Advice from a General Manager on managing teams | Video interview with Roland André – Executive Vice President of Docapost

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Summarized written interview | Team management

Management: what are the keys to making a company work?

I think there are 3 keys, the first is sense/trust. Confidence is meaning because meaning gives confidence. And meaning is something important, it’s the fact that everyone shares what we are for, what the company is for and where we are going. We see today that more and more companies are saying that they want to become mission-driven companies and meaning is very important in mission-driven companies.

The second key for me is autonomy. Autonomy does not mean independence, it does not mean that everyone does what he wants. Autonomy is the way to give each person the freedom to act in his or her field while setting a framework. An example of how I work with my teams: I tell them that in a tennis court the lines are made, the rules exist. However, to be successful, they are the ones doing the passing, so it’s up to each person to know how they react at their level. It’s easy to understand how autonomy works, it’s really about everyone knowing what they can do and what decisions they can make.

Once we have the sense and autonomy, the third key for me that makes it work is solidarity. Solidarity means that when a person has a problem, the person next to him, rather than saying “it’s okay, he’ll fail”, wants to save him.

It is the development of these items that allows for effective management and a functioning company.

In your opinion, how to be a good manager with your teams and what is good management?

I think that to be a good manager you have to be yourself, with your personality. We can’t change ourselves, we are the way we are and therefore we must remain ourselves. And you should never pass judgment. For example, I can’t say “what you’re doing sucks” but I can say “what you just did doesn’t satisfy me”; it’s not the same thing.

So a good manager for me must at the same time reconcile clarity of objectives, with the fact of establishing feedback, whether positive or negative when things are not going well, with a real desire to help the person that the manager is managing to get the best out of himself and to succeed. So there are no ideal formulas, but it is always necessary, and this is very important, to be there in support without passing judgment. And I say that a good leader is visible because everyone knows it’s him without having to wear the captain’s armband.

I don’t know if we can talk about good management but I would rather talk about adapted management, because the role of a manager is to adapt to situations and organizations. The fundamentals are always the same: sincerity, clarity, respect and feedback. Marketing teams are not managed in the same way as production teams, which is not a pejorative term. This means that management must be adapted and therefore a good manager for me is the one who manages to understand well. Indeed, one of the strong qualities of a manager is listening, and listening is very complex for everyone. Just because we don’t talk doesn’t mean we listen, and listening can be selective so often when we listen, we only hear what we want to hear and what makes us happy. But a manager who listens must be able to pick up on all the weak signals because the role of a manager and a good manager is precisely to find the weak signals with his collaborator, to see how he can help him correct what he needs to correct, to develop what he needs to develop and to remain effective where he is effective.

So I would say that a good manager for me is the one who can find a good balance between how they function today, how he could get them to function differently tomorrow, and I assume that fun is important. So a good manager for me is the one who makes sure that in the work and of course in the achievement of the objectives, we take pleasure.

Could you share with us your experience of a reorganization or transformation of a department in order to make it autonomous?

I took over the management of a subsidiary called Maileva in 2015. It was a very nice subsidiary with a hundred people, but I immediately realized that the operating mode was not adapted to the development of this company. Indeed, it was a very siloed way of working, as in many companies. The premises, which have now changed, were not adapted: there was a large corridor with offices for 2 people. And this is a sign, because for this to work, everyone has to know what they have to do and to measure the interactions with others.

The first important thing to transform is the steering committee. If there is no sense of direction, autonomy and solidarity in the management committee, it is immediately obvious. So I’ll take an example of a department that really stood out to me: customer service. So we had about 30 people in customer service in 2015, knowing that the tools are not the same as today etc., and customer service was organized as in many companies according to the internal. So there was one person who was in charge of billing, contracts, claims…

We decided to work to change in order to turn to the customers and therefore have a customer manager. Today it may seem normal to all of you, but what I would like to share with you is this transformation and how we get there. This means that even if there is one person in contact with the client, they need the other services anyway. So the first thing we did was to accompany because someone who for years had only done contracts, taking on a client and looking after him requires a lot of accompaniment.

Secondly, for this to work, it must be fluid between the teams. And so at the level of autonomy, you would have to know to what point he can decide, if he can authorize a reimbursement or not, and that’s what we have put in place. You’ll understand what I’m talking about regarding the autonomy of a customer service if you remember some of the customer services you’ve already contacted. Either your problem is solved immediately, you are reimbursed or it is settled, or you will have to call on someone else and you will immediately understand that we are not in this logic of autonomy.

How to keep the cohesion and the investment of the employees when the company grows from a start-up to a large SME?

It’s a real subject because everybody talks about the start-up spirit but I’m convinced that as long as we can say “hello” every day, and I think that beyond 25 people it becomes very difficult, it means that we know the people and the cohesion is almost self-evident; there is no need for rules, for processes… everything works.

So how do we go from 25 to 100, 200…, there are surely several solutions. I think we need to think in our organization about these small autonomous units. How do you have units that are responsible for a subject and at the same time need the others, but have a framework that allows them to make decisions. When setting up this type of organization, not necessarily business units, it can be departments, but the overall organization must focus on the way the units work together: that’s where it’s at! Moreover, in the objectives that we give to each person, doing what you have to do in your unit is good. But the one who succeeds and who normally will have the most rewards is the one who works best with others in interactions.

So what I could say around that is that globally, keeping this spirit of small units in big companies can be done by thinking about autonomy and by setting up objectives that allow for a solidary functioning between the different services.

What do you think about management in the hybrid world?

The first thing is that the world has become hybrid and it will continue to do so. So you might think, and I hear it a lot, that distance kills the relationship, there are no longer the same ways of functioning, before we settled certain things at the coffee machine… It’s true! But when you take a step back and look at my three fundamentals – meaning, autonomy, solidarity -, finally the mix between distance and physicality for me is an asset.

When we are in hybrid, in video, finally by being confined, we have taken more time to exchange with our collaborators than we did when we were in the offices, with dedicated and slightly timed times, which has forced everyone to concentrate first on listening, but also on the important things we have to say, the objectives to be achieved… So we have lost, and this is what we need to find in physics, relationships in an instantaneous way, but we have gained, and this is how we need to work for me, in relationships, in depth and in time.

Now you don’t always have to be on video, you have to see and talk to each other in real life. As a result, what we have been working on since May 2020 is a program called “Working differently” and the employees who worked on this subject had to think about : “If you come back to the office, what are you going to do? So we listed a number of tasks, and finally it triggered different work moments where we are obliged to be in physics, which are moments of conviviality. And we were also able to keep some moments in video to deal with other subjects.

So management in the hybrid world for me, we keep our fundamentals and we adapt our relationships according to what we have to deal with, how we have to exchange (in video or physical mode), and it allows us to come back to what I find very important in the company life and in management, the pleasure and it is true that when we are in physical mode, we can have more conviviality and pleasure.

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