A healthy company is one that provides fertile ground for its people to grow and thrive. How? Well, there are many ways, of course, but building a culture of learning seems to be unavoidable. Together with Romain Lerallut, our R&D Vice-President, we have discussed how important stimulating and maintaining a craving for knowledge is to foster both employee well-being and innovation.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and current responsibilities?
I have been working at Criteo since 2011 and leading the Artificial Intelligence Lab team since 2019. As R&D Vice-President, I oversee pretty much everything related to AI, including research and development of AI technologies and their potential applications to our products. Even my PhD dealt with AI for image analysis, so we could say that AI - though we called it Machine Learning back then - has been the common thread of my whole career.
To you, what hides behind the words learning and development?
I'd say it is a mix of personal development, a panel of skills, and various competencies that one acquires throughout one's career. It also entails keeping up to date with the latest trends and evolutions of the professional landscape around you.
Is it a must-have to enhance employee well-being these days?
Due to my nearly infinite curiosity, I find a craving for knowledge to be essential to professional growth. But like many other things, it needs to be addressed even more explicitly now that we have entered the new flexible working era. Back in the days when we were working 100% on-site, it was easier to learn casually from your coworkers or events.
As a manager, have you seen the people’s needs in terms of career development shift over the past years?
From what I observe, the shift has more to do with the means and learning tools than the nature of people’s expectations. E-learning works well with the remote/hybrid work approach. However, it requires the employee to be more proactive, and it is where managers need to be extra attentive and provide help to give them a nudge when needed.
Why is ensuring learning opportunities essential in R&D? Does it happen more on an individual or collective scale?
Personal growth and skill development are essential to any career path. The particularity of technical areas like R&D (but not only) is that the technological landscape evolves at a breakneck pace. We don't have much choice here. To be relevant, engineers must keep abreast of all the evolutions related to technologies, practices, tools, etc.
How do you set the right conditions for learning?
It depends on the type of skill you wish to develop and acquire. Sometimes, the best way is still to spend time reading a book. In other cases, group work on something that interests everyone will be the most efficient. Hackathons are always great opportunities to raise interest, spread knowledge, and enhance collaboration.
Talking about career development, how do you grasp individual needs?
The performance feedback and Individual Development Plan (IDP) discussions are great indicators and allow you to efficiently organize the needs for growth, both from career and personal interest perspectives. The career path outlines the expectations at each level, so it is good ground to build up from. You cannot deal with junior profiles as you do with seniors, but adapting your approach to individual strengths and needs is always the best way for them to reach their targeted set of skills. It is essential to talk with every team member but also with fellow managers who can be a great source of inspiration. Personally, I also rely on my HR Business Partner, whose insights and ideas are always helpful.
What about your own thirst for learning?
As I mentioned earlier, my curiosity is quite insatiable. Years ago, when I was learning to program, I was literally devouring books on software engineering in the metro or the train. The same happened later when I dug into people and project management. It has always been my way to learn about what interests me, whether for my professional or personal interests. They say you become old the day you stop learning, so hopefully, it means I will be young forever.
Why do you think building a culture of learning is mandatory to ensure excellence?
Learning is food for the mind and for the soul. In a professional context, it helps prevent boredom and keeps one sharp and more engaged. It is essential, especially when working in a fast-paced industry and constantly changing field like ours. If we are not evolving, we are falling back in a way.
How do you help your teammates develop their hard and soft skills?
I use the same combination to develop hard and soft skills: theory, practice, and debriefing.
- A measure of theory (that you get from reading books, for instance) is most helpful. It puts words on concepts and sets up the groundwork for more active learning. Naming things helps the mind memorize them in a concise way, which makes it easier to spot patterns and thus make the right decisions.
- Then, nothing beats practice. First by following the examples of others, then learning by doing. You truly understand something the day you can do it yourself. This is the place where you can confront theory against the world – and usually, the world wins. It is the ultimate test to understand why things are done and work in a certain way.
- Finally, debriefing is important. You can do it in your head, comparing the results with your own expectations but it’s even better to do it with someone else. It can be someone more experienced, that helps you digest the experiences. Or it can be with a peer because the mere act of articulating what went right and what went wrong is already half of the battle.
Does Criteo match the definition of a company where people can grow and thrive, in your opinion?
As someone who has been there 12 years, growing from the technical lead of a 3-person team to the manager of a 150-strong department, I would be lying if I said no!
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