Getting staff more fully involved with the company isn't simply a matter of productivity and performance. It's all about attachment to certain values and can really help an employee to find personal fulfilment.

Interview with Olivier Maurel, who is in charge of coordinating the various communities at Danone Communities.

L'Atelier: Through Danone Communities, Danone has set in motion a number of initiatives to encourage staff to become more involved in the company. Why did you need to do this?

Today Danone has over 100,000 employees.  In a highly competitive, fast-moving and dynamic environment, their creativity is a factor for differentiating ourselves from our rivals.  We’re quite small in relation to the other agri-foods giants and have fewer resources. So, if we are to remain agile and be able to satisfy the consumers and the shareholders, we have to be inventive. And staff commitment is a motive force, it has a multiplier effect.  It spreads fast.

In concrete terms, what exactly have you done, what have you offered staff in order to get them more involved?

Since back in 1971, we’ve followed the belief that business performance depends on the people side. A company isn’t just an organigram plus financial accounts, it’s really a culture, a set of values. What we’re trying for is to engender a state of mind.  For example, 30% of our personnel in Franceinvest their time, their skills and their own money – through savings funds –  in “Social Business” projects. A mini-yoghurt factory in Bangladesh, creating a logistics system to help dairy farmers in Senegal, a water treatment plant in Cambodia… This way of thinking also applies to the management. Their bonuses are obviously linked to their business results but also to their managerial and social performance: motivating their team, paying attention to the sustainable development aspect.

You’re certainly taking some initiatives. But do those who take part do so because they get a reward?

On the contrary, studies show that financial reward is not really a commitment driver. It’s not enough to just pay people. What motivates them is their interest in a project, the prospect of growing, encountering new challenges – in a nutshell, to fulfil themselves. Employees don’t want to be valued just in terms of their salary. We have over 200 experts helping us on a voluntary basis, retired staff continue to work with us because they feel motivated by our  environmental projects and social responsibility initiatives. Which shows that people are attracted to our way of doing things, our way of thinking. As crises follow one another and yesterday’s models won’t suffice any more, there’s no reason why our management appraisal system should remain the same either.  We judge people on their attitudes more than their figures.  Nine months spent training sales teams in Senegalis a rich experience not only for the person concerned but for the entire company as well. That sort of thing helps us learn to meet challenges together.