Motivating staff the European way

To maintain their innovative edge, a Paris-based consulting firm of 20,000 employees implemented a huge internal competition. The grand prize? €100,000

Twice a year, employees at Altran have a fast track to the top. THE i PROJECT, a competition that shines the spotlight on bright ideas and the internal entrepreneurs behind them, puts their propositions before the eyes of the international company’s executive board.

The competition encourages all staff to build full-blown project propositions and submit them to the project. Five will be chosen by a jury of senior staff to go forward, and the winning teams each receive €100,000 to fund their projects.

“When you invest in this kind of program, it is of course to invest in the business and in time generate higher revenues and bring value to clients, but it’s also designed to motivate people,” said Altran Group vice president, programme and innovation, Jacques Delort, who developed the project.

When the company was looking for better ways to emphasize innovation, they recognized that they would need something more focused than the popular Silicon Valley tactic of allowing employees to work on their own interests for a small portion of their week. Altran required a technique that would bring its 20,000 global employees together to work in teams.

“Just giving some free time to people is one element, but it’s not enough,” he said. “We wanted something that is more, that provides stronger context for innovation.”

During the project’s first round in 2013, about 5% of staff participated, which Delort said was significant because of the work involved in preparing a submission. “They invest a lot of real personal time (in the submissions), so we are actually pretty happy with that level of engagement,” he said. “Even when they don’t win, we’re happy they’ve contributed to the company and their own future.”

Last year’s winning projects included a technology system designed to track personnel indoors, a virtual note board app, and a green energy management platform.

Because the winning submissions are actually funded, developed and offered to clients, tracking the economic impact of the program in the short term is relatively simple. But for Altran, the project’s focus is on the mid-term, and is about more than just the economic measures of success. “We also call it success when we see that we attract higher quality and more motivated people because of this program,” said Delort.

Employees whose ideas succeed are lauded both internally and externally, becoming hero figures in the company. But Delort doesn’t fear that the spotlight will steal his best and brightest staff away.

“I prefer to have great people, and some of them are poached, than to have people that nobody wants,” remarked Delort. “If they have no choice but to be at your company, it’s probably not a great company.”

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