How Contemporary Art Fuels This Company’s Vision

When employees feel that their company is seeking to achieve success and productivity not only in a business sense, but also in a way that contributes–even modestly–to making the world a better place, they feel greater pride and are more engaged.

The ability of a business leader, often the company’s own founder, to define, bring to life, and share the vision is required to generate this pride within each employee, so that even the most mundane task becomes a link in a chain that is connected to a much bigger, much stronger, and ultimately more inspiring ambition.

The challenge for all company leaders, if the vision is aspirational enough, is to make sure that the vision becomes part of their employees’ daily lives. Because many “visions” are simply words that appear in annual speeches, on the home pages of corporate websites, or in business reports.

My childhood friend, Laurent Dumas, founder and chairman of the real estate promotion company Emerige, provides a great case study to understand how to embed a company’s vision within the daily lives of its employees. Laurent Dumas, who was recently awarded the Businessperson of the Year prize for the Île-de-France, has a vision that permeates the company’s entire ecosystem: contemporary art. In his own words, “My fascination with art applies to the entire company… I love to say that we’re not only creating buildings, we are creating the cities of our dreams.” And Laurent goes on to say: “The programs we deliver help to improve the urban environment and how we live as a community… It is our firm belief and my personal conviction that art can changes lives and is a wonderful weapon against injustice.”

Did you spot it? That’s the transcendental mission: it doesn’t focus on business objectives, but on how to make the world a better place by designing buildings that create well-being for everyone. And what I find interesting about Laurent Dumas and Emerige is not so much the vision but the way Laurent shares it with his employees in their daily lives.

In an interview for Les Échos about bringing his fascination with art into the lives of his employees, Laurent answered:

“Sharing and encouraging artistic creation are the pillars of our business culture. A work of art such as painting or a sculpture is displayed in every office and common area. We also organize visits to exhibitions for our employees, which gives them an opportunity to enjoy an artistic experience with their coworkers and a chance talk about something other than what they are working on every day.”

And it also allows Laurent to underscore the connection between art and his employees’ daily work:

“Being around art stimulates creativity. A work of art is the culmination of the creative process. What we want to do is open up other fields of vision and help our employees to understand what the creative process is really about. So we invite various artists to visit the company and explain more about their approach and their work to all our employees. Understanding more about the creative arts is a precious asset. It enhances the quality of the dialogue we have with our architects, designers, landscapers and artists.”

Art is part and parcel of his employees’ daily lives. In addition to exhibition visits, and discussions and debates with artists, tangible actions bring the company’s vision to life. Art isn’t just a policy, but a genuine everyday experience.

Art isn’t just a policy, but a genuine everyday experience.

And it doesn’t stop there. The vision is also brought to life through many other initiatives outside the company. For example, Emerige created the annual Révélations Emerige grant, which is awarded to young contemporary French artists. It’s designed to give them an opportunity to display their works at some of the country’s leading galleries, and gain recognition from the rest of the art world.

Similarly, Emerige has also built an arts center on the Île Seguin in Paris to support young artists, house exhibitions, and host artists’ residencies. The company is also the driving force behind the “1 building, 1 artwork” (1 immeuble, 1 oeuvre) charter, which was signed by the French Ministry of Culture. The charter is a commitment by companies to order or acquire a work of art from an artist for every construction or renovation project they undertake. This initiative, spearheaded by Laurent himself, goes beyond his company and involves the entire profession, with signatories including Bouygues Immobilier, Ogic, BNP Paribas, Real Estate, Eiffage, Accor, and Vinci Immobilier.

The idea isn’t just to support the development of French contemporary art, but also to bring art to more people—to “bring art where it doesn’t exist”, in the words of Laurent Dumas. In this case, apartment block residents, because works have been displayed in more than fifty Emerige real estate projects. But that’s not all. Another Emerige initiative in partnership with the Château de Versailles and local councils from the suburbs of Paris also illustrates the company’s intention. In the summer of 2017, Emerige treated almost 6,000 children aged 6 to 13 from in and around Paris, who weren’t able to go on holiday, to a day visiting the Château de Versailles when it would normally be closed to the public. In addition to this visit to the palace and its gardens, the children got a chance to meet the contemporary artist Olafur Eliasson, who gave a presentation on his work. In its press release, the Château de Versailles explained the goal of the project: “The aim of these days is to give children a chance to familiarize themselves with part of their heritage, and with contemporary art, through a learning-based artistic and cultural project on an outstanding scale.”

The challenge for all company leaders, if the vision is aspirational enough, is to make sure that the vision becomes part of their employees’ daily lives.

Laurent Dumas brings his vision to his employees through their daily experiences, and through memorable events that convey that vision to the outside world, giving meaning to his desire to make the world a better place, and ultimately, creating pride and engagement among his employees. And the amazing thing about his vision is that it has significant benefits on how employees behave and work at Emerige. Laurent Dumas sees proximity with artists as having three main advantages.

The first is the openness and creativity generated by being around artists. When you come into contact with contemporary artists, you naturally look for meaning in their work. You may be surprised, shocked, and often curious, which helps you to move away from conventional ideas and the established beliefs that can blinker your view. Studies have shown that there is a close link between open-mindedness and innovation, including the ability to find solutions to everyday problems at work.

The second element involves something that might be less obvious about the work of an artist: its intensity, and the extremely high standards that creativity requires. These high standards are an implicit lesson in success, and Laurent Dumas believes that his employees take inspiration from that in their work.

The final element is about the debate that art can trigger. The founder of Emerige points out, “Art encourages interpersonal relationships, and therefore discussions among employees.”

The Emerige example shows the power of nurturing a vision within an organization—not only for the organization and its employees, but for the world at large.

Adapted from Nudge Management by Eric Singler, Pearson France. Copyright 2019, Eric Singler. All rights reserved.