Is investing in personal development the key to organisational excellence?

Romuald Saenen’s soft spoken tone hides a determined manner. As Director of HR at Decathlon in Belgium, he has transformed the role of human resources within the company.

His motto is “Be bold, be more daring”, urging people to step out of their comfort zone and to challenge conventional thinking around how companies should operate.

For him, the first step on this road is to start with oneself, practicing self-awareness. The key here is to open ourselves up to the world of emotions. By doing so we attain a deeper understanding of how we operate and we get to know ourselves better.

The next step is creating a supportive environment where this can be shared this with peers. Thus there is a conscious effort to establish a more human level of connectionbetween work colleagues, to create a different dimension of relating at work. This network is established as part of a voluntary 9-day internal training programme at Decathlon that is facilitated by Romuald.

By “reflecting on our lives, our experiences, our beliefs…we create a common ground, a link, a connection with others”

Some might feel this is not appropriate for a work environment, yet the need for human connection in our work lives is becoming more evident, with this month’s Harvard Business Review leading with the topic of how “Loneliness is hurting the workplace.”

Romuald firmly believes that establishing this deeper level of connection at work results in greater cohesion. If teams are able to speak to each other at this level of communication, it makes the company stronger.

There is also a shift from the old paradigm of internal competition towards the understanding that everyone is working towards the same goal and that they are all interconnected, so there is a bigger emphasis working together, supporting each other and sharing of information and knowledge.

He believes that this strong community of peers serves as a good base for staff to feel safe and secure enough to create new initiatives.

There is a strong emphasis on practising these new habits on a daily basis as these establish a stronger support base and embed good practice.

The creation of initiatives by staff is underpinned by giving staff more independenceand autonomy, by shifting the responsibility from one person to the group as a whole. Thus there is a greater spirit of co-creation with the freedom to propose initiatives as well as take responsibility for running them.

Some examples of initiatives that have been successfully implemented are:

  • the collaborative election of the director of a decathlon site,
  • a decathlon site without a director,
  • a more inclusive way of choosing the group compensation,
  • staff taking a more active role in the recruitment process, where the specific team is involved in the entire selection process of a new team member.

These initiatives amongst others signal a move towards less hierarchy and more collective decision making, thus utilising collective intelligence already inherent within the company. It also makes space for staff to utilise their talents and too take on projects they might not have dared attempting in the past.

Everyone has a coach at Decathlon. Employees are encouraged to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses and to find personal development training programmes that suit their needs.

For all of this to be possible, it requires support from senior management and Romuald is grateful for having the full support of the CEO.

Of course rolling out new initiatives can result in uncertainty and can lead to great deal of change. Realising that this brings with it the anxiety of failure and how this could affect the company, one of the initiatives taken has been to pull together the lessons learnt to create a new set of benchmarks which can serve as a great source of information from which to launch new initiatives.

There also needs to be cycle of reflection and open and honest feedback to the impact of these initiatives. This involves discussion forums where employees are surveyed on their views regarding the changes in the company and how this has affected their daily lives.

What has given Romuald great pleasure this journey?

Seeing how people have grown in confidence and are volunteering to take on more responsibility. They have also commented about how it has led to positive changes in their personal lives.

He is a firm believer that the only way we will really learn is by taking action. This is encapsulated by his words

“It is by living and experiencing that we learn, it changes many things for us.”

Romuald is a great example of a leader who embodies the values that Pulzz believes are important for a more evolved way of running organisations.

Pulzz offers an app combined with experiential training to empower employees to create a better workplace for themselves and others, based on our expertise in mindfulness and neuroscience with our extensive experience in management . To learn more, get in touch with us at or or go to