‘Being Big’ Doesn’t Necessarily Equal ‘Being Mean’

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When I was invited to speak at the ‘Night of the Entrepreneurs’, mid-March in Montpellier, France, I thought it would be a good moment to share with the 500 people there, my views on how a company like Dell can engage with the local ecosystem. After all, it’s not because you’re part of a big multinational, that you don’t have a responsibility to the local community. I took this speaking opportunity to look back on the initiatives we developed over the years and what this taught me about being a good leader. Below are some of the highlights of my keynote speech.

When I was appointed Site Leader for our Montpellier offices, I wondered: ‘What do people outside of Dell think about our company? How do they view us?’ To figure that out, I ran a short assessment of our engagement as a company within the local community. It quickly became clear that there were two types of people: 1) those who didn’t know Dell and 2) those who didn’t know Dell but, because we’re a big multinational, automatically smeared us with the cliché of the foreign company obsessed only with profits and not really caring about employment rules, people and the community. In short, we were a mystery, and nobody really liked us.

But because that was so different from my own experience within the company, I wanted to convince the rest of the world that the clichés aren’t always right, and that ‘being big’ doesn’t equal ‘being mean.’

What a successful site looks like

Our site’s leadership team determined what a successful site would look like and what it could deliver locally. From this, we developed a vision, which we shared with all of our colleagues and team members. As such, we wanted to generate buy-in and create a sense of engagement among all.

To spur the motivation, we decided to leverage two core components of the Dell Corporate HR policy:

  • Dell encourages team members to volunteer (during working hours) themselves to a local association or cause. For every 10 hours per quarter spent, team members receice a $150 voucher which they can allocate to any association they wish to support.
  • Dell invites employees to set up local Employees Resource Groups (ERGs) on various topics that reflect the diversity of our workforce.

Diversity in action

We leveraged an existing Employees Resource Group, Women in Action, to activate a series of new ERGs. For example, at the time single sex marriage was introduced in France, some colleagues launched an ERG called PRIDE. More recently, the ERG Conexus was created for those working remotely. The goals? Help colleagues handle remote working better and consider how management styles should be adapted to better meet this new way of working.

As such, each ERG has become a meeting place for employees, where aspects of our daily life can be discussed that otherwise may not have found an outlet in the workplace.

Many colleagues realized the power of coming together and, little by little, new suggestions arose on ways volunteers from Dell could engage in local initiatives, such as:

  • Les Restos du Coeur (collecting food and raising funds for people in need)
  • FACE – Foundation to act against Exclusion (including formal engagement at board level and various activities sponsored by Dell, like the free digital school ‘UpTo’)

Time and time again, initiatives like this prove to be a great boost: it makes us feel proud to be a Dell employee, and, we also realize that this type of support can make a real difference to people’s lives. By now, 50%+ of Dell employees at the Montpellier site are engaged in a give-back initiative at least once a year, and Dell has become a key player within the local social ecosystem.

Lessons in leadership

Some of you may think this is easy given the size of Dell in Montpellier (950 employees) and the big pockets of a large company, but I honestly believe that we succeed in our endeavors because we apply several key management principles:

  • There’s a lot of hidden talent within your organization that you can activate and harness, but if you don’t look beyond a person’s job title, it’s easy to miss. It’s worthwhile to enable this talent-take the time to find it and challenge yourself to think differently.
  • When you build teams, reshape organizations and recruit new talents, use these opportunities to diversify your organization. Go for a mix. Blend your team and enrich it with skills, varied points of view, expertise, and experiences that you don’t already have. Be open to hiring outside of where you usually recruit.
  • After you recruit new talent, don’t fall into the trap of telling them what to do and how to do it. Take the time to set the general framework; explain the ambition and vision, give context, show people what good looks like and then, let them play. Talented team members will bring things you never expected or anticipated.
  • Your role as a leader is that of the conductor of an orchestra. You are in charge, but you also accept that you do not play any of the instruments during the performance. You rely on your team 100%, and you are aware that they watch you, your gestures, your behavior, and what you do and say. You set the pace, you set the tone, you create the harmony and the unique style of the orchestra. But every musician is given the freedom to play her or his best part.

At your very best, you, as a leader, can become a reference beacon for the group. If you are, it’s probably because you’ve found a balance between excellence, commitment, motivation and discipline. And because you create a sense of belonging that delivers outstanding results.

This is where you make the magic happen…

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