Three weeks ago, at a SOL France meeting, I’ve been lucky enough to discover a very inspiring experience. Yann Baudron, Regional manager of Hervé Thermique, explained very simply and with a lot of ingenuity the managerial system that has shaped this company over the last 40 years. For some readers, this story can look exotic… but it is true.
Hervé Thermique belongs to Groupe Hervé, a family-owned business created 40 years ago by Michel Hervé, a visionary entrepreneur, author of various books on networks and management. Currently, the Group has 2 450 employees and reaches 400 M€ in turnover, out of which Hervé Thermique represents 300 M€. Hervé Thermique operates in the field of Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) services management (installation, maintenance, consulting).
What is so exceptional in this company’s story ? I would like to stress here four key elements.
1. Autonomy through self-established goals (auto-objectifs in French)
At Hervé Thermique, nobody has the power to set goals to another person. For instance, Yann Baudron is managing a territory with 19 profit-center (250 people). His personal goals are just the addition of the objectives that each of the 19 managers have set up for themselves. These self-established goals are discussed, of course, but at the end of the day it is the manager of the smallest unit that decides what his/her objectives are.
2. Bottom-up evaluation
“I am here because the local managers want me to be here.” Y. Baudron
At Hervé Thermique, evaluation is made bottom-up. There is a questionnaire of 36 items to help shopfloor employees in reviewing yearly the performance of managers. But this performance is mainly considered (in managerial roles) through the prism of the company’s philosophy. As you can expect in such a system, recruitement of a new manager is made by the team who is going to work with that person.
3. Participatory decision-making
At Hervé Thermique, company rules are built by people on the ground. For instance, if there is a need to chose a new vehicle for technicians, a diverse working team would be set up to analyse the options and take a decision. All the information about the decision-making process is delivered through an internal wiki. Contributions can be made by everybody online. Once decided, the rule is executed. Now, “it is not because a common rule is in the execution mode that it cannot be modified”, especially if experience or new conditions appear.
4. Team resolution of problems
At Hervé Thermique, every team has to meet once per month. This is the place where people will adress the problems. In the company’s system, it is absolutely not recommended to have one-to-one meetings. It is assumed that all concerns, difficulties or conflicts can be dealt with during the monthly meetings. (N.B. : to me, this habit echoes very much with one aspect of Team Academy that people often don’t understand : individual coaching of team entrepreneurs does not exist formally, everything happens in the team)
Now, your may wonder what is a manager role in such an organization ? Well, Y. Baudron put it very clearly : “My role is to deliver on the company’s philosophy”. This means practically that he has to make himself available for people and avoid being involved into daily operations. “If I receive one or two phone calls a day, this is a maximum !”. As Henry Stewart would put it in his book : “Relax !” But this kind of role is VERY difficult and it is no wonder that one of the main challenges of would-be freedom companies is the transition from old-style management habits to authentic liberating leadership.