20 January 2021

Empower with Purpose | Is Purpose Working Podcast Episode 7

Dani Johnson
Co-founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • This is the 7th episode of our podcast season: Is Purpose Working?
  • In this episode, Dani Johnson of RedThread and Chris Pirie of Learning is the New Working interview Chief Learning Officer for Sanofi, Celia Berenguer
  • Celia shares how she’s seen the Pandemic throw out the talent rulebook and end standard career pathways
  • Why she sees L&D as the source of all the support mechanisms and development tools that can bring that Purpose to life for people
  • A special thanks to our season Sponsor, NovoEd for their support!

Listen

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Guest

Celia Berenguer, Chief Learning Officer at Sanofi

Details

Celia Berenguer, since November 2017 Chief Learning Officer at European-headquartered Life Sciences giant Sanofi, couldn’t have been more excited getting ready to press the ‘Go’ button a new Sanofi University. As we hear on this latest episode in our on-going look at Purpose in the modern enterprise, a certain novel coronavirus decided to mess with her plans. This is a story, then, about not just how she and her L&D team had to help flip the company to remote working, but what to do about that whole corporate Learning endeavor.

Celia—a graduate of Tufts who’s held senior Learning roles in organizations including Barclays, BP, and the Harvard Business School—tells us how a renewed Sanofi focus on Purpose driven by its new CEO, Paul Hudson, helped her work through many of her most difficult issues during the pandemic.

A way we decide to understand all this is that COVID’s been a way to help L&D see that what it needs to offer is access to skills and support for talent mobility that makes sense for the individual, the company’s and their own Purpose of ‘Empowering Life:’ Purpose, perhaps, as more bottom-up than top-down, compared to other companies we’ve profiled in our exploration of ‘Is Purpose Working?’

Expect to hear a lot of honest reflection for Celia on the first steps of an amazing journey. The fun and challenge of working with 140 nationalities working hard on everything from general medicines to consumer healthcare to vaccine creation.

This podcast interview covers topics like:

  • How she’s seen the Pandemic throw out the talent rulebook and end standard career pathways
  • How Learning at Sanofi has a new focus, aligned to getting products out there to help patients
  • The contribution to making Purpose explicit by her new CEO
  • Why she sees L&D as the source of all the support mechanisms and development tools that can bring that Purpose to life for people
  • Democratizing and sharing Learning in a crisis

Resources

Webinar

This season will culminate in a live online gated experience (a webcast) where we'll review and debate what we've learned. Seats are limited. Secure your place today, over at www.novoed.com/purpose.

Partner

We're also thrilled to be partnering with Chris Pirie, CEO of Learning Futures Group and voice of the Learning Is the New Work podcast. Check them both out.

Season Sponsor

Global enterprises rely on its collaborative online learning platform to build high-value capabilities that result in real impact, with its customers working to deliver powerful, engaging learning that activates deep skill development, from leadership to design thinking and digital transformation, as well as driving measurable business outcomes.

TRANSCRIPT

Chris Pirie:
You're listening to ‘Learning Is the New Working,’ a podcast by the Learning Futures Group about the future of workplace learning and the people helping define it. This episode is part of our season seven, called ‘Is Purpose Working?’ It's a collaboration with Dani Johnson and Stacia Garr of RedThread Research in which we talk about purpose-driven organizations and the impact of purpose on all aspects of talent management. In this episode, Dani Johnson and I interview Celia Berenguer. She's the chief learning officer at Sanofi. Sanofi is a global life sciences company, committed to improving access to healthcare, the healthcare of communities, and to finding new solutions for patients by combining breakthrough science with advanced technology.

Celia Berenguer:
You know, was it perfect and polished and beautiful? Probably not, but it was authentic and it was real and it acknowledged what was going on. And, you know, I think it kind of made it more human. I think that that's created an opportunity for us to say what really matters and what do we really want to focus on.

Chris Pirie:
In March of 2020, Sanofi simultaneously went to work on the critical effort to help develop and manufacture an effective COVID-19 vaccine. While at the same time, flipping 110,000-strong workforce to the new realities of operating in a global pandemic. At the same time, Celia and a team had to weigh the decision as to whether to continue with a planned worldwide launch of the brand-new Sanofi University. This was a journey that involved a new CEO, a deep reflection on Sanofi's purpose and its business results, and perhaps some rethinking of what is the purpose of a corporate university in a time of great crisis. Sometime after recording this interview, Dani and I sat down with Stacia to reflect on the conversation. You'll hear some of discussion before we go into our interview with Celia Berenguer of Sanofi University.

Stacia Garr:
What I loved about it was how thoughtful and really just honest Celia was about the journey that they're on with regarding purpose. That purpose is infused within their organization, that people really believe in it. You know, she talked about the pictures of colleagues in the manufacturing sites during COVID. I think that she was really thoughtful and kind of sharing that, but then saying, Hey, we, you know, we, when I first came here, this was not a big thing. And it's increasingly a big part of how we're thinking about the learning and the resources that we're offering, but we are on this journey. It's here, but we're on this journey and bringing it into our processes and practices.

Chris Pirie:
Definitely on a change journey. And she talked about there's a new CEO there, and she also talks a little bit about how his observation was this strong sense of purpose that he picks up in the culture as he comes in and starts to go around and meet everybody, doesn't seem to be kind of resulting in the right kind of performance outcomes of the business. And so the journey is how do we connect those things more effectively?

Stacia Garr:
We've talked a bit about this dynamic of top down versus bottom up. And so it sounds to me like there was very much a bottom-up focus on purpose and that it was clearly pervaded the culture, but there wasn't kind of the, necessarily the leadership at the top to give it an embodiment of language, a vision, and that structure. And so this new CEO has kind of enabled that and then that's hyper-powering the rest of their efforts to, to reinforce and to bring it to life. If you contrast Sanofi with, you know, one of the other organizations we talked about Medtronic, you can kind of see a little bit of that, that distinction, whereas Metronic also had it baked in from the leadership at the top and that's been consistent. So you kind of feel like in some ways, maybe Sanofi is just a little bit farther behind on the journey, not necessarily less purpose-driven, but farther behind on the journey and getting it integrated. There'll be interesting if we could talk to Celia in a few years to hear where they end up.

Chris Pirie:
The other story that really popped from this conversation was you're bringing to market a brand-new corporate university slap bang in the middle of the first wave of COVID this year. And I thought it was great Celia talked about how it forced them to be more authentic, more real, and more human versus being very polished, which might have been the culture beforehand. And I thought that was really interesting.

Dani Johnson:
I also think it was interesting that she pointed to purpose as a way to make decisions about what they were going to do. So she very clearly says there are these things that we want to do, you know, but there are also these things that we need to do and these things that we really do well. How do we sort of sort through this long laundry list of things to focus on the right things, to get us to our purpose?

Chris Pirie:
Yeah. Once again, clarity in decision-making. She definitely talked about that aspect as well.

Dani Johnson:
I also liked that the way that she talked about it as sort of a unifying force, and those are my words, not hers, but working with the rest of the organization to solve much bigger problems, instead of trying to handle it just with learning or just with, you know, messaging or some of the other things that we've seen in other organizations.

Chris Pirie:
Also a good thread here on skills and talent mobility. Again, a foreshadowing of our next season, Dani, is helping people really connect to developing skills that make sense for them and their own purpose.

Dani Johnson:
I actually think that's a really interesting topic. And as we've started to do some of the research and mobility on skills, how much sort of purpose plays a role? A lot of leaders are terming it as values instead of maybe purpose, but they do it not because it's necessarily, I mean, there is a financial aspect to it, but most of them are doing it to provide a better experience or to ensure that their people are okay if they radically changed directions.

Celia Berenguer:
So my name is Celia Berenguer. I'm the chief learning officer at Sanofi, and today is the 25 of September, 2020.

Chris Pirie:
Celia, thanks so much for joining us on ‘Learning Is the New Working,’ Friday night, your time. We really appreciate that. And as you know, I'm joined by Dani because we have this amazing joint project going on to do a whole series of conversations with people around the topic of purpose-driven organizations and the implications of that for talent management. So welcome.

Celia Berenguer:
Great to be here. Happy to take part.

Chris Pirie:
We are going to start with some quick questions just to sort of sketch out what you do for people. And then Dani is going to pick up there and we're going to dive into a couple of sort of deeper topics. So first question, what part of the world do you live and work in, that might be complicated, and why?

Celia Berenguer:
So that is a complicated question for me. So I live in the UK and I've been here for the past 10 years, but I work in France. Sanofi the company I work for is based in Paris, and I travel between the UK and France on a regular basis, except for obviously under current circumstances, it's been a different pattern. I guess I grew up kind of between cultures and between countries. So it feels quite natural actually to be in a global organization like Sanofi and, you know, sort of spending my time across multiple cultures countries, et cetera. So I love it. I love where I work and I love where I live.

Chris Pirie:
This is an aside I cannot nail down your accent for probably obvious reasons. Where did you develop your accent?

Celia Berenguer:
I was born in France. I grew up primarily in Spain, and I did spend a lot of my time growing up in France and in the US, so my English is heavily influenced. I would say probably I spent a lot of time, at a lot of summers in the northeast of the United States, but I've also spent time kind of in other parts of the US, but I don't know, I guess that means that between my US time and being now 10 years in the UK, I probably have a bit of a bizarre mix.

Chris Pirie:
I can hear all those threads in there, which is great. So could you tell us what your job title is and how would you describe the work that you generally do?

Celia Berenguer:
So I'm the chief learning officer at Sanofi. And I guess what I do is try to help people grow and evolve in the way that's right for them. And for Sanofi, of course, because as chief learning officer, it's about kind of meeting our people's needs to develop and meeting the organization's needs to develop. So it is about learning and development in the organization, but it's with a big spotlight on, you know, how are we identifying what we need for our people and for the organization.

Chris Pirie:
Sanofi is a pretty well-known brand name, and we're all experts on the bio-pharma healthcare industry now, anyway, but could you just describe the business model of Sanofi and the kind of work that it does?

Celia Berenguer:
So we are a global healthcare leader. Of course, we have over 100,000 employees actually representing more than 140 nationalities across the globe. So we're a pretty diverse organization. We have 73 manufacturing sites in 32 countries. So we have, you know, quite a broad presence across the world and across our products. Our products cut across 4 major businesses: our general medicines business, our specialty care, our consumer healthcare, and of course the one that everybody's looking at at the moment, which is vaccines. And then we have obviously a big manufacturing and a big R&D function with 4 major R&D hubs around the world. So we really kind of cut straight through the value chain of the healthcare industry.

Chris Pirie:
And I assume that creates a really diverse set of skillsets of people who work for you. Can you just talk about, a little bit about the talent landscape and perhaps what's going on demographically?

Celia Berenguer:
It's really interesting actually to see how our talent landscape workforce across the world is evolving. And what's interesting about it is that you're definitely seeing different pace of change and types of changed depending on where you're looking around the world. So if I take for instance, or European workforce, you know, you have a lot of people who have been with the company for years and years and years, you know, a demographic that's more sort of traditional possibly leaning towards an older generation. And if I compare that to Asia and in particular, China, you know, there's a much higher turnover rate in somewhere like China. And obviously the demographics are very different as well. So it is quite diverse from one part of the world to another. There's a big factor at the moment, you know, with the changing landscape, how is our talent needing to evolve and what is it that we need to kind of move towards?

Celia Berenguer:
So we talk a lot about like, you know, other organizations, upskilling, reskilling our people. The organization is changing in so many ways for external reasons, you know, external factors and internal factors. So it's kind of like, how is our talent moving at the pace of all of that? I guess what's really clear is that as we think about how our talent evolves and develops, if there ever was a rule book, COVID has definitely fully thrown it out. So it's just accentuated how we, you know, we really need to think differently about what experience people need to be exposed to and how that experience contributes to things like agility and inclusion and perspectives that, you know, we're just not part of the reality. So we're now looking more at things like, you know, how are we getting clear on our skills taxonomy, that types of skills we need in the organization, and using that to be smarter about knowing what we have and how we want to evolve then than relying on kind of traditional jobs and career paths in the organization.

Chris Pirie:
Yeah, definitely. I'm sure Dani is going to want to jump into that topic as well in time. There's a couple of interesting things there. One is having a future orientation. I'm hearing that very strongly as well as this notion of the job to be done rather than job definitions that are fixed. So that's definitely an interesting trend. Can we talk a little bit about this concept of purpose? Does Sanofi have an explicit purpose statement? And if so, do you know what that is?

Celia Berenguer:
Yeah. So for the last couple of years, the sort of purpose of Sanofi has been explicitly shared as empowering life. And you'll see that if you go into our website and kind of engage with a company, that's something that's pretty present. Still, I guess, one thing to say about empowering life is that, you know, I've been in the organization for almost 3 years now. And I guess one of the things that I've definitely picked up from my colleagues around me and other people I've gotten to know and work with and visited around the world is that there's this common thread in the organization about real passion in the people, in the patients that we serve, you know, that we're here to make their lives better, longer, stronger. And that is a truth. You know, that's something that I felt empowering, like I started before I joined the company, but it's certainly something that I felt exists in the organization.

Chris Pirie:
Well, we want to get into how that all helps or hinders you in your kind of day job. Let me hand over to Dani and see if we can talk a little bit about how companies with purpose organizations, with purpose operate differently around people, if at all.

Dani Johnson:
And I would really like to start with just maybe a little bit of a broader question. You talked a lot about how the purpose is sort of felt and you're there to make lives better, longer and stronger. Can you give me some examples of how that manifests itself in sort of the day-to-day of Sanofi?

Celia Berenguer:
That's a good question. For me, one of the places I felt at a lot is actually been with the COVID crisis. So obviously, you know, we have part of our business, which is focused on vaccines, and we have a couple of vaccine candidates in the pipeline, but we're producers of a lot of other medicines for, you know, a lot of other indications. And, you know, it was amazing to me to see the dedication with which people kept, you know, our production levels really high. And we did a great thing inside the company, which was to capture that and share pictures of our colleagues and the manufacturing sites working through the pandemic while many of us were staying at home. So there's been a lot of imagery through this last crisis that I noticed. You know, I joined at a time where there was a real interest in making learning work for the organization.

Celia Berenguer:
So we did a lot of great learning in the company, but it wasn't necessarily really focused. And it wasn't clear, you know, what we were prioritizing and how it was aligned with the strategy. And as I started kind of working on this idea of Sanofi University and you know, I worked with different colleagues around the business and the people involved to kind of come up with a model and an approach. It was so interesting to me that whenever I spoke to people and we talked about, you know, what do we want learning to do for the organization? And, you know, just to get a sense of, you know, where the energy was and interests and the need, often people talked about, you know, we're here to serve the patients, you know, to get our products out there and helping others. So that, to me, Dani was what I felt personally in my day to day that it was something that, you know, when we asked questions, it consistently came up, you know, and not a lot of people connect learning with, you know, how we're making, we’re helping people get better and stronger and, you know, and live longer. So that for me was a very tangible example.

Dani Johnson:
I think that's really interesting. This is a broader talent discussion, but I'd love to dive that just a little bit. Do you think this mission or this purpose helps you prioritize and focus the programs that you go after?

Celia Berenguer:
So I would say that while empowering life and the sense of not losing sight of the patient is something that you feel in the organization. I don't know that it's been consistently used as a point of alignment and focus and prioritization. So let me explain what I mean by that From a performance perspective, Sanofi over the last few years has been, you know, struggling a bit to sort of find its place, I guess, is the best way to describe it and great products, great people. And we had our CEO arrived about a year ago, actually last September and, you know, came in with great enthusiasm and kind of spent the first hundred days going around the business and really getting to know, you know, getting to know us and getting to know the business and getting to know our customers and the environment.

Celia Berenguer:
I mean, and he's a very seasoned sort of healthcare industry professional. So obviously he knew the space, but it was fascinating because he kind of came in and said, look, I, you know, this is an incredible, he talks about hidden gems in the organization. He talks about the fact that, you know, he just sees such incredible opportunities and potential in the company and some real expertise and just an ability to do amazing things. And that doesn't always translate in our performance. And so I guess what I would say, Dani, is that there was a purpose there that was clearly alive. Were we using it in a way to really drive our strategy and our business? I'm not so sure. And I think with Paul Hudson, our CEO, has done since he's joined, has really picked up on that and said, we really need to drive our culture and our strategy and the direction that we're maximizing what we have in this company.

Celia Berenguer:
And so he's actually kicked that off at the beginning of this year to really translate that into where we focus and how are we prioritizing our business going forward. And what's the underpinning culture that we want to have to really support it. And we've become a lot more explicit about that in the last month. So it's still quite new in the organization and it's, you know, and it's being felt because it's resulted in some restructure and also in some sort of reshifting of mindsets, but it's created a lot of energy. And I think that's at least for the moment, that's something that has been tangible in the company. And now I would say, yes, we have a lot more. Like if I look at, for instance, my agenda around learning and development and, you know, how we're supporting our people in our talent in the organization, I can say I'm much clearer about, you know, how are we supporting those behaviors, where are the growth businesses, and how we're making sure that we're supporting that consistently, but also doing it in a smart way, right? It's not just, you know, kind of going after the little things, but really thinking holistically about how we want to support the business. So I guess that's the long answer to your question. And the short one is I don't think we were doing such a great job of prioritizing and achieving focus through our purpose, but I think now we're starting to.

Dani Johnson:
I love that. Yeah. It sounds like you've sort of now started to align some of those internal practices to make sure that the overall purpose of the organization is met. I'm really interested also in if you had a couple of conversations with other leaders and they talk about purpose of the individual, as well as purpose of the organization, I'd love to understand a little bit about what you all are doing to help individuals connect to that larger purpose or to align their purpose with that larger purpose.

Celia Berenguer:
Yeah, that's a really, really good question. And one part of my answer is going to be, we are focusing very strongly at the moment on helping people understand and sort of bring to life for them individually, where the organization is headed and the behaviors that underpin that. We've tied it to individual purpose because we talk about the fact that culture and thinking and feelings and beliefs that people have driving those behaviors and actions that then give you the results that you're trying to achieve as a company. So when we speak to leaders, we kind of make that distinction. And while the visible part tends to be that action or behavioral side of things, we tie it to values and individual values as much as organizational values.

Chris Pirie:
This sounds a lot like a focus on the culture of the organization and perhaps driving a shift in the culture of the organization. Would you say that's part of your kind of role as chief learning officer?

Celia Berenguer:
So it's definitely part of my role because I think everybody plays a role in shifting culture in the organization. My role is to help ensure that we can get any of the support mechanisms, development tools, et cetera, out there that can really kind of bring it to life for people. That's what matters. So I have some incredibly talented people in my team who spend a lot of time thinking about the different ways in which we want to engage with people. And I tend to talk about people more than leaders, because I think all people are leaders in organizations. So I really, you know, I think it's something that really needs to touch everybody. I think lots of people play a role. And of course at the end of the day, you only shift culture if everybody's part of it.

Chris Pirie:
All oars in the water, as we said at Microsoft.

Dani Johnson:
I think it's really interesting that you talk of culture is something that is a result of the actions that are existing in the organization, rather than the thing that you control. I think a lot of organizations think about culture as it's defined. It's on the wall, we all know what it is, therefore it's going to happen. But I love the way Sanofi is thinking about it as we need to change the internal people's systems and help people get to those behaviors that actually will change the culture here. Obviously COVID has been a huge disruption over the entire world, and I'm interested as organizations are making these changes sometimes they have to make some pretty difficult tradeoffs. Wondering if your purpose alignment and your core talent functions have had to make any tradeoffs or have had any challenges with that.

Celia Berenguer:
I guess it will probably depend who you speak to in Sanofi about tradeoffs. I would say rather than tradeoffs, I would talk about priorities and focus because I think, and maybe it's my glass-half-full approach to life where, you know, there are definitely constraints. Yeah, there's definitely constraints and not least of which, by the way, is the fact that we are in the middle of realigning our organization to be more focused from a business perspective. So that's obviously had implications on our structure. We're trying to shift culture as a company. And at the same time, you know, we have the same problem everybody else has, which is we're trying to contain costs. And especially this year, you know, where it's an exceptional year. So there's constraints we have to work with. And I think that has, Dani, forced us to make decisions about things we want to do versus things we need to do, and that we want to do really well, rather than having a massive laundry list of things that we want to kind of get out there.

Celia Berenguer:
And I'll tell you one thing that's been really interesting. Historically, we're an organization that likes to do things really well, really polished. Everything is beautiful and shiny and, you know, and it looks fantastic, and then COVID hits and suddenly we're scrambling to get stuff out there. And, you know, we launched Sanofi University, our corporate university, and literally, in a week's time had to shift from an original plan to a, right, everybody's going to be dialing in from their part of the world at home. So what are we going to do to kind of engage people? And, you know, was it perfect and polished and beautiful? Probably not, but it was authentic and it was real and it acknowledged what was going on. And, you know, I think it kind of made it more human. And so I think that that's created an opportunity for us to say what really matters and what do we really want to kind of then focus on? And so when people tell me, you know, we have to reduce our budget in L&D, I say, okay, well, how can we be smarter about where our L&D budgets even sit and who's making decisions about them and how are we making choices for Sanofi rather than leaving things to happen at very sort of, you know, local levels. And, you know, some people would call that a tradeoff. I call it an opportunity to look at the problem differently and see how we can make it work for us.

Dani Johnson:
The other thing that I really like about that statement, Celia, is you're working with the rest of the organization to solve a much bigger problem than the one that you have right in front of you on your plate. And I think as the pandemic has washed over the world, we're seeing more and more of that. The statement you made about some things being sloppier than you would like them, or maybe not as polished, definitely, definitely resonates with us.

Dani Johnson:
We’d love to go into maybe a few more questions about COVID because we think it's very brave that you launched a corporate university during COVID. Tell us what that was like.

Celia Berenguer:
So, first of all, we're sort of in the middle of transitioning towards a holistic corporate university. So there's a couple of principles that we hold for Sanofi University. The first is to help you build the skills that you need for today and for tomorrow. So it's very much focused on skills and how you use the corporate university to kind of identify what's going to help you in your career in your life, you know, where your interests are. The second principle is learn where and when you want. So obviously this is all about it being multi-channel and digital and mobile and all of that good stuff. And the third one is for Sanofi by Sanofi. So it's learning that reflects what the company is liking and needing, but it also reflects our own voices. So in some respects, we've been working on those three principles since before COVID, but it almost kind of made them resonate even more because with COVID, everybody's realized the world is changing at an unprecedented pace, but now it was like a flip overnight.

Celia Berenguer:
So it really kind of put a spotlight on how do I think about my skills and, you know, digital skills being kind of one of the things that really started bubbling up in the sense that—or virtual skills, right?—in the sense of how do I suddenly work in a 100% virtual team or the reality of that change. The learn everywhere, you know, when and where you want just became a reality, right? And we have pictures of people waiting in the line to get into a supermarket in Indonesia, you know, listening to podcasts or doing an e-learning on their mobile. So it just totally became a reality. And then, for Sanofi by Sanofi, really, it was about making it real for us. And, you know, it's funny because one of the trends we've seen in L&D is, you know, there used to be a lot of custom-built learning that was being done.

Celia Berenguer:
And we think about the early days, and then we went from there to curation. So we bought a lot of off-the-shelf stuff and tried to weave it together. And now it's more about democratizing learning and letting kind of learning come from anywhere and everywhere. So, I mean, we're definitely on that journey and still figuring out how that's all going to fit for us, but at least it's now kind of a tangible thing that we want to aspire to and bring different voices in. And so all of that, I think made it really relevant to launch a corporate university in the middle of the COVID pandemic. And then another magical sort of alignment of the planets happened, which is, you know, when I did a little heads up to our executive committee saying, Hey, just a reminder, next week, we're going to launch Sanofi University’s series of webcasts for all of our people around the world, you know, really excited, and it'll be great to get the offer out there. And, Paul Hudson, our CEO sends a little note saying, Hey, how can we really do something exciting for our people learning? And so we kind of had a chat and, you know, I said, look, if we really want to stretch the idea of investing in yourself and investing in learning, especially if you're stuck at home and maybe you have more time on your hands for some people that wasn't the case, invest in learning.

Celia Berenguer:
And so we launched this challenge to the entire organization, which is, this was in March. We said, Hey, do we think that by June accumulatively, we can achieve a million hours of learning between, you know, all of our people around the world. And we got to, you know, I think the last number I heard when we were looking at the numbers in June was 860,000 hours, which wasn't the 1 million, but I gotta say, I was like floored by the level of dedication and investment that we saw from our people. And we had a Yammer community and people were posting their certificates and taking pictures of what they'd done and talking about what they learned. And it was just phenomenal and exciting. And so I think, Dani, what seemed like a really scary thing when it was like, do we really want to lunch Sanofi University, actually turned out to be the perfect timing and we got incredible visibility and support around it.

Chris Pirie:
That's a great story. Amazing. Congratulations on that. And that's good. And I think that, I think your timing turned out to be really impeccable. I mean, we've seen engagement levels around learning, as you pointed out, people realized that the world is changing. And one way to prepare yourself for that is to, is to smarten up. And I think we're seeing all kinds of data on all kinds of learning platforms that really illustrate a similar trend. So I think your timing was just great. I'm interested in a couple of things that you said that one, I like this ‘for Sanofi by Sanofi’ idea. And I want to just kind of probe on that a little bit. To me, that means culture of learning people, learning from each other, collaborative social forms of learning. How do you think about the future developing? And let's just pick ‘for Sanofi by Sanofi,’ for example, how do you see that playing out? What experiments do you want to run around that principle?

Celia Berenguer:
So that's a great question and something that actually I'm very passionate about. So there's a couple of things for me in the ‘for Sanofi by Sanofi’ that are really critical. And the first is that, as you said, there's a today and there's a tomorrow around that principle. The today, for me, is explaining to people that things like what learning is available is going to become more and more reflective of what people are actually using. So I realized that it's like a really basic concept, but you know, a lot of organizations aren't sort of tuning their learning offer to where the interest and the time is being spent. And I want people to be able to engage with what's available to them because they know that it's something that's reflective of what the organization is using. And I also want it to be filled with voices from within the organization.

Celia Berenguer:
We hold lots of expertise inside Sanofi. So, you know, why would we need to go other places to learn from, you know, the people, the great people that we have inside Sanofi? So what that's translated into is we're now being a lot more deliberate at looking at where people are spending their time and what are the areas, what does that start telling us about the areas and interests that people have? And that's, you know, one lens that we're applying. We're also making it a lot easier for leaders to create podcasts or create videos that they want to share with a broader organization. So there's sort of support tools and little how-to's to help people do that so that we can really start mixing in different voices. But as you said, Chris, for me, the real, the real opportunity is that sort of full democratization of learning and that learning is happening between people within communities and that we're creating ways for people to find each other and learn from each other and share with each other that start aligning to kind of the different needs that start bubbling up in the organization.

Celia Berenguer:
And also, you know, that we can make really explicit how it connects to things like our strategy and our culture. So we're not there yet. We're actually starting to take an even deeper look at our sort of learner-centric approach in learning and how do we want to move into different technologies to help inform that, but it's still early days. And the message at the moment is really about making it tangible and real for Sanofi. But I do want to move in the direction of kind of social learning and connections and community learning, because that's what makes a learning organization really agile.

Chris Pirie:
Yeah. It's really interesting. I think about the, just like, I mean, you're a science company, right? And science is about community solving problems together and learning together. And I'm sure there's a lot that you could pull on from the sort of scientific aspect of what your company does that might provide some models for you. Very, very interesting.

Chris Pirie:
I was going to ask a little bit about how you connect generally with the rest of the talent functions in Sanofi. Are you part of a talent system, or do you think of learning as a discreet thing? What's your point of view on that?

Celia Berenguer:
I definitely think we're part of a system, whether that's happening explicitly or not. You know, there's a connection because the moment you're talking about a talent, you're talking about talent development and the moment you're talking about talent development, you know, you're talking about learning. So it's all connected. At the moment, the way the system works in Sanofi is we have our talent management system and definition. So our high-potential definition and all that good stuff owned by our talent team. And that intersects with us in the way that we're two things probably very concretely. The first is we're getting data from our talent teams about sort of profiles, needs, et cetera, to help inform, you know, how we're fine tuning, what are the different development solutions that we're trying to achieve the second way is specifically how we're making explicit the idea that you own your own careers.

Celia Berenguer:
So as part of our talent narrative, we really want people to kind of step in to how they want to develop as talent in the organization and really kind of making lots of things available to people and seeing what's helping them because the underlying principle there, and we've created a lot of virtual and sort of self-driven learning solutions, which can, you know, can take lots of different forms like e-learning, but sometimes it can be synchronous sessions with different members of the community. But the thinking there that, you know, different people might have very different needs and it's actually better to have a lot available and have people start choosing and seeing where they gravitate rather than being prescriptive of, ‘Oh, you know, you're in this part of the nine box. And so we're going to put you on this program.’ So those are the ways that we're explicitly connected to the talent system today. And obviously the idea is that we'll continue to evolve that particularly as our skills definition starts becoming more explicit. We're in the process of trying to create a more aligned skills taxonomy across the organization. So, you know, how do we use that to inform us what we have, what talent we have, where and how it can move? You know, where are the opportunities?

Chris Pirie:
Do you see a future with the talent kind of flows a little bit more easily around the organization and L&D playing a role in that?

Celia Berenguer:
Yes, I guess there's two. I'm hesitating because one of the things that's really interesting about what I'm starting to see when I look at skills taxonomies that are bubbling up in Sanofi is that we're starting to look for really deep expertise in certain areas. And, you know, like data analytics is one of those areas, but data analytics applies in a lot of parts of the business. So today, it doesn't feel like the flow is there. And I'm really interested in seeing how we can help movement happen across parts of the business that have historically not been, you know, we've not seen that type of movement happen before. I think the pace of how things are changing is so fast that I do believe it will become more possible to do that. And L&D roles in that? I mean, to be honest, for me, it's two things. I think L&D plays a critical role because I think we need to make it easy for people to choose, to develop skills in skills that may not naturally sit in their current role.

Celia Berenguer:
So there's something about just making that possible that I think is a critical role for L&D because we won't know, we won't have everybody on our radar and we won't know when people have the desire and capability to kind of really build another area of knowledge or, you know, reskill in a particular way. And at the same time, I think given how the organization is shifting, I think, L&D plays a really important role in saying we have a massive gap in these types of skills. What do we need to do to close that gap so that we don't have to rely a hundred percent on buying versus building talent in the organization?

Dani Johnson:
This is my soapbox right now, Celia. I'm talking a lot about skills and mobility and sort of the connection between them. And I think it's great that you made that connection between making sure that people have access to build the skills that they want, and not just the skills in their current ladder and that mobility, it seems like. I love that you're there, you're starting to understand the skills that you have in the organization so that you can also understand the holes that you have, which gives a better idea of, you know, where people can move. And I love how this is a discussion about purpose, but we're talking about skills mobility, because you've connected sort of the individual purpose of the individual—that sounded weird—but the purpose of the individual to the purpose of the organization. And I think that's where we're going to see organizations go, but also, where we are going to see success come is when we can overlap the purpose of the individual with the purpose of the organization.

Celia Berenguer:
And I think this is where I'm quite curious about how we can take L&D one step further. And, you know, there's a lot of tech out there, you know, using artificial intelligence and lots of mechanisms to read people and read organizations and try to make, you know, connect dots. Because my belief is that I, as an individual, may not be thinking all the time about my skills. I mean, that's initially the thing I do, I think about that a lot, but I guess it's my role, but you know, most people don't. And so obviously we talk a lot about now things like learning and the flow of work or learning in the flow of life, or, you know, how the intersection between what I'm explicitly doing to learn and develop versus what I'm doing in my sort of day-to-day activities is blurring.

Celia Berenguer:
I feel like people need help to connect those dots and it comes from my value, like the value set that I hold, right? Because depending on what I want in life and what I think in life is going to drive choices that I make around development. And I think that if we can use tech to help make that sort of real and tangible and possible for people, it will be awesome. And right now, the best opportunities are probably using things like learner experience platforms that are making some of those connections between skills and individuals and opportunities. But I hope it will continue to evolve even more than that.

Dani Johnson:
Yeah, I really do too. We've seen some really interesting technologies that are connecting data from everywhere to give the individual and the organization much more information about the skills that they have. And I think you're right. I think data is empowering. So when we push it down to individuals, they're the ones that are one, most motivated to do something and two, most empowered to do something about it. And so I'm really excited to see where that goes.

Chris Pirie:
I, on the other hand, worry about taxonomies because I think they can be huge time sinks. And I think there's a lot of complexity around the appropriate level of granularity. I do think AI can pick up on trends, you know, just looking across unstructured data and activity to pick up on trends that are useful, but I think it's still immature.

Dani Johnson:
Yeah. I think there's a big discussion now out there in the data space and in the learning space about ontologies versus taxonomies, and Chris, I've got lots of papers to send if you’re interested in learning about sort of theory behind that.

Celia Berenguer:
I'm interested in that too. Because we're in the process of building this huge creative skills library and I'm like, and you know, I get it because we need to kind of have alignment, but I'm with you, Chris. It's kind of like, you know, you've done all this work and the moment you hit send, it's already outdated. And then you hear, ‘Oh, now we can't touch it for the next whatever years,’ and you’re like, ‘Really? because, you know, next week we're going to need different skills.’

Chris Pirie:
Yeah. That's exactly the pace of change.

Chris Pirie:
We always ask people on the podcast about their personal sense of purpose, even before we started to talk about the purpose economy and purpose as a factor in organizations. And I'm just curious, Celia, as to why you do the work that you do. Was there somebody or something or some experience that got you on this track or are you desperate to get out of it?

Celia Berenguer:
No, I love what I do. There wasn't anybody in particular, Though I think because I grew up being put in really different environments and different countries and having to kind of learn my way around those different environments in different countries, I think it just automatically made me fascinated with the ability we have to learn and grow and have a richness as individuals from that development. And I've worked in several organizations, global organizations, and different industries. I have had the luck to be a consultant with companies, you know and worked for companies across the world. I've worked in business schools. So I've seen like lots of different environments and, you know, one of the things I've seen is really fantastic leadership and the impact it has and not so fantastic leadership. And I believe that is something anybody can learn, you know, in that specific to leadership, because I feel like, you know, there's a massive opportunity there, but I guess that's still with me. And, you know, it's to the extent that I actually spend part of my personal time as a trustee of a nonprofit in the UK called Ambition Institute, which is focused on developing skills of all sorts, including leadership in our teachers, because you know, great teachers with great leadership skills create great opportunities for the kids. So I'm pretty passionate about it.

Chris Pirie:
That’s crystal clear. Hey, thank you so much for your time today and your insights. Great job on launching the university in the pandemic. That's a story, and get back to work on that vaccine, if you can, for us, that would be awesome.

Celia Berenguer:
Absolutely. Thanks so much. It's really great speaking to both of you. Thanks for inviting me.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.

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