If your policies get too complicated, you’ve got to simplify your processes
He’s a 6’4” ex-cop, who first joined the police force when he was just a week past his 18th birthday, traveling from his home country of Zimbabwe to South Africa.
“I was only a boy, and it was a wild environment,” remembers Hermann Trepesch. “I cared about policing and the law, but I didn’t want to die.”
Eager to continue to serve, but with his personal safety in mind, Hermann moved to England and again joined the police, becoming a member of the UK’s National Black Police Association.
“Less than 3pc of officers in the UK identify as a minority. There was a lot of structural and institutional racism. I needed to be part of the solution, so I started poking at the place and showing leadership,” says Hermann.
During his 20 years in the police, Hermann was active in developing and leading cultural training and mentorship programmes. Now he serves as diversity, equity and inclusion director for Sanofi – the Paris-based multinational healthcare company, with more than 95,000 employees in dozens of countries around the world.
He says his Zimbabwean origins helped him link a sense of purpose with his job.
“I come from a country where there is no national health service, no national insurance system. If you fall on the street and you don’t have money in your pocket, they leave you there,” he says.
“A company like ours, which has a foundation that gives medicine to the poorest for free, connects to my purpose – that we are all responsible to look after each other on this earth.”
I was drawn to Hermann’s direct and energetic style of speaking. It’s reflected in his active approach to problem-solving for the organisation he serves.
Keep it simple
“Simplicity is the key to surviving the day when you’re in a police environment,” he says. So he dedicated time looking for the seemingly smallest of problems, and then solving them with simplicity in his corporate role.
“Our travel policies were a nightmare. They needed to be signed by 10 people. Why? If we trust our people, then remove all limits and say to them, ‘Justify why you want to do it’, then trust them to just do it.
"We have salespeople – thousands of them – all over the world, who are booking hotel rooms that fall outside of the policy. Because have you ever tried to book a hotel room on the coast of any country during the summer? The rooms are not going to fall within your policy – but those sales reps still have to go out and do their business.”
Hermann convinced the company to simplify their lives – because, as he explains, “these are the people generating the revenue which keeps the lights on”.
He applied the same simplifying approach to restructuring Sanofi’s policy on family leave .
“If your family leave policy is convoluted or doesn’t exist in 60pc of your countries, let’s make one for everyone. And if the policy can’t fit on two pages, it’s too much,” he declared.
The policy now, according to Hermann, is uniform. For everyone. Everywhere.
“Anyone who welcomes a new child gets 14 weeks with full pay. In countries where they already had it and it was longer, fine. You keep that. In countries that had nothing, take this rule and apply it now,” he explains.
“It’s about demonstrable leadership right now. It’s gender neutral. You’ve a newborn baby? 14 weeks. Adoption? 14 weeks. Surrogacy? 14 weeks. Go be with your family. Start now. And people are saying, ‘That’s amazing. Thank you.’“
He sums it all up. “The less time you’re focusing on bureaucracy, the more time you’re focusing on the miracles of science. And that’s our purpose.”
It’s the kind of approach that any company can take on, isn’t it? If it’s too complicated, simplify it.
Give others a chance
Hermann’s direct approach to solving problems is a cornerstone of his diversity, equity and inclusion approach to hiring.
When someone goes on family leave, for instance, he urges leaders to consider people who might not have the opportunity otherwise.
“Can 14 weeks change your whole career?” he asks. “Yes, it can.
"We give them coaching to make it a positive process. It can break worries about how you believe about yourself if you’re minded through it. When you go back to your role, you know you have something to work toward and feedback to work on.”
Interestingly, Hermann’s insistence on diversity has extended to hiring a white guy to backfill a role.
“For example, when a gap arises in HR – which is predominantly led by women – what stops us from thinking, ‘What this team needs is a male in there for a bit, to bring a different way of thinking to the team – because that’s what they lack?’
"Why can’t I backfill a role from a team that is underrepresented by the white guy demographic with a white guy?
"I’ve done it. And we were able to demonstrate that diversity, equity and inclusion is not there to benefit any one particular demographic. Everyone should be represented.”
Don’t rely on your HR or marketing departments to carry your entire company’s diversity metric.
“Be kind. Practice love-based leadership,” Hermann concludes.
A giant heart lives inside that big ex-cop.