In the footsteps of the directors of Ferrero in France: the Deep Dive into Leadership experience
Published on 18 December 2020 by NEOMA
This ground-breaking initiative offers a unique opportunity to students on the Master in Management NEOMA BS: the chance to spend two days observing a member of the Board of Directors of Ferrero in France at work.
This project, entitled Deep Dive into Leadership, aims to create interchange between the students and the members of the Board of Directors on managerial practices and attitudes and associated values, in addition to expertise related to the professions.
Pairs of students were therefore invited to spend two days observing the daily work of a member of the company’s Board of Governors. They were able to see for themselves what a leader does, their responsibilities, how they operate, their interactions and managerial skills in action.
In addition to the benefit of this innovative experience, the aim was to make links between observations made in the business and methods and concepts taught on the course, then to give feedback on the analyses produced in a discussion with the Board of Governors.
Shadowing: learning by following a leader
In a shadowing immersive experience, the observer follows the person being observed throughout their working day. They can ask questions to help them understand the situation but do not participate, unless expressly invited to do so. This is a particularly effective method of achieving in-depth understanding of how a profession or business activity is carried out, the culture of an organisation, managerial roles and practices. As the observer is involved in the situation, they enjoy a particularly useful viewpoint to help them understand the interactions, decision-making dynamics and actions of the players in the situation.
As one of the students, Guillaume, says, “You don’t normally get so close to such important roles, it’s not something you do in your normal course, even in internships. When you’re an intern you’re not a member of the Board of Governors! Following a member of the top management is a great opportunity because I think that’s where we hope to see our career leading. It lets you take stock of your skills, what you still have to learn and what you still have to work on”. This perspective is sought and achieved through the mechanism of Shadowing. “Shadowing is a way of initiating a process of experiential learning,” explains Rachel Beaujolin, Professor in the Department of People and Organisations, specialist in Shadowing and Joint Head of Deep Dive Into Leadership. “It is important for learners to be actively engaged and supported in terms of reflexivity, or questioning themselves about their experience, so that they then make links with what they see on their course. We know there are limits to how much you can learn about leadership in the classroom. If learners have experience of these situations, there is a far better learning dynamic. In this sense, shadowing is a way of really living the experience of leadership.”
Another advantage of this experience is that shadowing helps students learn how to observe. “This process offers another teaching benefit by stimulating their powers of observation. It is essential to be able to socialise well in an organisation, but in order to do this you have to observe and analyse what is going on,” continues Rachel Beaujolin.
Marie-Sarah, a student who shadowed Jean-Baptiste Santoul, CEO of Ferrero in France says, “I spent two days with Mr. Santoul and I would like to thank him for this unique and enriching experience. It’s incredible what I and my partner were able to learn in such a short space of time.”
Karine, a student, adds her reaction. “Deep Dive into Leadership gave us an amazing opportunity, it gave us much more than we thought it would at the beginning. When we were with the members of the Board of Governors, it made a big impression on us. For me personally, it enabled me to take stock of what we learn in class, and of our personal and professional projects.”
Two possible roles for a successful immersive experience
52 students on the Master II of the Master in Management NEOMA BS volunteered for this experience with 13 members of the Board of Governors of Ferrero in France. Before their immersive experience, the students underwent preparation in class, to familiarise themselves with observation methods and construct their own protocol. They then spent two consecutive days in pairs with one of the members of CODIR.
Using the shadowing experience by turning it into shared analysis
During the immersive experience, the students kept a daily journal of their observations to produce a report of their individual reactions. With the support of their professors, they then worked in pairs on an analytical report. After first establishing the principal themes (‘Beliefs VS reality of the work of top managers’, ‘Career management’, ‘Roles of top managers and managerial styles’ and ‘A strong enterprise culture’) the students then drew up a collective overview for each theme.
“It was a matter of giving meaning to their observations,” explains Florence Cognie.
“52 pairs of eyes converge to bring out the salient points which, in the students’ opinion, characterise the company and the work of the top managers.”
“For us analysis is the cornerstone of the Deep Dive Into Leadership initiative,” continues the joint Head of the experience “And it worked very well. They even went and sought out studies that some of them had not tackled in class but which turned out to be relevant and effective. It was a really complex exercise but they threw themselves into it”.
The two joint Heads of the Deep Dive into Leadership experience hope to retain in the future their powerful and original approach, that of going beyond “live my life” to work towards shared feedback.
Graphic facilitation for the collective overview
“I found it enriching to have an honest mirror held up to the perception the students might have of our joint activities,” was the reaction of Simon Boulanger, Commercial Director of Ferrero in France. “I was fortunate to have students without any basic knowledge of the commercial role and that made their views even more valuable because they were starting right at the beginning. I also want to stress the quality of the way the overview was produced. It enabled us to cover many areas and in a very broad, friendly and entertaining way”.
Indeed, for the overview of the analysis of these 52 pairs of eyes there was no Powerpoint, but 4 visual summary boards illustrated the summary view recorded by the students in voice-over, with a graphic facilitation approach by the graphic facilitator and sociologist, Eve Gambier (url : https://egambierconseil.wordpress.com/ )
“Everyone was thrilled by this surprising medium, which led to a fruitful discussion during the feedback with the members of the Ferrero Board of Governors,” said Rachel Beaujolin.
Feedback as instructive to the observers as to those they were observing
An afternoon of feedback between the students, members of the Ferrero Board of Governors and the NEOMA teaching team was initially planned to be held at the company’s headquarters. This had to be replaced by a virtual meeting because of the health situation, but a closing session with much sharing and emotion drew this unusual experience to an end.
“We have had a wonderful experience with these motivated students,” stated Jean-Baptiste Santoul, CEO of Ferrero in France. “This discussion session is invaluable, it puts ideas in place, and it allows us to take stock of where we are, what we want to do and how we want to do it.”
“I think,” he said to the students “that you have really understand what a leader is. We look very sure of ourselves, we have to make decisions very fast, as you’ve said, but I can tell you that we are never sure about anything. We spend our lives learning, weighing up the pros and cons to make progress. That’s what leadership means to me at Ferrero. You now have a huge asset, you know how things work in management and to my mind that knowledge gives you a considerable advantage”. “I am going to print out and frame these cards in my office because they represent what we are and our culture,” added the CEO of Ferrero in France. “We are now eagerly looking forward to the next initiative!”
Camille De Vitrac, Director of Human Resources at Ferrero in France, concluded, “I think it’s amazing how much we have learned about ourselves thanks to these students. The feedback makes sense, and has given us loads of ideas and insights. I thank you all for this, the NEOMA students and teaching team.”