Mr Alexandre Cleven, CEO of the Social Partena Secretariat
People governance: a main thread
How do you view people governance in business?
First and foremost, I put it upstream of human resources. The link between governance and human relations is fundamental. My answer to this question covers three aspects.
You first need to be aware that at Partena we were already discussing this while undertaking a total reorganisation as part of a new strategic plan. The conclusion was that we should be incorporating HR, human resources, more into this positioning.
Following this, there needs to be a clear “main thread”. A company does many things: sometimes it’s a bit of everything or a bit here and there. So it’s necessary to create a stronger link. This link needs to reflect the company’s values, the rules governing how it operates, the technical processes and also the contacts built up between the different people involved. This may seem obvious; however, we neglect to reformulate these cohesive elements, despite their indispensable nature.
Finally, there is one aspect that should take centre stage, and that is clarity. You can be transparent, but not clear. A company is a team project, combining achievements, personal projects, individual freedoms and personal visions.
At the centre of these different attitudes, you need to produce something that resembles an overall vision. The comparison may seem odd, but it shows at what point you need to take a step back, and reason philosophically.
Today, running a company is becoming increasingly complex. Let me give an example: in the past, a computer problem was passed on to a technician responsible for fixing it; today, an integrated solution needs to be found. We have moved into the era of the “multitasker” and, in this context, HR is sometimes the poor relation even though it represents a vital filter and safeguard.
You were given this task; how did it go?
Yes, I was given this task by the Board of Directors (the Board). We took a somewhat original approach in accordance with the charter which highlights the guidelines drafted by the Board.
So we held a special Board meeting, and I asked three broad, but precise questions. We examined which elements to retain, reformulated them and, during a meeting, fine-tuned them. All this, of course, in accordance with the company’s values. It was an independent and creative assignment and, in the end, an extremely productive process: no arguments over semantics, instead real cohesion and sharing of values with people getting fully involved, as well as a few surprises, for example people who knew each other – sometimes for many years – made an effort to put their experiences in the company to the side and not worry about the impact of what they said. We don’t realise the extent to which people coming from extremely diverse backgrounds and having been through a range of human and personal experiences can join together to find common ground and develop an awareness of where everyone is coming from. It’s a real exercise in “reflection” for a Board of Directors.
How does the Partena group plan to take this governance into the future?
Two main aspects follow on from what I just said.
I come back to this “main thread” mentioned beforehand. Here, focussing on coherence is paramount. It needs to be felt as an automatic reflex. I’ll give you three examples to illustrate this in practice.
First, we’re implementing a three-year company plan; it covers the strategic positioning, training, clear roles, structures and management in very diverse areas.
Second, since we just had the staff elections in May, we’ve begun collaborating with the members – many of whom are new – of the work councils set up, sharing information and continuing the social dialogue that we value highly.
Finally, the charter exercise of management has just been launched: what is a manager? What are their roles, rights and obligations vis-à-vis their colleagues? etc. It’s about examining this charter in its entirety so that it ends up with a definition of commitments, training needs, recruitment methods, well-being of staff...
Are there characteristics specific to Partena?
Of course. Partena is made up of independent businesses that bear the same name, maintain synergies and embody the same values. The Social Secretariat has 700 staff throughout the country. Implementation of this people governance is today a reality in everything it deals with. The other businesses (child benefits, one-stop shops, social insurance for the self-employed and free mutual insurance) follow this principle and issues are regularly examined there.
In organising the corporate governance, the Board of Directors takes account of Partena’s past experiences, beyond simply numbers and issues. The charter has brought undeniable added value: sensing the “pulse” of the company, the human reality lying behind the numbers, and an in-depth notion of responsibility.