In conversation with Britt Soille about internal mobility, re- and upskilling and career management

In the Right Career HRD Talks, we explore internal mobility, re- and upskilling, and career management. We approach it from the perspective of HR managers in Belgian companies to discuss how they apply initiatives around these topics more concretely and what challenges they face.

In the second edition of our Right Career HRD Talks, our executive career coach, Marc Spaey, had a conversation with Britt Soille from Sanofi.

We overlook that Sanofi is originally a French company since they employ 1600 people in Belgium alone. This makes it an interesting company to engage with in terms of HR.

You can follow Marc Spaey and Britt Soille's whole conversation below.

Marketing and HR joining forces

When Britt Soille graduated from school, there wasn't a specific direction like human resources available. That's why she chose a path in marketing, as it aligns with what HR stands for.

She still applies that marketing background daily as the People & Culture Lead at Sanofi. Empathy and understanding of the person you speak with are essential in marketing. You want to uncover what that person is struggling with and how you can solve it. That's the same in HR, just not from a commercial point of view.

Being able to empathize with others gives you extra credit as an HR partner or leader.

Sanofi’s challenges

The pharmaceutical world has remained largely unchanged for a long time. In the past 4-5 years, they've only felt increasing pressure in their sector. Everything needs to move faster, especially product launches. Additionally, it's becoming more difficult to determine pricing strategies, which also requires more lobbying efforts.

This also means that the entire organization needs to evolve. As business processes need to speed up, your people also need to work faster and be able to adapt. Not only that, but they also have to want to.

This brings us to the only constant we have today in HR and the rest of the company: change. Building on this, Britt Soille conveyed the following message: "In HR, we often have extensive knowledge about the organization and the people. We must not underestimate what we ask of people, especially our organisation's People Managers. Today, they need to be experts in various domains."

Another challenge is the age pyramid. Sanofi has a very high seniority and average age. As an organization, we need to prepare for the upcoming retirement of many employees.

That's why Sanofi invests a lot in addressing the different age groups in the workforce. The aim is to encourage dialogue and better understanding among colleagues, ultimately leading to improved outcomes.

Internal mobility to improve people’s life

Sanofi places great importance on its purpose. The purpose reads: “Chasing the miracles of science to improve people’s lives”. Sanofi stands for this, and it's what they do every day.

In line with that objective, Sanofi implemented a new business strategy 4 to 5 years ago, focusing heavily on the agile approach to innovation. Sanofi values this approach greatly as a company. However, if you want to innovate, you expect your employees to keep up.

In this case, agility means adapting more quickly, achieving success faster, and focusing on the result. Therefore, less time is spent on all the steps taken to reach the end goal.

How does the increased demand for flexibility impact employees' careers?

The agile approach requires more flexibility from employees. It certainly demands a lot from individuals who have been active within the organization for years. While it's all good to roll out new strategies and models, it's equally important to consider the impact on employees' careers.

In line with this issue, Sanofi asks its employees to consider their potential for growth. In this way, they encourage individuals to reflect on their careers. It's important to reflect on your career and ask yourself if you're still in the right place. In addition to triggering critical thinking, we also want them to consider the role they can play themselves.

At Sanofi, they also focus on coaching their managers to act as people managers, serving as coaches for their teams. This approach aligns with a trend that has been disappearing in HR for some time: having a single department to address questions or issues, detached from the work environment and atmosphere. By training people managers, HR can reach much further than before and respond more quickly, keeping internal mobility in mind.

HR is the glue between departments

By focusing on coaching people managers to listen to their teams, you quickly determine if someone wants to transition to another role. This way, you connect people managers from different departments to help the employees mobilize internally.

In this manner, you ensure that, as HR, you act as the glue between different teams to enable and facilitate internal mobility.

Directed mobility: what is that?

Britt Soille sees directed mobility as follows: "For me, directed mobility means encouraging employees proactively to think about where my potential for growth lies. Where can I still bring significant added value within my organization?"

Britt believes in directed mobility in that you encourage employees to think about their potential for growth, not only when they are forced to but also proactively.

That's the reality. As HR, it's your job to push employees to look beyond their living and working environment. This way, they can reflect on what opportunities are still available within their organization.

Here, Britt clarifies that Sanofi wants everyone to be proactive in their (re)positioning within the company. However, there is also an active policy for high potentials. For high potentials, different paths can be taken. These individuals typically have more energy to pursue other things, partly due to their broad range of interests, making them naturally more proactive about their position within the company.

In consultation with people managers, we ensure that we identify additional projects or initiatives that can be placed under the responsibility of a high potential, keeping them engaged.

Open culture to discover new skill sets

At Sanofi, they have created an open culture where employees can test out new skill sets. If an employee expresses interest in doing so to see if the new role aligns with their abilities or interests, the HR team brings together various people managers to discuss.

Subsequently, as an employee at Sanofi, you can undergo a trial period in that new team. The duration of such a trial varies depending on the employee and the job function, ranging from 3 months to a year or longer in some cases.

In this process, adopting the mindset that an employee will return to their previous role is important. To fill the gap left by an employee, they might utilize a consultant or another internal mobilization. However, it's essential to avoid creating a domino effect by continuously shifting employees around.

The importance of company culture in internal mobility

As mentioned earlier, Sanofi is a French company, meaning a French culture prevails within the organization, ensuring the entire organization is aligned. For instance, a Global Mobility Team is dedicated to internal mobility, collaborating with boards and HR to identify areas where employees with different skill sets can be deployed.

At Sanofi, HR is a key partner in the management team. The company highly values HR's perspective on driving future changes. By collaborating with business leaders to strategize future steps, we can achieve significant outcomes in internal mobility and career management.

How do you get top management on board with internal mobility?

Britt has the following to say: "I don't find it super difficult because we coach our people managers, so they are fully on board with the concept. With the increasing pressure in the sector to act faster and focus more on the result rather than the intermediate steps, our managers also realize that they need to do things differently. This is where the agile approach comes into play again. The goal here is to create efficiency within the organization."

If you can promise more efficiency as HR, you have a strong argument to convince top management of the benefits of internal mobility.

Conclusion: Internal mobility is the result of proactivity

Proactivity from the organization itself. But also proactivity from your managers and employees. By fostering a work environment where everyone is encouraged to contemplate their potential for growth, an organization can take steps forward in internal mobility, re- and upskilling, and career management.

In addition, directed mobility is needed. Proactivity to reflect on your career and your potential for growth needs to be triggered. The reality is that people often need an extra push in that direction.