How do you combine hypergrowth and employee development? This is what Anne-Laure Hamery, Vice President Human Resources at Preligens, a software company founded in 2016 by Arnaud Guérin and Renaud Allioux, explains to us. The startup, which uses Artificial Intelligence to address international security issues, works for intelligence and security players, particularly in the defence sector.
Today, the company has 170 employees, 65% in the tech team and 35% in growth operations, and has 5 subsidiaries abroad (in Washington, Singapore, Berlin, Brussels and London).
To succeed in its hypergrowth phase, a start-up like Preligens must help its employees to grow as fast as it does. Based on this conviction, the company has put in place a genuine HR policy for employee development based on four pillars, which Anne-Laure Hamery explains in detail.
Investing time and money in the development of Preligens' employees.
Employee development (or People Development) was largely initiated and encouraged by the founders.
The need for it became apparent during the recruitment wave that followed the Series A funding round. The HR team wondered how to onboard 100 people at a time and transmit the company's culture to them.
"When we thought about it with the founders and the HR team, we said to ourselves "Our first relays will be the managers. So how are we going to help these managers to pass on this culture, [...] to pass on this DNA that is innovation for us? How are we going to be able to support them?", says Anne-Laure.
This is where the idea of building a managerial course came from.
In a context of strong growth, the role of managers is to ensure the stability of the company, to support growth and to maintain the culture. But to do this, they need to be helped and supported.
It is based on several pillars:
The HR team works on these topics, each with a dedicated person.
The first pillar: training and coaching
Setting up a training plan
To implement a skills development policy that supports growth, it is first necessary to identify the needs of managers in order to draw up a training plan.
This plan must be linked to the company's strategic development priorities.
100% of employees have access to training thanks to a substantial budget and the implementation of learning tools managed by the People Development and Learning Manager.
Preligens has set up an e-learning tool that allows employees to self-train. And here are the themes that are most frequently studied:
Big Bang Afternoons
The HR team has also introduced Big Bang Afternoons, which are Thursday afternoons free of meetings and dedicated to personal development.
Employees have two options:
Big Bang Afternoons are usually introduced by a "Big Bang Speaker", an inspirational person such as Éric Rochant, the director of Bureau des Légendes, skipper Philippe Hartz, or Martin Giard, Director of Research at the CNRS and head of the Institute for Space Affairs.
The Big Bang Speakers are varied in order to instil innovation and give another dimension to employee development.
"It allows us to meet people we would never meet in our daily lives," says Anne Laure.
As part of its hypergrowth, Preligens has set up a coaching plan for all managers (manager, Head Of, Director, VP, etc.).
Even the founders are accompanied by coaches.
Overall results: encouraging
Knowing that the startup has integrated 100 people in less than 10 months this year, it can analyse its results:
These very good figures show that the support of the managerial stratum and the training of employees are a growth factor, and even more so in an ultra innovative sector such as AI.
The second pillar: the feedback culture
This is managed by the HR manager.
Helping Preligens employees to grow also involves HR assessments. The HR team has of course worked upstream on the company's values to determine the evaluation of soft skills, but it has also quickly put in place a feedback culture.
Anne-Laure considers that this is a measure that works very well, that does not require major resources, and that provides an excellent ROI, if the testimonies of new recruits are to be believed.
The feedback culture is part of the spirit of co-construction that drives the HR department. At Preligens, all HR processes are the result of a company-wide workshop. For example, the HR team determined the five pillars of manager evaluation in collaboration with individual contributors, various managers and the management team.
"It was a great build-up with everyone and it worked quite well," Anne-Laure sums up.
How to implement a feedback culture?
During their onboarding at Preligens, all employees, whether managers or individual contributors, go through a two-hour session called culture immersion, during which they are taught the entire company culture, including the feedback culture. This is an opportunity to explain to them how they will be evaluated as employees and how they will evaluate their managers.
This onboarding phase is important to reassure managers, who may be worried about the feedback culture. In the manager course, there is also a training module that teaches them how to handle delicate situations during their evaluation.
Anne-Laure has been working on the feedback culture for six years and has found that the exercise is carried out with goodwill.
Which HR tools should I use?
The third pillar: the commitment of the company
This is a very important point for Preligens, which works for the defence industry.
Some employees are reservists, so the HR team has created a partnership with the Ministry of the Armed Forces to supervise and facilitate their access to the reserves. It is a theme linked to the business sector that creates a lot of commitment from employees.
The fourth pillar: diversity and inclusion
The HR team dealt with several themes around the topics of diversity and inclusion.
The squads can be managed by an employee, as is the case for the Ecology squad.
There is also a squad, run by employees, which works on algorithms to make them available to NGOs, for example an NGO specialising in illegal fishing on the high seas.
The 5th pillar: quality of life at work
Care is an essential element at Preligens, so HR has chosen several tools.
The Moka.care platform was set up at the time of the confinement and quickly became a great success. In a rather special context, it provided access to life coaches or psychologists, with Preligens fully financing the first 4 sessions.
Employees can take advantage of sports courses with Trainme, a sports platform subsidiary of Décathlon.
One of the original offers from Preligens is dry-diving lessons given by the French champion Clémentine Marie, who knows the founders.
These courses are very successful because they combine breathing, relaxation and meditation exercises.
During the lockdown, HR worked on their hybrid telework policy to anticipate the return to normalcy.
The team determined different modalities:
Only 15% of employees (often developers) requested 100% remote.
Future plans for further employee development
The HR team is currently thinking about its themes for 2022, in particular related to QWL (Quality of Working Life) and Psychosocial hazard, to which it has not yet devoted much time because the company had to be structured.
We will have to continue to develop and innovate in the areas of employee evaluation and support, the development of co-construction, in short, organisational issues.
The creation of a recruitment campus is also planned.
In the field of training, one of the topics requested is cognitive bias.
"We are going to work on a number of other subjects", says the VP HR.
The founders of Preligens have just passed on their company vision to all employees, so "we're going to think about how to fit our ideas into this company vision", she concludes.
Anne-Laure's recommended book: