4 Questions for… Valérie Gervais and Hady Nassif

12/09/2020

2020 will have been a particularly challenging year. But it has also given companies an unprecedented opportunity to reflect on their models and challenges. As the year draws to a close, Valerie Gervais, Vice President Saint-Gobain University, and Hady Nassif, CEO Saint-Gobain EMME (East Mediterranean & Middle East), discuss the future of work and its link to the Group's purpose, "Making the world a better home".

How will we work differently in 2021? 

Hady Nassif: We often talk about the new normal, but now there really is one. I used to have three to four short trips a month, mainly around various countries in the EMME. Now I travel maybe once a month with a longer stay and I think this will continue in 2021. I have completely changed my working habits.

I believe the results have been rather good. We did quite well as an international company in 2020. Our company culture has helped – we were already quite well set up for these kinds of new challenges. But going forward, I find that an organization like ours has chances to do even better, because of what we have learned in recent months.

It has become clear to me that at Saint-Gobain we have several unique commercial opportunities and synergies. We’ve been promoting an idea of comfort and creating living spaces that are light and healthy. Because people travel less and spend much more time at home, they want to live in healthier and more environmentally friendly spaces. At Saint-Gobain, we have long been promoting this idea of comfort and sustainable living. 

Valerie Gervais: Obviously, 2021 will still be impacted by Covid-19. But I also think it represents a tremendous opportunity for change that we need to sail forward with gusto. There is no way back. This crisis is a rite of passage. So we need to be resolute and proactive in shaping the future that we want.

Because for all its devastation, COVID-19, as Hady says, has given us a vision of a more sustainable world. There's less travel, there's less CO2 emissions, there's less pollution. People are free to work in ways that are best for them and offer which is more efficient for the business.

So on one level it's a huge benefit for the planet, for the business and for people. So why would we want to go back? I can't even find one good reason.

Let’s look further: 2030! How will we work in 2030?

Hady Nassif: I think there’s a big opportunity for long term change. In practical terms, the business ecosystem of 2030 will be completely different. There will definitely be less demand for fossil energy. Information will be more accessible and digital capabilities will be stronger.

And for us there will be new living spaces to create, more schools and hospitals and basic needs that we need to provide, especially in the southern hemisphere, where the global population is expected to explode. They’ll be able to look at the northern hemisphere, and the developed world, and learn from past mistakes. For the last century, we’ve been in a rush to collect more wealth. Now we have a chance to stop and ask ourselves, what is essential for the generations to come?

Valerie Gervais: Absolutely. I read a survey carried out in France and Switzerland earlier in the year where 46% of people thought the pandemic was the first sign of the collapse of civilization. With huge geopolitical unrest, and climate-related catastrophes, a lot of people legitimately wonder what world we will live in.

In the same survey, 42% of the people aspired to a change of life after the crisis. I think by 2030, we will have seen a continuation of these trends.

I sincerely hope that we will settle for good for ways of working with more autonomy and flexibility, more reciprocity, solidarity and collaboration.

How can we develop the next generation of talent to build the Saint-Gobain of 2030?

Valerie Gervais: I think a change in leadership approaches is key. In particular, we need to deconstruct the model of the leader as hero. The role of leaders is evolving. A leader today cannot have all the answers, control everyone and get involved in everything. Leaders should be at the service of their teams, support them in achieving their goals and use the collective intelligence of all to solve the complex problems of today. Small things can send a strong signal, so for example, I let my team members decide when they need to speak to me, not the other way round because I am here to support them, not control them. Also, I have seen leaders in strategic plans meetings mostly asking questions aiming at helping the thinking and exploring options, not telling people what to do or expressing their own opinions. These are the leaders we need.

In Saint-Gobain, because we truly believe that it is critical to support our people and leaders through those changes, we have continued our Learning and Development programs throughout the crisis. We have converted the vast majority of our courses to a virtual format and delivered them to nearly 2,500 people.

Hady Nassif: Of course for some of them, this could be hard changes to implement. So we need to accompany them.

Another big new area for talent management and development will be expected. The pandemic has already changed our ideas towards flexibility. I have had people ask for part-time jobs, so they can spend more time with their kids. Other people have become more productive when working from their home office. There are a lot of new options to navigate.

And it’s important to remember that the goal is not remote working per se. The goal is more autonomy for our people. Look at factory workers. They can't work remotely – so what does autonomy and flexibility look like for them?

So how does Saint-Gobain’s purpose – Making the world a better home – help here?

Valerie Gervais: We are a company that truly cares about and respects its employees, and the communities in which we do business. Of course we need to evolve our culture to be faster and more agile but this is a strong base to build on and a huge advantage compared to company whose culture is more “brutal” and less caring.

In this world of high uncertainly, people somehow want to contribute and come together and build something bigger than themselves. They want a purpose.

We have a culture and a purpose that attracts people, that makes people want to come and work for Saint-Gobain.

Hady Nassif: It’s important to have a message that resonates. Our purpose – making the world a better home – is very timely and inspiring. Not only are people more concerned about their actual home – where they are spending more time than ever before, but in a broader sense, home means our planet. So making the world a better home is a message that makes sense to human kind.

Valerie Gervais: As I said at the beginning, we need to sail forward with gusto. With the expression of our purpose it will most likely help us to get the wind in our sails, to go faster and faster and stronger.