…To be transparent about the vision and the strategy. I always rely on who we are at Axway, because I think that who we are informs what we try to do. It’s important to “walk the walk”: we deliver and demonstrate what we want to do as managers or executives. Being transparent also means recognizing and acknowledging what is working well, what works less and how we are going to do better. It’s saying, “We are going to go there, what for, and why, and this is how we are going to do it,” and then coming back to the plan regularly, whether it’s every quarter or every six months, to evaluate how it’s working and make necessary changes.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dominique Fougerat.
Dominique Fougerat is Axway’s strategic global HR leader. She combines proven human resources expertise with experience in consulting (strategic, process, and organizational) in international environments. Dominique has more than 30 years cross-industry experience in leading business transformation for high tech organizations. She has degrees in both Business Law and Sciences Po Paris.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
HR was not part of my plans when I started my career! I started out at the consulting firm Accenture, and then later moved to the banking sector. In that next job, at the bank I worked for, I was appointed to be the project manager for a big redundancy plan: the bank was closing all its activities in France. It was a big and difficult early-stage project for a young lady without any HR experience! And I ended up enjoying the human aspect of it because we were really dealing with people, and I was helping to put in place support for these people who were losing their jobs — myself included.
I went back into consulting, and I was very lucky to be able to rebound easily. And finally, after 15 years in consulting, I joined a human resources department. I didn’t have an HR background per se, but I had strong project management skills and my earlier experience. I ended up becoming an HR Director with a very business-driven mindset, and that was the starting point of my career in HR.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading people and culture at Axway?
I would say the starting point of the COVID-19 pandemic, over these last 18 months, was quite memorable. At the beginning, we didn’t know any details about the pandemic, how long it would last, how strange and impactful it would be for everyone around the world. We took the initiative to put everyone in full remote work and we were positively surprised at how well the transition went. Axway is a global company with offices around the world, and in essentially an hour, everyone moved to remote mode.
The continued engagement was extraordinary: at Axway, we often talk about how we are better together, and this suddenly became even truer. I was pleasantly surprised at how our teams grew closer while respecting physical and social distancing and working remotely. We wanted to recognize what everyone had accomplished so we organized in May 2020 an Axway Thank You Day — a day off for all employees to unplug and be with their families. That was Axway’s way of recognizing their hard work and showing how grateful we were for their commitment to running Axway’s house smoothly. We renewed the initiative in May 2021.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
A major initiative right now is how we will execute the future of work in the coming weeks because it is happening fast now. We’re looking at proposing a hybrid model, partly remote and partly on-site, with a balance that is decided locally. Because we’re a global company, it’s important to really align with the different cultures, as well as respecting who we are in terms of our company DNA. It’s an initiative we’re all eager about: not just people in my department, People and Culture, but Axway as a whole, because we’ve all been participating in it.
Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
I think it may have to do with the importance of finding meaning in our work. In those days after the start of the pandemic, after the initial crisis, many of us started to realize what was truly important to us. Work probably took a lower place in our priorities compared to health or family. And I think we all know people who are in jobs they don’t find particularly interesting, or that stay stuck in a job for too long.
But to be honest, I’m a bit surprised that those dissatisfaction numbers are so high: I don’t think it’s the case at Axway. I can objectively say that because we put a lot of effort into measuring employee engagement and trying to enhance employee life at Axway. We have what we call the Axway Voice survey, which is a yearly survey on employee engagement that we’ve been using for six years. And we’ve seen an improving trend year over year. It gives us a chance to initiate actions based on the results, and we can do that locally or globally, to continue to improve employee engagement throughout the year. We also encourage internal mobility not only between departments but also geographically. For example, we have people who have started in one position and then over the years have changed several times.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
This is partly why we implemented the Axway Voice survey: it’s not a satisfaction survey, it is an engagement survey. It was deliberate, because we are convinced that when a company is engaged in a virtuous circle, everything is better. When you have an engaged workforce, this workforce is delivering better productivity, which positively impacts customer satisfaction, which in turn leads to improved company profitability, and company profitability has a positive impact on employee engagement.
An unhappy workforce, on the contrary, creates the reverse, vicious circle: you have disengaged employees, which produces the reverse effect of what I just explained. If customers are frustrated, your company is less profitable, which negatively impacts employees, and so forth. So we really work hard to keep a virtuous circle going and to continue to improve.
People like to work for a company that is healthy, performing well, and getting some visibility on the market, but also for a company that cares about its people. It gives us at Axway pride in our work and what we do, and creates a work environment of trust and confidence.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
First is to be transparent about the vision and the strategy. I always rely on who we are at Axway, because I think that who we are informs what we try to do. It’s important to “walk the walk”: we deliver and demonstrate what we want to do as managers or executives. Being transparent also means recognizing and acknowledging what is working well, what works less and how we are going to do better. It’s saying, “We are going to go there, what for, and why, and this is how we are going to do it,” and then coming back to the plan regularly, whether it’s every quarter or every six months, to evaluate how it’s working and make necessary changes.
Second is to demonstrate trust and confidence in employees. At Axway I think we’re very lucky because we have a lot of smart people working with us, but you can’t just make that observation from the outside: we tell them what we think of them, and we encourage them to trust us as a manager or executive, but we also trust our employees to deliver their best at work.
Third: do what we say we’ll do. It sounds obvious, but so many companies have values or vision statements that are far from the lived reality of those in the company. At Axway, we believe actions speak louder than words.
Fourth, which I touched on earlier when discussing employee satisfaction, is that it’s important to care about employees’ engagement and development as a person. We encourage our Griffins — that’s what we call ourselves here at Axway, after our logo in the shape of a griffin — to have several jobs within the company. It helps to move around and cross-pollinate ideas, and people don’t feel frustrated with just one task or job for their whole life with Axway. We have a very high level of seniority, but those who have been here for a long time have been in several different roles, sometimes in several different countries. It is telling that we have several employees who left and came back after another experience outside: we even re-hired someone for the third time earlier this year! I think that says a lot about Axway.
We want to encourage people in their careers, and another way we do that is by getting to know our Griffins better with talent review sessions. We assess performance, of course, but we also look at the potential of each person. And we support their development within Axway in accordance with their skills and wishes, because with that approach, we know them better, we hear them, and we really do care about them.
Finally, executive accessibility is important. We may be a global company, but we aren’t so huge that any employee couldn’t speak directly with the CEO. You don’t need to make an appointment, it’s as easy as shooting off an email. You can even just shout out to one of us to say something that you feel needs to be said. Our executives aren’t sitting in an ivory tower, we’re engaged in the field.
When I joined Axway, I was given a lovely corner office on the 31st floor of our tower in Paris’s business district, La Défense. But because of the way it’s built into the corner, and because the door was a plain, solid door, you could go down the hallway and never see me when the door was closed. I didn’t like the message that sent, so on my second day of work I asked for a glass door, like the ones on the other offices in the corridor around me. I was told it wasn’t possible, and offered a different office instead, but I said no, “I’m going to change the door, not the office.”
It took me a couple of months, but I succeeded in getting a transparent door. And it was the very first thing my boss noticed when he came to the Paris offices for his next visit! “That’s great, I can see you,” he said. It’s a small thing but it’s important. Now people see me when passing and can stop by to say hello or catch up quickly. We need to stay accessible.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I enjoy interaction and like to connect the dots with people I work with. I don’t want to just explain what our team is going to do, it’s important to me to explain the context in which we’re going to do it, why we are doing it and to what end.
What I appreciate from the people who are working with me, whether they are my direct reports or not, is to really challenge me. It’s important to me to facilitate that exchange of ideas. When I say I’m open to feedback, it’s not just to make people happy and then forget what they shared once they’ve left my office! I do actually listen and consider different points. It’s how we evolve and progress, and I believe it’s the best way we can contribute our best work to this company.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve had several opportunities throughout my career to create and shape my own job, and I’m grateful for the people who had that trust in me. As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t start out my career in HR, but after several positions working on projects that involved HR work in some form or another, I knew I wanted to be an HR Director someday.
On one of my jobs, my managers at the company I was working for at the time were let go, and shortly after that, I was called into the chairman’s office. I was convinced I’d be walking out of there without a job!
Yet somehow, after nearly an hour of confusedly but politely answering his questions, he told me he wanted me to be his HR director. The challenge was not negligible: it was a function that didn’t exist, in a large company that, he told me, had resisted an HR department for 24 years. But I’m grateful to him for giving me the chance to create my dream job. And now I get to continue this work here at Axway.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It would be presumptuous of me to say that I bring goodness to the world, but I do always try through my actions to bring as much inclusion and diversity as possible. For example, we are a member of the Professional Women’s Network (PWN), an international network focused on promoting gender equity, and this is something that Axway works to improve as well. Also, mainly in France, we have a dedicated awareness program to promote workplace accessibility for those who are disabled.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love this quote by French philosopher and journalist Alain : « Le pessimisme est d’humeur ; l’optimisme est de volonté. » It means “Pessimism comes from the temperament, optimism from the will”. I have found that to be very true in my own life: it requires more effort to think positively, but it is worth it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I would love to see more done to help children and promote education. Everything starts in those very important early years of life. I’m a mom of four, I’ve been working all my adult life with four children, including a disabled daughter, so it’s an issue that is close to me: education, love, and children. We can climb mountains there.
There are still many countries where children don’t get enough support for education. And we are learning that COVID severely impacted little girls’ education, especially in poorer countries, because of a lack of funding to pay for school. It costs so little comparatively to what the Western world spends on education, but it means the world to these girls. And then there are the girls who have to quit school to be married or are left to fend for themselves at 12 years old. I think it’s really shameful that we are not able, in the 21st century, to better support women’s rights and give better access to education for all human beings!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!