Cosmetics and beauty products giant L’Oréal is a household name, and home to brands such as Garnier, Maybelline and Lancôme.
Internationally, it employs 52,000 people, of which 2,700 are located in the UK, which is the company’s fourth largest European and fifth largest global subsidiary.
There are 25 people in the UK HR team, led by HR director Richard Humphrey. It is split between a corporate team – that looks after compensation, benefits, training and development – and operational directors for each of the various divisions, as well as IT and the supply chain.
Last year, the company took over The Body Shop in a £652m deal, although the two businesses operate separately.
In any fast-moving consumer goods environment, management and retention of talent are key challenges.
“Once we have found stars, retaining that talent is critical,” explains Humphrey. “Our aim is that people join us for a long-term career, so it is absolutely crucial that the first two years are right. We have found if people stay for that length of time, they stay for a long-term career.
“We understand we have to be patient and tolerant while people adapt to our very specific culture. You can be very quickly exposed to international teams and high levels of our hierarchy, and employees need a lot of training and support to get them ready,” he adds.
L’Oréal says it is happy with staff turnover levels in the UK compared with its competitors, but in other key markets, particularly Japan and China, retention is a major issue.
To ensure it was engaging staff at the earliest possible stage of their career, L’Oréal decided to build a formal induction programme.
In the summer of 2005, L’Oréal launched Follow-up and Integration Track (FIT) in some of its international divisions. The scheme reached the UK in February 2006.
Together with learning for development director Fabiola Pizzigallo, Humphrey was in charge of making the initiative a success in the UK, and ensuring the executive management team was heavily involved.
L’Oréal held a ‘FIT week’, running a series of meetings for all employees. At the same time, it publicised the programme extensively through e-mails, the intranet, posters and competitions.
New starters, or people who have transferred in from another country or division, automatically enrol in the six-stage programme. At least five days before they arrive, HR ensures log-in details, e-mails and telephones are all in place, and that there is a desk and security pass ready, as well as a product ‘goodie’ bag.
On their first day, the new arrival meets HR and their line manager, they are shown to their desk, introduced to the team and then spend time with their HR manager, who explains how the FIT programme works. There is a team lunch and they are assigned a mentor, who stays in this role for at least the first year.
Over the next fortnight, the new recruit meets other staff from all over the company – whether it be marketing, health and safety or product planning. Within the first month, they have a review with HR, which is followed up at regular intervals.
After a couple of months, employees go on field visits to stores and, within the first six to 12 months, they attend a ‘Discovery’ course – between three and five days long – where they speak to people in other parts of the business, get an overview of how it operates financially, and are given a guide to products and processes.
However, it is not all work – attendees also receive a guided tour of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and have a group meal.
L’Oréal is yet to see the employee turnover figures for 2006 that will show statistically whether the programme has been a success.
But in a mini poll of the 30 people who have started since February 2006, more than 90% felt they had a better understanding of what they were supposed to be doing, what the objectives and values of the company were, and where they fitted into the bigger picture.
Anecdotal feedback has also been positive, according to Humphrey. “When I catch up with people after six months, they have that sense of belonging – which is so critical – after a relatively short period of time,” he says. “Getting that in a large, global player is not easy.”
Market research manager Christine Pradhan joined L’Oréal in May 2006, having worked at a succession of independent research agencies. She found the difference striking.
“At one company, no-one made any effort. I had to introduce myself and everyone was busy so it was very difficult,” she recalls. “Here, you get to meet a lot of people from different departments, and at the introduction you are told all about the products.
“It is very intensive. The site visits have been really useful, as has having a mentor. It is good having someone to turn to and ask questions,” she says.
“You cannot force people to like a company, but an induction like this really helps. It is much harder to adjust to a new company if you do not have a proper induction,” she adds.
If I could do it again…
Consulting with employees who had joined before the induction programme was introduced – to make a comparison – would have been valuable, concedes Richard Humphrey, HR director at L’Oréal UK.
“Our perception is that things have changed dramatically, but unfortunately, it is a lot about perception,” he says.
Humphrey also acknowledges that getting buy-in from the highest levels was crucial to the project’s success.
Using mentors can also be particularly valuable, says Humphrey, as this can give people a sounding board that is non-threatening and not specific to their department.
Guide to launching an induction programme in 10 steps
- Remember the process needs to start before staff have set foot in the building.
- Ensure it covers orientation (physical facilities), organisation (how the employee fits into the team), health and safety, terms and conditions, history, products and services, culture and values.
- Be careful not to overwhelm an inductee on the first day.
- Pitch presentations at an appropriate level.
- Do not create unreasonable expectations by over-selling the job or company.
- Do not demand that inductees stop interesting and useful work to go to a dull presentation.
- Keep a checklist of what training an employee has received, ideally countersigned by the employee.
- Get buy-in from senior management, and ensure you communicate extensively before launching the programme.
- Explain ‘why’ as well as ‘how’ to those who will be making it a reality.
- Regularly review and communicate with inductees as well as those who are running the programme.
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