Anne-Francoise Hayman, Technical and Innovation Director, Artelia
As a manager, getting staff on the road to R&D tax subsidies is not easy. Convincing, motivating, and encouraging operational staff to draw up eligibility forms and follow the administrative steps of the R&D tax relief process is difficult.
A manager might be tempted to use authority and impose numerical targets on the teams. This management style, even if it can generate some success, will not necessarily bring long-term results. Indeed, achieving recurring successes each year can only be the result of a change of culture that slowly but surely instills itself within an organization. Changing a company's culture in a sustainable way so that its employees adopt reflexes that will naturally generate R&D tax subsidies must call for the implementation of a cross-functional strategy. This is about change management.
In fact, engineers in a consulting engineering company are often passionate about their expertise and their projects. They know how to push the limits of what is possible in the design of future construction. Innovation is often the answer to difficulties in meeting customer requirements, normative restrictions, and budget. The question is: how to use these innovations to gain R&D tax subsidiaries?
The first step is to highlight employees who contribute to innovation. Listening to them, talking about what they do, advising them: all this helps to encourage individual initiatives
The first step is to highlight employees who contribute to innovation. Listening to them, talking about what they do, advising them: all this helps to encourage individual initiatives.
Secondly, these engineers should be given the means to work on their subjects without penalizing their project’s productivity. Financial support from the company so that the hours are charged to a specific budget outside the project provides real, concrete support to operational staff. Suddenly, they are no longer asked to innovate on hidden time: the time spent is valued and can be invoiced internally in the same way as a project ordered by an external customer.
These first two steps are necessary to start changing the culture of the company. They are not sufficient to motivate the majority of employees who do not have the patience to understand the structure of an eligibility form and the different sections to be filled in: Context, State of the art, Bibliographical references, Scientific or technical uncertainties/locks blocking the project, Objectives and performances, Description of R&D work, etc.…
In France, the notion of technological blockage is compulsory to be explained and approved to have an eligible topic. It is a concept by itself difficult to grasp. One must explain why their research work is more than just looking for the solution to a problem.
One must prove that different attempts were necessary. That alone is often enough to discourage employees to embark on the adventure of R&D’s tax relief eligibility.
To solve this problem, as Technical and Innovation Director, I decided to write pre-eligibility forms and have them validated by external consultants early each year. With a team of experts, we would choose topics that could cover a theme widely. Each topic would be general enough to offer the possibility to include work done by the employees across the organization. Once a form is validated, employees only need to add their own contribution and associated R&D hours. Each form can then gather a lot more hours and thus generate more tax subsidies.
For example, the Technical and Innovation Department has drafted a fact sheet about Dynamic Digital Twin: this subject largely concerns operational staff working around BIM and SMART Building projects. With that, many employees were able to see how their innovation work could be used to generate R&D tax relief.
By facilitating the work of operational staff, the gains linked to the R&D’s subsidies have been multiplied. This strategy, which I implemented within the Artelia group's building trades, has more than tripled the R&D’s gains in three years. It has also reassured operational staff that it is possible to benefit from this financial aid to push our expertise and bring even more innovation to our projects.