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Carrefour Coaching Solutions Provide a Competitive Edge

LOCATION:Headquartered in Massy, France with over 12,000 stores in 33 countries
SIZE:321,383 employees

Client Profile & Challenge

Carrefour is a global retailer, based in France, with almost 12,000 stores in more than 30 countries, including a significant presence across Europe, Latin America, and Asia. It is the second-largest retailer in the world and the largest in Europe. Though the company has been very successful, the competitive landscape for retailers — and especially for large, global retailing companies like Carrefour — is changing rapidly.

E-commerce has become very important, and traditional retailers face a significant competitive threat from pure e-commerce companies such as Alibaba and Amazon. The millennial generation is driving all companies to reconsider how it interacts with customers and how it hires, manages, and develops new employees. Finally, advances in technology and logistics, and changes in manufacturing and sourcing, have created a more dynamic, faster-paced global marketplace.

Under a new CEO, Carrefour began a corporate turnaround strategy to deliver higher shareholder value. This included shifting investments to growth markets, strengthening its e-commerce business, and reinforcing its multi-format, omnichannel strategy.

To support those strategic shifts, the company began increasing its investment in corporate training and development programs. This aligned with Carrefour’s goal to strengthen the constructive, collaborative mindset of employees and increase their ability to change quickly in the face of a dynamic global economy.

Carrefour leaders and managers adhere to a traditional, hierarchical management style, which is reflected by company culture. Employees frequently expect their managers to not only tell them what to do, but to also solve problems and answer questions that arise during the course of business. Even very tactical decisions, such as how to display goods in its stores, are often made at high levels in the company.

This hierarchical culture has created challenges for the company, including:

  • Managers and leaders aren’t always able to take advantage of ideas or feedback from frontline employees. As a result, they aren’t able to fully realize the value of those employees;
  • Decision making can take a long time, as information and decisions must move up the company’s organizational chart and then down again. Slow decision-making can make the company less competitive in a fast-changing marketplace;
  • Managers may spend more time addressing matters that their direct reports are able to handle just as well, or perhaps better. They may spend less time on more strategic priorities; and
  • Millennial employees often don’t appreciate the company’s hierarchical style, leading to increased worker dissatisfaction and higher turnover rates among the ranks of young employees. This includes the cohort that will become the next generation of corporate leadership. This style is not motivating employees and doesn’t address employees’ dissatisfaction and higher turnover rates.

An internal survey also found that Carrefour’s managers were not performing well in terms of people development.

Carrefour’s corporate culture and management style, with its focus on hierarchy and its almost parental attitude toward employees, is a prototypically French trait. Among other things, this culture has helped the company attract and retain a very loyal, engaged workforce. However, as competitive pressures have increased, the company realized it needed to find ways to fully access ideas, talent, and energy from all employees.

Despite its traditional culture, Carrefour has proven very adept at adjusting to cultures in other countries. The company has successfully expanded into other parts of Europe, Latin America, and Asia. This suggests that Carrefour’s culture — though traditional — is also capable of changing to meet new marketplace demands.

Carrefour uses the Center for Creative Leadership's coaching program to increase global competiveness

Solution & Results

Carrefour executives decided that finding ways to solicit more input from employees and teach employees to make more decisions on their own would be key.

Because of Carrefour’s traditional top-down approach, company leaders knew that any culture change would also have to come from the top down. That is, leaders and managers needed to learn how to manage people in different ways, and they needed to be able to model those practices for direct reports to ensure that a change in approach spread throughout the company.

This realization led to the creation of Carrefour’s Coaching for Development (CFD) program, as part of its Université Carrefour. The goal of the program was to train managers in coaching skills so they could then apply those skills to their direct reports.

Carrefour turned to us to be its training and development partner in the new program. Given our decades of experience and global prominence, we were a logical and highly credible choice. Our reputation would help company leaders and managers accept coaching, even when it ran counter to their decades of individual management experience.

In addition, we were able to provide facilitators with materials (such as assessments) in most of the languages used by Carrefour managers — English and French, of course, but also Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, and potentially others as well.

At Carrefour’s request, we developed the 4½-day CFD program.

Before participants arrive, they complete a 360 assessment and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). During the first day, participants get to know one another, learn some of the research about how leaders develop and grow, and learn about the MBTI.

Carrefour is still in its early days of cultural transformation. Nonetheless, there has been a detectable shift.

At the end of the week-long CFD program, participants are enthusiastic about the program, says Federico Caprioglio, Group Training Director at Carrefour. “They are strongly affected,” he says. “There’s a very positive reaction at the end of 4 and a half days.”

One of our facilitators in the CFD program shared the story of a Carrefour executive from Argentina who went through the program. During a follow-up call with her, he described the impact of making one small change in his behavior.

“I just introduced one very small behavioral change, but it’s amazing the impact this is having on my team,” he told her. “[Now], the first thing I always do is try to ask a question. I always start that conversation with a question.”

As this manager’s direct reports have come to believe he’s serious about changing his style, people approach him differently. “In one month it has changed the dynamic,” he told her. “I notice that people come differently to my office.”

Participants Say

“I just introduced one very small behavioral change, but it’s amazing the impact this is having on my team. [Now], the first thing I always do is try to ask a question. I always start that conversation with a question. In one month it has changed the dynamic. I notice that people come differently to my office.”

“When I returned from this training, I was also equipped with a lot of useful “small” tools for day-by-day activities. In particular, I prepared the performance appraisals of four of my direct reports with a tool we used during the training for this purpose. When I had the appraisal meetings, it went very well: For the first time I succeeded staying on schedule (before, it took me longer) and my direct reports were very impressed.”

“If I were to give advice for those who are tempted to live this unique experience, I would say “Go for it, play the game, and you will learn a lot in a very short period of time.” The feedback from your peers is so rich and so useful for yourself and for your colleagues. It will help you developing and achieving results in a much more constructive, efficient, and pleasant way.”

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