It’s a British thing

By Ray Naylor, GDF SUEZ

Regular readers of this blog may recollect that I have lived and worked in France for nearly 25 years. Occasionally, my origins are remarked upon in a work context, and I am made responsible along with all of my compatriots (and sometimes our American cousins), for all the Anglo-Saxon HR practices that have furtively crept into France in recent years (in a French context, recent means the last quarter century). Some simple examples are:

  • market-related pay (as opposed to age, type of school, qualifications, length of service and whether it was your turn for a salary review last year);
  • variable pay for populations other than top executives;
  • long-term incentives, and then long-term incentives with performance conditions;
  • distinguishing between the core job, the person, and the performance of the person in the job (here, the seeds have clearly taken, and is slow but observable);
  • the introduction of (simplified) reward statements;
  • understanding that the first HR player is the line manager.

The latest example occurred at the end of our company's AGM last week. As usual, I was, poised in front of a computer screen in order to feed the team on stage with real-time information for remuneration-based questions from the floor. We faced our first Say On Pay vote "à la Française", since legislation was brought in last year requiring French listed companies to submit executive directors' remuneration for the previous year to a consultative shareholder vote (old hat in a UK context, but new in France – like the separation of Chairman and CEO roles). Suffice it to say, we received positive votes (high 80%) – so all went well, particularly in the context of a new LTI programme.

Where is this leading to? Well, one of my colleagues approached me as I was leaving the hall and, based on the introduction of Say On Pay, suggested that the UK had a heavy responsibility for many of the changes in the way business is now done in France (and elsewhere in Europe). We didn't have time to pursue the discussion further, but on the way home I reviewed what I have observed in our two countries since 1983 (when I first started working in an Anglo-French international context). Without going into lots of detail, I came to the conclusion that there was more than a grain of truth in what he said. As an example, reward practices that were well established more than 20 years ago in the UK are still relatively recent (5+ years) in France; tools with a stronger focus on the individual have appeared (like variable pay and reward statements). At the same time, existing French tools reflecting the strong national collective ethos have been (rightly) retained; things like compulsory formulaic profit-share systems, tax-efficient collective employee saving plans, and so on.

How much of this is down to a genuine Anglo-Saxon influence? It's a moot point – what is important is that the Anglo-Saxon influence is perceived to be there. Looking outside of France we also can see that in the specific area of Remuneration Governance the UK has had a massive influence; look to the recent US changes; look at the governance codes of stock exchanges in India and Thailand. The UK inspiration is more than visible. And it is continuing. The European Commission is currently preparing a Directive on executive remuneration that is very close to today's UK model (we still need to persuade them to throw out the requirement to publish earnings ratios, but that's another question).

When I see the extent to which some of the UK's well-tested HR approaches are adopted and adapted elsewhere, then I feel a sense of pride that we have developed a level of professionalism to which others seem to aspire. This blog is to remind us to be proud of what we have achieved and to make sure we stay on the road of continuous improvement (it's a CIPD thing!)

Attend the Reward Conference, 14-15 May 2014

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