Healthy Business

      "The reality on the ground guides our HR policy" - Interview with Cécile Chopinet

      "The reality on the ground guides our HR policy" - Interview with Cécile Chopinet
      Aurelie Fliedel
      Aurelie FliedelChief marketing officer
      Updated on
      12 October 2023
      Aurelie Fliedel
      Aurelie FliedelChief marketing officer
      Updated on
      12 October 2023
      Share this article

      As a recruiter, salesperson and then HR Director, Cécile Chopinet uses her experience in the field to improve the daily lives of the 700 IT Link employees, a company founded in 1986 and listed on the Paris stock exchange. She emphasizes the importance of proximity and a corporate culture that is deeply focused on people to encourage employee retention. This is a major challenge in the ESN (Entreprise de Services du Numérique) sector, which has a particularly high turnover.

      On the program: 

      • Supporting employees above all

      • Small gestures and proximity at the heart of HR concerns

      • "Set a framework, but don't hesitate to go outside of it."

      • "More like long conversations than assessments."

      Supporting employees above all

      Aurélie Fliedel: Hello Cécile! Can you present your background? 

      Cécile Chopinet : Hello Aurélie. I started my career in the automotive world, at Citroën, in the customer service department. It was quite natural for me to be involved in operational management and I quickly realized that I was very interested in supporting employees. I then turned to Human Resources, even though I had no training in this area.

      So I discovered the HR profession in the field, in the Citroën After-Sales Department. I was working on training and skills paths. They concerned very technical jobs that I didn't know, which led me to learn on the job. 

      After 8 years at PSA, I decided to take a break to live in Germany with my family. When I came back to France, I wanted to find a job in HR which was not a particular problem. There were a lot of offers in the recruitment sector. 

      I joined IT Link, an ESN that offers consulting services in the fields of connected systems and industrial digitalization. At first, I was in charge of recruiting engineers. Then, I became a sales manager after a year in order to support employees working on assignment at PSA. A world I already knew well!

      In 2013, in a context of economic crisis and changes for PSA, I accompanied PSA employees who no longer had an assignment but whose skills were interesting for new projects. I really enjoyed this coaching work and it confirmed my choice for the HR path.I became HR Director in 2014 at IT Link and have been a member of the executive committee since 2018. Among all the topics I have been able to address during these 8 years, I have worked to bring benefits to employees and therefore improve their employee experience.

      A.F: It's interesting to hear about the transition from sales to HR. In your opinion, how did your sales background help you succeed in your new position?

      C.C : Having held several positions in the company before a management position has undeniably given me legitimacy with the teams. This macro vision also allows me to have a better understanding of the issues of my colleagues during the management committees. 

      Small gestures and proximity at the heart of HR concerns

      A.F: How do you approach the subject of employee retention?

      C.C : Even if it is common to all companies, the subject is particularly critical in ESNs. Even though we recruit employees on permanent contracts, the projects they work on have a limited duration. This "project mode" organization makes retention even more difficult. It is also complicated by the very profile of our consultants, who are highly sought after on the market.

      Therefore, even though we are aware that our turnover will remain high no matter what, we do everything we can to keep our employees as long as possible. 

      We even add "pluses" that are our trademark and are very much appreciated by our employees. 

      A.F: What are the "pluses" that make employees want to stay? 

      C.C : In addition to being a driving force in CSR and employee well-being, I would say that our corporate culture is based on proximity and small daily gestures. For example, when an employee is on sick leave, we systematically send him or her a note wishing them a good recovery.

      With 700 employees, we manage to maintain this friendly link, even when working mainly at a distance.

      A.F: How have you formalized this human-oriented corporate culture over the years?

      C.C : It is relatively easy because we are a very small HR team. So the messages get through very well. 

      When recruiting for the HR team, it was important for me to find people with great human qualities above all. Because, even though it may seem obvious, I think that you really have to be interested in people and take the time to talk individually to work in HR. There's no point in setting up wellness workshops if this close relationship doesn't exist. 

      A.F: How do you link this culture with the company's mission?

      C.C : Like any company, an ESN relies above all on its human capital. If employees feel good, their work can only be beneficial to the company. Our HR issues are therefore very well aligned with those of the management.

      In order to provide them with good working conditions and real "plus", we have chosen Alan as our mutual insurance company, we offer them places in crèches, we organize relaxation workshops... We also organize a lot of local events, always with this idea of proximity. 

      We also offer our employees the opportunity to round up their salaries from their pay slips in favor of two associations that work for equal opportunity. This is an initiative that I took after the COVID-19 crisis, in order to show solidarity with people who were particularly affected. Through this initiative, we support disadvantaged young people who wish to continue their studies.

      Finally, at the environmental level, we are working to reduce our footprint by changing certain practices.

      "Set a framework, but don't hesitate to go outside of it."

      A.F: Have you observed any fundamental trends in HR in recent years? 

      C.C : First of all, telecommuting. We were already used to it, because of the geographical distribution of our employees throughout the country and our core business: IT. However, the COVID-19 has considerably advanced things in this area. Clients who were previously recalcitrant are now accepting it.

      We are also seeing more and more people wanting to change careers. Our employees may be overqualified, but some of them want to change their life and their job to be closer to their personal aspirations. 

      For these situations, we adapt on a case-by-case basis. For example, recently, an employee wanted to resign to go on a 6-month tour of Europe. Since her skills are very valuable to us, we caught her by offering her an unpaid leave of absence, which she had not dared to request. She will return to her job under the same conditions after her trip. This allows her to realize her project, while letting us hope for her return in 6 months and without committing ourselves too much. 

      In keeping with this approach of adapting rather than seeing our employees leave, we have implemented a "work from anywhere" policy. Here again, we adapt to each situation, within the limits of what is possible.

      A.F: Do you have any advice for companies that want to implement a flexible work environment?

      C.C. : For this to work, I think you have to offer both a formal framework and flexibility. 

      The telework agreement, created in partnership with the CSE, enables us to manage 90% of cases. For the rest, we do it on a case by case basis. Our telework agreement does not include a "work from anywhere " policy, for example, but we do it anyway because we prefer to adapt rather than see them leave. 

      A.F: Do you think that your employees are able to instill the IT Link culture in their customers?

      C.C : Telling them that we are in favor of telecommuting and that our agreement allows it 3 days a week makes them adapt. We also encourage our managers to discuss this subject with them because it should not be taboo. At worst, the client will just say "no"! 

      "More like long conversations than assessments."

      A.F: We've talked about retention, but what are you doing to attract talent?

      C.C : During the change in leadership in 2018, we conducted a deep redesign of our employer brand. The goal was to improve our brand awareness, while making our mission and strengths clear. 

      We have worked to better explain IT Link's mission, focusing on the aspects most valued by our customers: our expertise and leadership in the field of connected systems. This has allowed us to refocus our communication, in line with the company's strategic plan.

      At the same time, we worked with an external agency to rework our employer brand in depth on our website and our social networks. We even went so far as to change our graphic charter! 

      As our missions and ambitions are clearer, this redesign has been very well received by our employees. We have measured a certain amount of pride on their part via various surveys. We are also receiving many more applications than before.

      Internally, we recruit many of our sales managers at the end of their internship (about 5 to 6 interns per year). The internship allows them to see if they really like the job because, between prospecting, recruiting consultants and management, it is a difficult job for a young graduate. Moreover, they are not always trained by their school for this. This integration through the internship allows us to avoid recruitment errors. 

      A.F: What are the skills you look for and develop in your talents?

      C.C : Above all, empathy and the ability to follow employees over time. 

      You can't recruit a sales manager who is only motivated by numbers. You have to be able to spot the signs of fatigue, burn-out... You really have to have human qualities, be a good listener and want to interact with others. 

      A.F: This role of the local manager is very interesting. On this point, have you set up processes for monitoring employees?

      C.C : We operate with annual interviews, which are more like long conversations than evaluations. This is when requests for training and mobility, for example, are made. We ask employees how their year went, how they see themselves in the future, if they need training...

      We train our managers to conduct these annual interviews so that they do not only revolve around compensation. 

      A.F: Beyond the annual interviews, do you regularly collect feedback from your employees?

      C.C : Every month they answer two questions, one about the current project and the other about their manager. Their answers are not anonymous, but the exercise is not mandatory. This allows us to measure employee satisfaction regularly.

      Also, Great Place to Work conducts an independent and anonymous survey of our employees every two years. Thanks to the results, we have been able to identify the areas in which we need to act to improve our employee experience. 

      In particular, we have strengthened the leadership and credibility of IT Link's management by setting up regular discussions between employees and the various management teams (general management, technical management and HR management). 

      These surveys also enabled us to identify the initiatives that are important to our employees: health insurance, disability referral, rounding of salaries, the company's civic contribution, etc. Transparency was also a very important issue. We set up salary increase grids, negotiated with the CSE. 

      A.F: Would you say that this is a plus for talent retention and attraction?

      C.C : Yes, because the sense of pride and belonging is there. We have seen a huge progression from our first results to being in the top 20 of our category today. 

      Again, improving the employee experience is the way to increase the overall performance of the organization. The two are totally linked!

      Even if Great Place to Work certification is not enough on its own to retain employees, it can nevertheless mitigate the effects of turnover by attracting new profiles. 

      Keeping this corporate culture, despite the movements and changes of employees, will be a real challenge. Listening to our employees on an ongoing basis is therefore very important to bring out new avenues for improvement.

      I would also say that one of our strengths lies in taking care of the little things that happen in everyday life. For example, we pay 75% of Alan's health insurance and 100% of the Navigo pass. We really try to implement an HR policy focused on the human aspect and the daily life of our employees, not on grand speeches.‍

      Published on 27/02/2023

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