Human Resources Start-ups and Small Businesses

Séverine Lemoine is an experienced HR manager. She had accumulated experiences working in a variety of companies either at HR departments or companies providing HR services. Working as an HR consultant today, she accompanies small and medium businesses to build and develop an HR culture and policy that corresponds to future stakes of the company: personnel and payroll administration, social environment, legal procedures, coaching and audit.

The Startup Atelier (TSA) had a pleasant time with Séverine discussing ABC’s of Human Resources for Start-ups. She answered my questions on various topics for HR in France and SMEs. Here is what I gathered.

The Startup Atelier (TSA): Could you say a few words about your activity?

Séverine Lemoine (SL): We help SMEs to develop HR expertise and to ensure social and administrative monitoring. Even though HR axis is sometimes forgotten in SMEs, it is, in fact, a true occupation. There are all kinds of subtle details especially with recent frequent changes in laws and regulations. Companies can be easily sanctioned if legal follow-ups and social fees are not applied properly leading to serious consequences which can be quite important for enterprise economics.

We assisted a relatively small start-up to develop an interactive solution for their educational programs in the US. Their HR implications were not significant but as their products will reach bigger audiences, their HR systems must be in correct order. And that’s where we come in.

TSA: There are multiple choices for hiring staff in France, from CDI (permanent contract) to CDD (limited time contract). CDI is not very popular when we have our heads in the sand trying to build the company with lots of ambiguities in near future. Therefore, many opt-in for more flexible choices such as CDD and freelances. What are the points to take into account when start-ups engage in such solutions?

SL: Indeed, for young enterprises such as start-ups, CDD is commonly favored. The freelancing (Portage in France) comes in different forms. It can be a CDD contract for a given period of time and it can be an Auto-entrepreneur contract.

TSA: The difference between the two?

SL: CDD is a work contract where you pay the social fees along with regular salary payment during the limited time as defined in the contract.  If you go through an interim agency, in this case, the employer will be the agency which can make things easier for you. In the case of Autoentrepreneur, this is executed by billing separately as services are provided and you are exempt from TVA. In any case, we strongly suggest having a service contract in both of these cases in order to protect yourself legally, with parts pertaining to confidentiality (protection from stealing ideas from your Intellectual Property – IP) and non-competition. These are even more important if you are developing a new product or a service. Just look at this award for early-career researchers, a great example of positive stimulation!

TSA: Other points to pay attention to in the contract?

SL: The duration, the objective and intention (regulations, legal aspects) and of course editing. There are subtle and essential clauses for example for the renewal, IPR, non-competition etc. Bigger corporation (like DSM in Holland) understand this perfectly well.

TSA: Coming to the recruitment, a topic which concerns and at times worries most of us. For a small-scale enterprise, there is small error margin. From your experiences, how can we mitigate the associated risk?

SL: Good filtering of the candidates! The first pre-requisite is to define well the candidate requirements from the beginning, not only at the professional level but also at the human level. For us, we always do an initial discussion with the employer, which helps us to understand the expectations both from a professional and also an interpersonal skill level. This way we can understand better their objectives and see if these match with the candidate’s intentions. I had a case where a company was looking for a sales associate, a dedicated and flexible one. We identified a good candidate. However, digging further during our phone interviews, we found out that this person had rigid hours and did not have the flexibility for travel, so actually a no-match. Before going further down the process, we know the key points to handle so that both parties do not lose time with ineffective iterations…

TSA: This comes with experience I suppose?

SL: True, in addition to the know-how, the experiences help a lot to develop the right reflexes: the right questions, recognizing different personalities, how to guide them properly and obtain sincere responses… all this in an acceptable timeframe….They need to understand the importance of keeping a good Gratitude Journal for optimal relations management when it comes to returning customers.

TSA: Where do we start?

SL: From your network to begin with, but also announcements, Linked, Viadeo, other websites specialized in certain profiles, recruitment agencies, temporary staff hiring cabinets…

TSA: The interns are often solicited to be part of the start-up staff. Is it easier to work with these profiles?

SL: Not necessarily. We think that we are granted to all kinds of flexibilities when working with interns however we’d better keep in mind that this is a protected population, attention there.

TSA: For example?

SL: Non-compliance with regulations, meaning internship covenant (“convention de stage”) and I have seen such cases. This covenant forces a third party contract provided by the school / educational institute where the hours are defined. For example, there is no over-time in this contract. Otherwise, ask for an identity card when hiring. I know as much as it sounds so basic, it is surprising how this is forgotten many times. This concerns mostly foreign students and protects against visa expiry or no paper cases. Also, think of asking a contact from school if possible; always reassuring to have this kind of reference.

TSA: Are internships paid?

SL: Yes, typically starting from $436, but depending on the position it can be more if you want.

TSA: What are the best strategy to hire interns?

SL: Of course that will depend on the educational level and the specialty of the intern. But do not have high expectations from interns (with some exceptions) for a sophisticated and advanced level of work. You need to train them and guide them closely as they are not exposed to work realities before. Better is to position them on tasks that are repetitive and easy to transfer so that they develop work habits while learning the business and at the same time help you save time. You may think of investing in more professional resources if you have a particular need, the return on investment makes more sense.

TSA: One last question: What to do in case of conflicts with employees?

SL: Conflict is always a difficult topic and each case has its own particularity: behavioral changes that lead to serious consequences, physical or verbal harassment etc. Anticipation is key if we do not want to find ourselves in the « too late » type of situations. This means recognizing the symptoms which are the complications. Intervening from the early phases has a high probability of constructive resolution.

TSA: And if it is too late?

SL: The HR companies such as ours provide customized coaching and accompaniment in conflict resolution and in handling the administrative process.

TSA: Thanks much for your time and insights Séverine…

SL: My pleasure!