REV : APRIL 1 6 , 2 0 0 8
ANE DAMGAARD JEN SEN
Global Knowledge Management at Danone
At Danone we don’t talk about strategy, we react to the context around us. For me, it’s like a Lego box that you buy for your children. They start to play, trying to find a way to build the image on the Lego box. At the end of the day, they give up, throw out the box, and put the pieces away. The next weekend you put all the Lego pieces on the floor and then the strategy starts. They try to imagine something. Not what was on the box, but what they have in their heads. That is strategy at Danone for me: It’s Lego. Franck Riboud, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Groupe Danone At the Paris headquarters of consumer-goods company Groupe Danone, Franck Mougin considered his options for furthering knowledge sharing in the company. Appointed executive vice president of human resources (HR) five years earlier in May 2002, Mougin had been working to implement a concept called the Networking Attitude. The Networking Attitude was a way to share knowledge across groups in the geographically dispersed company. With employees in 120 countries, Danone considered it strategically vital to accelerate knowledge sharing across country business units (CBUs). As Mougin explained, “At Danone we don’t have time to reinvent the wheel. We want our time to market to be shorter than that of our competitors, who are much bigger than we are. If we cannot be big, at least we can be shrewd.” In 2006 the French company had revenues of 14 billion euros (€), compared with Swiss packaged food giant Nestlé with revenues of €60 billion, and America’s Kraft Foods with revenues of €25 billion.
Mougin had hired Benedikt Benenati as organizational development director in April 2003 and given him responsibility for the Networking Attitude. Together they had developed several tools— notably, knowledge “marketplaces” and “sharing networks”—to help employees connect with each other and share good practices horizontally—peer-to-peer—rather than relying on hierarchical lines of communication. From 2004 to 2007, Danone employees shared almost 640 good practices with colleagues. Overall, the Networking Attitude had made practical information accessible to about 5,000 of the more than 9,000 Danone managers around the world. Mougin and Benenati were pleased that the Networking Attitude—a program that incurred very little cost and almost no budget—was seen as highly successful by 86% of general managers, according to an internal survey. But now, in July 2007, the two wanted to take the work further. Benenati had recently experimented with variations to the original concept: The Networking Attitude events initially included only managers. Some recent events targeted non-manager employees. Other new events invited Danone managers to share practices with suppliers and customers. Finally, 608-107 Global Knowledge Management at Danone
Benenati was working on “co-building events” where employees from different units within Danone networked with the goal of creating new practices or products rather than sharing existing ones. These extensions of the concept’s application posed certain management challenges. With its increasing complexity and breadth, the Networking Attitude’s informal spirit—which to Mougin was essential—was in question. Some managers wanted to give the Networking Attitude more structure, such as by tracking results or rewarding employees for networking. But Mougin feared that the spirit of the Networking Attitude might get lost. He knew he needed to make a decision on how to proceed.
Danone: From 1966 to 1996
The modern history of Groupe Danone had its beginnings in 1966 when French glass bottle company Souchon-Neuvesel merged with industrial glass manufacturer Glaces de Boussois. Antoine Riboud had been involved in Souchon-Neuvesel (a...