Blog Article

How to create 100,000 leaders

Posted by Florence Fass-Jouvene

Florence Fass-Jouvene

Danone’s development program is breathtaking in scope – and already yielding results.

It’s impossible not to admire Danone for the sheer scale of their ambition. Most leadership development programs cover just the top few tiers of senior management. How many companies would consider rolling one out to all 100,000 employees? In my experience at Hay Group, it’s an unprecedented feat. But five years since Danone began the Danone Leadership College to embed the new set of attitudes CODE (which stands for Committed, Open, Doer, and Empowered), 65,000 of the food and beverage group’s employees have been through the program.

What’s really interesting about Danone’s approach is that they’ve taken a simple but powerful position: everyone can be a leader. So where many companies try to change culture from the top down, Danone is simply changing it everywhere – the change seems to me to be passing through the company like a transforming wave.

It’s also a very real way of “living the values”. Often, a company’s mission, vision and values don’t seem to make it further than the annual report, the website or maybe a poster in a workplace somewhere. But Danone’s approach, which embeds a set of clear values into the Danone Leadership College, brings them alive. As Nathalie Aubé, Leadership Program Director, says: it “really makes those attitudes real, not just a list of values on a wall”. Nathalie cites a pilot at a mineral water plant in Spain, where there have been 18 months of sustained improvement in performance – better quality, fewer problems, less waste – since employees there went through the Danone Leadership College. Danone sees CODE attitudes resulting in better efficiencies between marketing and supply chain, and in the company’s manufacturing approach.

It therefore came as no surprise to me, that Danone has risen to #8 in this year’s European Best Companies for Leadership ranking. According to this year’s results, inspiring leadership is one of the most valued competencies at Europe’s best-led organizations, along with a significantly higher focus on nurturing talent than industry peers.

With Danone’s large-scale approach to leadership development, no one is in any doubt about what leadership looks like at the company. It’s particularly useful when they are hiring to a) be able to assess people against their values and b) clearly show potential hires whether or not they are the sort of company they’d be suited to join.

All in all, it’s a hugely impressive example of what can happen when a company mobilizes around a common vision of leadership.

If you’d like to read a more detailed story of Danone’s program, read my full interview with Nathalie Aubé here.

Top tips for launching a similar leadership development program

1. Link development to business outcomes. In order to be effective any development program should be linked to agreed business objectives from the beginning.

2. Ensure that you drive engagement in, and support for, the program by stressing the following:

  • That the focus is on practical learning, supporting greater effectiveness in the role
  • That learning is interactive and collaborative via workshops rather than passive classroom style sessions

3. Develop a large community of internal change agents that will foster the behavioural changes and sustain the momentum.  The impact will be measurable over time. Local support and network activation are key for success.


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