Every year, Orange Business Services (the B-to-B entity of the Orange group) offers an HEC Paris certificate program to some of its teams. This program accelerates their skills development, enhances their career opportunities and builds a strong sense of loyalty.
Interview with Nadine Foulon-Belkacémi, Executive Vice President Major Clients, and Laurence de la Brosse, Deputy Human Resources Director.
Why did you decide to work with HEC Paris to develop the skills of your teams?
Nadine Foulon-Belkacémi: We're in a market where technology is advancing extremely quickly, which means that our employees must be highly flexible and agile. For example, just a few years ago, no one was talking about a sovereign cloud, data intelligence or quantum computing. For a long time, we were an operator in a market of operators. Today, we are both an integrator and an operator, with different types of competitors—operators, integrators and hyperscalers. Of course, we have an in-house methodology at OBS to help our sales representatives fine-tune their hard skills. But we decided to work with HEC Paris to help them develop their soft skills, as adopting the right attitude is crucial in this complex environment. They need to be comfortable and confident with their clients and this is a skill you can learn.
Which employees are eligible for the program with HEC Paris?
Laurence de la Brosse: Initially, access to this program was limited to about thirty employees from the French Major Clients Division, meaning teams who manage business relationships with the biggest companies in France. So, they were all customer relationship professionals for major accounts. Quite a wide variety of profiles were represented, including account managers, engineers (technical account managers and pre-sales engineers) and customer contact managers. Then, we decided to open the program up to participants from other business units. The new class of participants is therefore more cross-disciplinary, and this will also be the case for future classes.
Nadine Foulon-Belkacémi: Opening the program up to a wide variety of profiles is a good way to spark collective intelligence, both between peers and other stakeholders. Participants adopt collaborative working methods by thinking about and developing approaches together. They learn from each other by sharing best practices, and they become more agile.
How are the participants selected?
Laurence de la Brosse: The first step is for interested employees to apply. Unsurprisingly, there are a high number of volunteers every year. There is a high demand for the program among our employees because of the excellence of the learning content, the methodology and the prestige of HEC Paris. When we select the participants, we give priority to our high-potential employees.
How is the content of the training program organized?
Laurence de la Brosse: First of all, the executive management of OBS determines a major ‘overall’ theme every year to provide a common thread for the program. So far, we have chosen ‘leadership’, ‘agility’ and ‘growth drivers’. As for the learning content, it is based on sales skills and challenges, with a focus on developing business strategy, negotiation techniques and stakeholder management, as well as expanding on topics such as the financial approach, cooperation, and leadership. Of course, in addition to academic learning, we place great emphasis on applying skills.
Does that mean that participants work in teams on real-life situations or seek out sponsors?
Laurence de la Brosse: That's right. During the program, they are asked to work in teams and to seek out sponsors—both within and outside of OBS—to support their projects. Each learning session involves group work, including a project that is developed throughout the program.
Nadine Foulon-Belkacémi: Once again, it's a good way to increase collective intelligence. Sales representatives can't know everything there is to know on connectivity, cyber-security and cloud, data. They need to be able to understand their customer's strategy and determine how OBS can provide the best solutions. And that often means seeking out the expertise of other employees and sponsors. The sponsor plays a key role in helping them make their projects operational.
Have any of the projects been implemented in the company?
Laurence de la Brosse: Yes, they have—some of the ideas developed during the group work activities, to find solutions to issues we face internally, have been selected and implemented at OBS. A good example that comes to mind is a project to provide support for public speaking in order to communicate with greater concision and impact. This was also the case for a CSR kit that sales representatives can offer their clients.
How does this program impact the career development of your employees?
Nadine Foulon-Belkacémi: The program is a very rewarding and enriching experience for the participants. We chose to work with HEC Paris because they are the 'best of the best' in terms of the job market. It's a way for us to reward the commitment of our employees. The possibility to interact with co-workers, who they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to work with, enables them to discover other environments within the Orange group, and gives them a more in-depth understanding of the company.
Laurence de la Brosse: It is not uncommon for the program to be the springboard for career advancement and opportunities to take on greater responsibility. It also helps participants to expand their networks. The fact that it leads to a certificate makes it more demanding and motivating. That gives it an edge over standard off the shelf programs. Employees often mention it on their CVs. It is also highly valued by our clients who are in contact with employees who have completed the HEC Paris program. This program has real value in terms of incentivizing our teams and business value for our client relationships. And last but not least, offering this program to our top employees—who are sometimes head-hunted by other companies—helps to build and sustain a sense of loyalty.