S&B: Do you use a scorecard to chart these priorities?
Jean-René Fourtou: No. There can be no single set of priorities. You cannot have one single scorecard because you cannot talk to people everywhere the same way. You cannot, for example, talk to the Americans the way you talk to the Japanese. So you cannot have the same priorities for all.
Now, having people set their own priorities for their work requires that these people have a strong sense of virtue. That they are responsible, active citizens, in a way. Unfortunately, this is tiring for some people. Many people still prefer to obey directions, rather than set their own course. It takes energy to set your own course. It takes freedom. It takes a tolerance for ambiguity. Not everyone has these qualities.
S&B: Does this system work as well everywhere?
Jean-René Fourtou: No. It works differently inside each business, and inside each country. It also depends on whether a market is new or old. The priorities and ways you manage a business in China are different from the way you do it in the United States or Germany.
S&B: Is there a single culture at Rhône-Poulenc?
Jean-René Fourtou: We try to have respect for people and their contributions. That is part of our culture. And people have a sense of security working here, though it differs in each country. But most of all, there is a sense that when they work in this company, they are members of a community. As members of a community, they have leverage to do things they could not do on their own. They can get things accomplished here. Within that community, people feel -- or they should feel -- responsible and empowered and respectful of each other as individuals.
Here is one example of our culture. In our organization, we don't say that "at a meeting it was decided." Meetings don't decide. People decide. Here it is always a person, an individual, who makes a decision and who is responsible for that decision. That person, of course, makes the decision by asking other people and by seeking their consultation. That person has to inform everyone of the decision. Here, people are responsible, not groups. We are a company of individuals first, who all feel that they are part of the group.
Reprint No. 96304
Joel Kurtzman is editor-in-chief of Strategy+Business.