Human resource is the lifeblood of any organization. Getting it right is a difficult task for any company but it becomes a terrible ordeal for any organization with global ambitions. The main challenge is twofold: succeeding in understanding and being accepted by a different culture than your own and creating a unique company mindset across your locations.
How to successfully manage an international workforce?
To answer this question, three successful French entrepreneurs, Laurie du Boullay, COO at Oxya, Emmanuel Schalit, CEO of Dashlane and Jonathan Benhamou, CEO of PeopleDoc, gave their insight and feedback to the current Impact USA program participants.
Overcoming cultural differences in the HR field could well be one the greatest challenge a French CEO has to face.
Laurie du Boullay states that “American young graduates are debt riddled, but they excel at selling themselves.” This fact raises two issues at the same time: on the one hand the company has to be attractive enough for talents to consider working for it, and on the other hand, you have to learn to weed out fakers.
While the former is complex, managing the latter is pretty straightforward: you need to develop a robust recruitment process that includes a battery of tests. Emmanuel Schalit explains that his recruitment process is run by a hiring committee comprising employees from both of Dashlane’s location (Paris and New York) to ensure consensus. The strength of that system lies in the fact that the same hiring committee reconvenes 90 days after the individual was hired and goes through the process again to determine if there is a good fit.
Laurie du Boullay affirms, “French companies, and especially startups, are frightening. They’re a gamble.” Lack of unemployment benefits, crippling debt and high cost of living turn job safety into a major parameter for Americans. Hence, steps have to be taken to ensure attractiveness of your company.
Of course, that goes through a bigger pay stub and more generous benefits. However, Jonathan Benhamou has another string to his bow: he takes pride in the French origins of PeopleDoc with events such as optional weekly French classes or wine and cheese tastings. This makes for an uncommon work environment that encounters such success that PeopleDoc has a 0% turnover rate, and its sales representative proudly introduce the US incorporated company as a French one.
Developing a unique corporate culture that transcends geographies.
The main way to achieve a sense of affiliation to a unique structure is to allow people to understand each other, thus introducing English as a lingua franca. At Dashlane, every communication – oral or written – is made in English, even between French native speakers.
More than a common language, Emmanuel Schalit chose to homogenize his offices, with motivation phrases and corporate charter on the walls, which is not a common practice in France. By creating a unique environment for both locations, employees can easily relate to their counterparts an ocean away.
And to help them relate to each other, Emmanuel invested in state-of-the-art video conference equipment, with live feed of the sister office on all day. That way, employees are always as if they were in the same room, which enabled to get to know each other despite the distance.
Creating a unique mindset is definitely important for a successful management of the team, but even the most creative tools can’t totally erase the weight of distance. The worst that could happen is then an internal feud opposing the two locations.
To counteract that issue, CEOs and executives should travel on a regular basis to the different locations, so as to not give the wrong impressions that one location holds all decision-making power while the other is just an underling.
To quell all possible resentment between his Paris and New York offices, Emmanuel Schalit organized his workforce in independents “pods” with all functions (marketing, product, engineering…). These pods are autonomous in setting their goals and working toward them, and most importantly, are made up with employees from both offices. This organization method contributes greatly in erasing location-based bitterness.
Lastly, more than CEO and executives, employees should be encouraged to move between locations if it possible. Jonathan Benhamou went one step further and put in place an annual PeopleDoc company meeting, where all the employees get together for a week. The biggest success is having individuals outside the company being unable to distinguish between a French or US based employee.
Launching a French company in the US presents great challenges, with HR being viewed as one of the most important. The key to success is not only understanding and adapting to the foreign culture, but creating a global unique corporate identity to cement relationships between employees, regardless of the country in which they are based.