So let’s start at the beginning: can you remind me how you got to know IRH? Because our two fields of activity are quite different: you run a language school and IRH is a consulting firm specialized in HRIS which supports companies in the digitalization of their HR processes. But we somehow managed to find each other.
Yes, luckily we found each other! I actually taught Olivier, the founder of IRH by ACT-ON (formerly I-RH Partner), English over 10 years ago when I first arrived in Paris.
We got on very well during our lessons together and added each other on LinkedIn. When I started Mr Jones Language Academy, I reached out to some former students.
I think the timing was perfect as Olivier replied immediately and was really interested in providing some English coaching to his consultants. It was great to catch up with him after 10 years.
That’s right, when Olivier created IRH in 2016, he wanted to build a consulting firm with bilingual consultants to work on international projects. At the beginning the only way we had to improve our English was by organizing English practice in the pub. We ate Poutine, and after drinking some beer, we spoke English very well. This, by itself, however, is not enough, so we decided to professionalize the English learning process and offer English lessons.
So when you reconnected, it was indeed perfect timing for him to offer his employees the opportunity to improve their English skills. Since then, Olivier has surrounded himself with consultants who are either bilingual or have a very good level of English.
When you got back in touch with Olivier after all those years, do you remember what IRH’s initial request was?
Yes, IRH initially wanted to improve its employees’ overall English level in professional situations, to make sure they could communicate as clearly and effectively as possible with clients and partners.
In order to tailor my classes specifically to their needs, I started with a deep dive analysis of IRH, its operations and employees. We asked many questions, such as who do consultants need to communicate with? In which situations and contexts will they use English? What type of vocabulary will benefit them most? This is how we approach our lesson planning with all new clients, to ensure we are providing the most adapted content.
At IRH, as the expected English level is so high, the consultants also wanted to hone in on the details of their language, iron out small mistakes and improve technical vocabulary and expressions, in order to maintain their level and put them at the top of their game during projects.
For new consultants with IRH, it is a great way of bringing their level up to IRH standards or, as I have seen with many, just a way to maintain their already high level.
Indeed, we really needed support to professionalize the company’s English level and become the firm we are today, which is recognized in the HRIS community as an international firm.
Being able to speak English in your private life, with friends or during holidays isn’t the same thing as speaking in front of a client, who may speak English very well and have high expectations.
So, what learning techniques did you use in your classes to help them improve their level?
At the beginning, everyone already had a really high working level in English and over time, the stakes and ambitions of our collaboration have evolved. We started by speaking, speaking, speaking, using role plays and games to make everybody more at ease communicating without feeling judged.
As confidence improved, we started exploring more job-specific topics, such as delivering presentations, and coaching on subjects like change management, and the use of certain HRIS and payroll systems, how to participate in meetings effectively and such.
Although the bar was already high to start with, I have definitely seen an increase in the overall level of my students, and their ability to communicate more clearly and confidently in professional situations, especially on subjects around the implementation of HRIS systems.
That’s right, we do speak English well and it’s actually one of our criteria when we hire someone. Our firm works with international clients and most of our consultants are fluent in English.
However, there is always room for improvement and that is why we offer these weekly English courses to all our employees.
The development of our consulting firm has gone hand in hand with an increase of the number of projects in English and more and more international companies have entrusted us with the deployment of their HRIS in all their foreign subsidiaries.
You were there to accompany us during this process of professionalization, and we learnt a lot with you. With one English class per week accessible for all of our employees, we have really noticed an improvement and this is a great asset for all of our employees and the company!
And I have learnt a lot from IRH too! Through doing role plays, reading articles and discussing topics related to HR and HRIS with your consultants and managers, I have greatly improved my knowledge of your field of work. I know more about SuccessFactors and other Payroll systems now than most people working in HR.
Haha. I see our lessons as a two-way interaction. I’m not just throwing grammar at my students. I’m genuinely interested in their views and am happy to learn from them.
I am also not just here as an English teacher but also as a support for the company and its consultants in general. I often help prepare for all sorts of things like interviews and meetings.
I correct translations for the website and other official documents and also help consultants and managers prepare for certain phases in projects, understand roadmaps and much more. My students feel free to bring any questions they have and I’m more than happy to be there to take a weight off their shoulders.
It’s definitely a two-way collaboration! For sure you must know a lot about SuccessFactors because we are specialized in this support and most of our project is on SAP SuccessFactors.
So after 2 years of working with IRH, how do you manage to keep the attention and the motivation of the employees? We know it is not easy when you are a professional to make time to take courses, so your lessons must be really attractive, right?
I keep their attention with my sparkling personality and wonderful jokes… Actually I manage to keep their attention despite that. Lessons are not just giving information.
If you want to build a solid base and really help the student to progress, you have to involve them in the learning process. Build their confidence. Coach them. Make sure they have fun and make them want to come to lessons. The trick is finding the right balance between having fun and imparting information.
Can you describe the way the training is organized? I think there are particularities in the organization of these courses compared to other structures because, as a consulting firm, our consultants are often at the client’s to work, and, since its creation, IRH has established a flexible work environment allowing consultants to work from home when they wish. So not everyone is at the office every day.
In IRH we have employed 4 different types of training. Individual and duo lessons for managers twice a week, weekly group lessons for consultants and a monthly English speaking practice afterwork for everybody in IRH.
IRH has a wonderful learning room with state-of-the-art video conferencing equipment (Lifesize) so we make use of that for the lessons.
As these past 2 years have been very uncertain with COVID, we have done a blend of online and face-to-face lessons. I’ve found that we don’t lose anything by doing lessons online – we’ve managed to keep it fun and interactive with technology, and it means participants can attend from wherever they are without worrying about getting to the classroom.
The speaking practice afterwork is always face-to-face in the IRH office and it is a great opportunity to have a drink with both my students and the whole team. Miraculously everyone seems to speak fluently after a few drinks. It makes my job a little obsolete.
At IRH we like to spend time together after our day through afterwork, game night etc, so the speaking practice afterwork is really liked here. On our side we have very good feedback about your courses. What is the atmosphere like in the English groups at IRH?
That is great to hear! As I mentioned before, there is a great atmosphere. We manage to have lots of fun while keeping the lessons professional and informative. It helps that the IRH team is so lovely.
After getting to know your consultants and managers, I feel like your values reflect our own at Mr Jones Language Academy. Diversity, professionalism, competence, friendliness… I think this is why we all get on really well.
I think that too! At IRH we advocate for diversity, professionalism but also kindness. It is important for us to offer a training framework to employees in which they can express themselves without fear of judgment and I think that this is the atmosphere that you have succeeded in creating.
What advice can you give to consultants, especially in HRIS, who want to improve their English?
Firstly, although a couple of drinks helps improve your level, don’t drink before meetings! And secondly, know that your English is not as bad as you think it is! Your accent is fine!
Communication should be put above learning the irregular verbs by heart. Get out there and speak. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because that is how we learn and improve ourselves.
For those working in HRIS, my advice is to be proactive. Jump in and get involved in the subject.
Read articles in English about your area of expertise. Listen to podcasts on your commute to work. I normally recommend “Jaded HR” or “HR talks” to my students. Speak to your international colleagues. Ask them to correct you occasionally if you make a big mistake.
Note any vocabulary that you don’t understand and research it later.
English lessons are there as a way to help and guide you but it is what you do for yourself between these lessons that really makes the difference.
Thanks for your feedback, our team has become increasingly strong and solid on the English practice aspect.
IRH consultants have lost their apprehension to speak in public in English and we manage to lead wonderful projects of international project management or international change management.
Making the decision to offer these courses free of charge to all IRH employees has been a strong element in building the firm and provides a real return on investment.
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