2011 WINNER: Innovation—Sodexo Inc.

For its creative internal mobility program, Sodexo is the 2011 winner of the Optimas Award for Innovation.

December 1, 2011

Food-service giant Sodexo Inc. faced a tricky talent challenge a few years ago. The growing company found itself competing with rivals over job candidates with specialized skills, while key employees were unsure how to advance within the organization. Further complicating matters: Managers were reluctant to hire internal candidates from outside of their own niches.

But Sodexo, which has 110,000 employees in the United States and recruits for more than 4,500 management positions annually, came up with a fresh staffing solution: The Gaithersburg, Maryland-based company improved retention by providing opportunities for development and advancement while fostering a cultural shift that encourages internal mobility.

"We're in a growth mode," says Sherie Valderrama, senior director of talent acquisition. "We need to have people ready who can jump in."

Through focus groups, Sodexo learned that some clients insisted on Sodexo managers hiring from within their market niche. Armed with this insight, Sodexo compiled data that showed no difference between the ratings of general managers promoted from within a market and those brought in from other ones.

Recruiters also worked with hiring managers to identify job competencies, so decisions didn't rely solely on previous experience. And Sodexo created a series of podcasts. One includes division presidents talking about transferable skills.

As Sodexo recruiters shifted away from an externally focused strategy, they began with "soft" sourcing, sending e-cards that described open positions and asking employees if they knew of anyone who may be interested.

The company also introduced a nine-month program that helps high-potential managers prepare for director-level or higher positions.

The result: Employee engagement rose 7 percent in 2010, with 85 percent of Sodexo employees considering the company to be a better employer than its competition, and internal hires increased to 55 percent in fiscal 2011, up from 51 percent in fiscal 2010.

For its creative internal mobility program, Sodexo is the 2011 winner of the Optimas Award for Innovation.