Food giant Danone’s CHRO Roberto Di Bernardini kicked off his session at UNLEASH World by stating “there has never been a better time to work in HR”.
While the pandemic was a huge tragedy for the world, it confirmed what HR teams had been trying to tell business leaders for years; most notably, the importance of workplace flexibility, but also the need for connection.
Di Bernadini reminded the audience that hybrid work wasn’t created by COVID-19 – “the pandemic has just amplified the topic” and forced employers to discuss and rethink the role of the office in their organizations.
“We need to accept that the company that will give full flexibility in these hybrid models will have a competitive advantage”, continued Di Bernardini. But full flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean never being on-site again – instead companies need to figure out how to get people back together and build that connection.
He recommended that employers lean into purpose, citing research from Yale and Michigan universities.
“We need to give a meaning to the workplace” – it is more than just four walls with a desk and a coffee machine.
The future of work at Danone
UNLEASH caught up with Di Bernardini after his session to find out how he and his HR team are applying these ideas to Danone’s workplace.
Because Danone’s HR team knows that flexible, hybrid working “will create a competitive advantage”, “we accept the challenge of offering full flexibility” and “we will not ask our people to come back 100% to the workplace”.
The precise model varies based on specific geographies (Danone has 100,000 employees globally in 120 countries and it has offices and facilities in 58 locations).
In fact, pre-COVID-19, back in 2019, workers in Danone’s Paris headquarters signed a deal that allowed them to work from home two days a week. Workers in the US, the UK and Belgium also now have the option to come into the office whenever people want or need to.
Di Bernardini shares: “The big challenge is that if you say full flexibility, people may interpret that [as] you can work from home for the entire time” – and Danone is still early in its journey to figure this out.
The food giant is starting by investing in technology, redesigning office spaces, and inviting people back to socialize with colleagues.
Danone’s mission to do good
In formulating its future of work model, Danone is clearly focused on company’s purpose: people-centricity and respect for society.
Danone anchors everything it does around former CEO Antoine Riboud’s 1972 Marseille speech where he created the idea of the dual commitment of business success with social progress.
He famously said: “Let us conduct our businesses with both the heart and the head” and “corporate responsibility does not end at the factory gate or the office door”.
“Today we continue to put the dual commitment at the center of everything we do, in creating workplaces where everyone can feel welcomed, respected, listened to and included,” explains Di Bernardini.
Building on this, in 1997, the CEO at the time, Frank Riboud, redefined Danone’s values and made humanism, or people centricity, the most important one. The other values are hope, openness, proximity and enthusiasm.
The dual commitment means that social responsibility is top of mind for Danone; this links with its “mission of bringing ‘health through food to as many people as possible’”.
Holistic health is the focus of all Danone’s brands, which include the likes of Activia, Alpro, Evian and Aptamil.
Di Bernardini shares 89% of Danone’s product volumes have an A/B Nutriscore, 84% of the company’s packaging is recyclable or compostable and 70% of the food giant’s businesses are B Corp certified – in fact Danone is on a mission to be the first fully B Corp multinational company by 2025.
Danone’s vision is “to positively impact the impact where we live, which is defined by ‘one planet, one health’. This is the priority “not in developing and commercializing products, but in the pact we want to have” in society as a whole, notes Di Bernardini.
Applying purpose to the workplace
Since “we think that our role in society is the one of impacting health positively…we need to replicate this mission [at work] so that people come to the workplace to contribute to that and not just to work,” explains Di Bernardini.
“The importance of having a ‘calling’ is set out very well in the study I referenced in my talk,” notes Di Bernardini. “These professors have demonstrated with studies that if you invite people to come to work for a calling (focus on enjoyment of fulfilling, socially useful work), then you will have superior engagement and motivation.”
“The good news for Danone is that we have a mission that is super compelling, and we want to translate this mission into what we do in the workplace,” adds Di Bernardini.
UNLEASH was curious what Danone is doing to provide flexibility to not just its employees who can work from home, but also the 70% of workforce who have to be on-site.
While Di Bernardini is clear that providing flexibility for this cohort of frontline workers is “a big issue” and most of the discussion around hybrid work doesn’t include them, “we think that we can help them live a portion of this dream by helping them to connect with our purpose…of bringing health through food”.
So, Danone is ensuring that the workplace is welcoming, and that frontline workers have spaces to “socialize, collaborate” and learn.
Tackling the ‘Great Resignation’ at Danone
Research suggests that purpose-driven organizations are thriving in the ongoing war for talent, dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’. Employees want to work at organizations that share their values, and particularly those that care about society and the environment, and not just profits.
Clearly Danone is ahead of the curve on purpose; is this helping it thrive in the ‘Great Resignation’?
Di Bernardini shares: “We are not seeing an explosion of resignations” – between 2019 and 2021, the rate remains between 6% and 9%. It is higher in some countries and departments, compared to others.
This doesn’t mean Danone isn’t working to reduce the risk of an attrition crisis – “every time we lose one person, it is bad news for us because we really would like to keep the competencies [and] expertise we have ” – so Danone is responding to the ‘Great Resignation’ by getting even more focused on culture.
This is part of Danone’s new HR roadmap; the focus is “reconnecting with our great purpose and culture”, but linked to that the employer is having a rethink on learning, development, skills and career growth.
“We are working on what we call the sustainability of talent management, which means using defined processes that give people the sense that this a logic of meritocracy linked to performance” and growing in their career at Danone.
“At Danone everyone is considered a talent and encouraged to learn and grow”, explains Di Bernardini.
It is promising that Danone is rethinking talent management given that a lack of career development is another leading cause of the ‘Great Resignation’. To date, Danone’s learning and development focus has caused a “record high engagement rate”.
Linked with this, Danone is working on creating a consistent employee experience across Danone’s 120 locations – this will mean a “common way to see things” and enable us to “continue to offer global careers” that are varied and meaningful, according to Di Bernardini.
To do this, Danone is focused on digital HR transformation. While the food giant isn’t looking for new vendors – it has SAP SuccessFactors as its HR information system, Orgvue for organization design and Cornerstone and EdCast for learning – “we are trying to create a common backbone for data [and] defining global processes”.
Scaling up wellbeing in the cost of living crisis
Moving away from one crisis – the ‘Great Resignation’ – and onto another – a looming recession – UNLEASH was keen to find out how Danone with its people and society-focused culture is supporting its workers in the cost of living crisis.
This year more than ever Danone is looking at its salaries, making sure that people are fairly compensated (including by slashing the gender and other pay gaps) and rewarding high performers; “we don’t [want to] leave anyone behind from gender, race and other diversity standpoints”.
In addition, “we recognize it is a difficult period [where] we need to be even closer to our talent”. To help, Danone is launching a new global wellbeing program, which prioritizes nutrition, mental ad physical wellbeing.
The idea is to have one global brand for wellbeing, so that Danone can “put even more focus on what we can do to help our people to be balanced personally and professionally, because we think that is critical if we want them to be engaged”, concludes Di Bernardini.
Doing nothing in the cost of living crisis is not an option. Not only is supporting employees the right thing to do, but engaged, happy, supported employees are more productive and committed, which is good for business bottom lines.
The International Festival of HR is back! Discover amazing speakers at UNLEASH America on 26-27 April 2023.