Messier Bugatti, France: Changing attitudes
In 2004, in order to improve its HR policy and the ways it is effectively implemented, Messier-Bugatti launched a working project called ‘Generations’. By setting up various working groups and systematically gathering employees, consisting of HR and operational managers from different generations, the project has aims to foster attitudes towards significant HR issues by improving cooperation between different generations of employees.
Messier-Bugatti, a company in the Aircraft Equipment division of The Safran Group, is a world-leading company for aircraft braking systems. The company is headquartered in Vélizy-Villacoublay, France and employs about 1,300 people (300 women, 1000 men) at four locations (three in France with 1,200 employees and one in the United States with 100 employees).
Employee age structure is not an issue at Messier-Bugatti. Despite large business cycle variations and increasing demand in the aircraft braking market, hiring has been limited (around 60 to 100 people per year) and focused mainly on highly-skilled applicants. As a consequence, executives are relatively young (average age is 39) and equally distributed between age groups and genders. The recruitment of semi-skilled workers is less frequent and therefore these two age groups are a little older: the average age is 42 for technicians, 43 for clerks and 41 for production workers.
The key features of Messier-Bugatti are its relatively small size, its continuous requirement for technological innovation (brake systems are the third highest aircraft expense for airline companies, thus 15% of annual profits are dedicated to R&D) and a need for economic performance.
Social dialogue with trade unions is of great importance. The company has recently (21 June 2006 and 11 July 2006) signed two agreements with unions. The first agreement was on gender equality and the second on the role, composition and functions of the Company Central Committee, which, together with the four local site committees, represent employee’s interests within the company.
Description of the initiative
Since 1998, the Board of Directors has put major efforts into management excellence and motivation. Project Generation, launched in 2004, addresses such challenges. It aims at enhancing cooperation between generations. Studies in early 2004 revealed that staff expectations were focused more on ‘generations talking together’ than on ‘talking about generations.’
The project also addressed other issues:
- generations issues that exist at the Safran Group level and in society in general;
- anticipation at Messier-Bugatti of the inevitable ageing of the workforce in the next ten years (2004 to 2014): a tripling of staff aged 55 and over, and a proportion of staff over 45 representing more than 50% of the workforce. Consequently, careers will be longer and working generations will exist together on a larger age scale;
- human resources improvement objectives, such as recruitment and diversity management.
The Generations Project, implemented in 2005, is organised around four working groups addressing four main concerns:
- enhancing employee recognition to promote longer careers and ensure seniors’ involvement;
- enhancing diversity by redesigning human resources processes;
- promoting a better work–life balance;
- coping with pressure in the workplace.
Each group, led by a line manager, is sponsored by a member of the Board of Directors and works on one to three issues by devoting a working group to each issue.
The project structure thus comprises three levels, with each level consisting of inter-generational groups of young, middle-aged and senior people.
At the top level, the Generation Council meets twice a year and is composed of 30 members belonging to the three age groups. Its role is to promote ideas, recommend courses of action and to give HR advice when consulted, which is an innovation. It is the first such institution within the company and makes it possible for voluntary regular employees to be consulted and to express their views on HR policy without being managers, union representatives or elected employee delegates.
At the middle level are two committees:
- the Steering Committee, composed of the four Directors of the Board (the sponsors) and the four managers of each working group (the leaders);
- the Project Committee composed of nine group leaders.
At the third level, working groups comprise voluntary members of the three age groups, mainly executives.
- the Recognition Group works on lifelong knowledge and experience transfer and recognition of work experience;
- the Diversity Group is in charge of diversifying hiring sources, adapting integration processes and developing incentives to job mobility;
- the Work–life balance Group is focused on optimising collective working time (specifically meetings) and innovations in the area of managing individual working time (telework by providing personal services);
- the Pressure Group concentrates on making employees’ contributions to company visible, managing pressure due to customers and balancing pressure between managers and collaborators better.
The project is designed to make voluntary employees of the three age groups work together systematically in each of these working groups.
The Human Resources Director steers the whole Project. Encouragement and management of the different groups are the responsibility of an in-house consultant. Proposals coming from the groups can be presented to the Board of Directors.
Employee representatives and union central delegates are regularly informed but not directly involved in the project.
The outcome of the project is mainly an opportunity for employees in all positions and all age groups to participate in seminars or actions, aside from their usual responsibilities and outside the normal hierarchical structure.
The project is also the source of innovative approaches in three of the four issues identified, most of which are still being implemented:
- Recognition: the setting up of an external structure providing recognition services is currently under consideration. This structure would be comprised of recently retired people, as well as working seniors and voluntary middle-aged workers.
- Diversity: improvement of integration tools, selection of recruitment sources and the formation of a forum for professionals.
- Pressure: extending the seven-day leadership training to 150 targeted managers (already attended by 45 managers in 2006) and a decision to set up a space (about 32 square metres on one site) open to working teams as a means to take a break from daily activities. This space is expected to be ‘neutral’ and ‘peaceful’, to enable people to analyse managerial practices, think about the future, organise creativity and innovation sessions and reinforce any weaker links in their network
In spite of these results and projects, effective availability and involvement of people in the project were lower than the directors’ expectations. The working groups were slow to start. However, the project has been carried out in a context of increasing production demand as a consequence of several important commercial successes. The implementation of major technical innovations has also lead to reduced availability for the Generations Project.
Good practice today
The project, however, following other similar initiatives launched ten years ago, is now integrated in the company culture. While practical results are rather limited, intergenerational cooperation appears to be a relevant tool to mobilise management. Personal involvement of the HR Director, major resources in internal communication and in-house consulting assistance have given support to the CEO’s intention, perceived as essential.
The project will end in June 2007. Apart from practical outcomes still possible to achieve, it is not the only initiative addressing the management of age groups within the firm. A three-year collective agreement on skills development, signed on December 2005, includes initiatives coming from a similar philosophy: enhancing cooperation between employees to develop skills, especially through recognition of the experience of older employees (parallel duties, role takeover, etc.).