: For the second principle, “Organize & Recruit”, on the strength of our collaboration together, I know you are very attached to recruiting the best talents. Can you explain to us what you think is important about this?

Elie: First of all I think that a good Leader understands that the Design of the organization is a performance factor, that is to say that the way of working with each other can radically change the collective performance, like a football team that plays in 4-4-2 or instead of 3-6-1.

Then, on the topic of recruitment, a good Leader must see 100% of the people who fall within his perimeter, even for a 20 min interview. For example, at EDENRED, this was one of the key objectives of each Leader, and this operational excellence in recruiting was a “game changer” for the collective performance of EDENRED.

Finally, knowing how to recruit a good Leader is all the more essential as he/she will also recruit good Leaders, profiles that match the REAL needs of the organization. The reverse is also true: the bad leader brings in other bad leaders and it takes years to reverse the trend.

Frédéric: In short, this principle can become a real “game changer”, by creating a positive spiral.

Elie: Exactly!

Frédéric: And concerning the third principle, “Coach & Develop”, what are your convictions?

Elie: Personally, this is a part that I also like a lot. Humbly, I think I know how to do it, and my teams have always done well.

First of all, the role of the Leader is to bring his team to its full potential, to put it in the best position to express its talent, and this through a few key dimensions:

First, show that you take care of your teams (Caring leadership). And as in matters of love, it’s not so much about the attention itself as the evidence of care the teams receive.

This involves simple, everyday things like reading presentations before meetings (which sends a strong message to the team about the importance we attach to the work they do), sending specific, detailed and responsive feedback during the whole work process, and of course send recognition signals throughout the process, verbally and also in writing. From this point of view, we can say that the role of a Leader boils down to this simple question: “Does your employee feel better after an interaction with you than before?”

Frédéric: And we know that in this VUCA world, teams expect more attention than ever before. Like giving meaning, bringing a purpose.

Elie: Exactly. Explaining to the teams the why of each project is fundamental. Like explaining how what they are accomplishing impacts the “big picture”, the whole company and its mission.

Frédéric: And what is your vision regarding professional & personal balance in this accelerating world? Where the borders between private & personal are even more porous, particularly since March.

Elie: For me, this is the second important dimension in “coaching and developing”: “Smart workload management”.

As Peter DRUCKER said, a Manager does the right thing, a Leader does the right thing. He has the ability to refocus on the essential.

In the same spirit, he also has the ability to help the members of his team to refocus on the scope of their project (avoid scattering, resist the temptation to widen the scope of the project), while consciously recognising a related nugget (and address it later or with another team).

The Leader must also ensure that there are the right resources (quali & quanti). And the final, essential element; he must make sure that there is not a bottleneck in the process. In short, set this useful rule: “if I have not come back to you by this deadline, you move forward and you decide without me, and it is up to you to set the deadline”.

Frédéric: Thank you for this rich and fascinating exchange. And see you.

By Frédéric Lhospied, Managing Partner TPCL France.

@Copyright TPCL France (2020)

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