Last week, an event very special to Danone gave us the opportunity to talk about human resources, diversity and, more specifically, the dialogue between generations. For the second year in a row, an inter-company and inter-generational seminar was held in Évian (16th-18th April): the Octave Programme. This “multigenerational leadership programme” was initiated by Danone, with the partnership and support of L’Oréal, GDF Suez and France Télécom-Orange. Marisa Guevara, project manager at Danone, explains that the idea for Octave was inspired by another programme called Eve, also created by Danone, which considers the question of women’s leadership in companies (Eve is holding its 4th edition in October 2013). After the success of the seminar’s concept (a discussion between several companies on an inspirational theme: empowerment), the New Concepts Development team at Danone started to reflect on other issues critical to the future of human resources that could be addressed through the same approach. As Octave’s Editorial & Art Director Anne Thevenet-Abitbol explains in a video presenting the programme, they realised that companies are like pianos, where the two middle octaves (the generation in power, i.e. the 30-to-50-year-olds) are most often in action, while the lowest (“seniors”) and highest (young people) octaves seem to be underused.
Inspiring fruitful encounters and sweeping away the clichés
And so the Programme Octave was born, in order to help
build strong and inspiring individuals who will bring about change in the organisation, because they factor in the differences in behaviours, attitudes and skills of the different generations,
says the website. For three days, people from different companies come together to reflect on the managerial changes brought about by the arrival of new generations. As Danone Human Resources Director Muriel Pénicaud says, the issue is to combine two kinds of management: vertical and horizontal – i.e. to combine the efficiency of the company’s structure with the openness and creativity enabled by a more horizontal approach. But the Octave Programme also aims at changing the way the different generations see each other, by challenging the clichés. To achieve that, it stages a variety of workshops, and notably uses “reverse mentoring”, which highlights what younger generations can bring to the company in terms of knowledge, habits and practices. All in all, the idea behind the Octave Programme is designed to provoke fruitful encounters to help people (and the generations they belong to) understand each other better, so that everyone can “dare to be themselves, whatever their age”. This theme is of course crucial for companies and their leadership management, but it is also a wider issue that needs to be addressed by society. Unemployment among young people and seniors is reaching worrying levels in a job market badly affected by the crisis, making it harder for the low and high octaves to feel useful and valued. Only through dialogue will intergenerational trust be restored, and the qualities of each age be appreciated in the way they deserve.