Sodexo Optimas Award Winner for Service

The food and facilities giant improves hiring speed and quality by building a “recruitment culture” that makes talent scouts of all of its employees.

September 7, 2011
A Sodexo employee who has just had a delicious meal at her favorite restaurant might ask the waiter if she can meet the chef. Passing along a compliment would not be her only motive.

    She also might ask whether he or she would like to consider applying for a job at Sodexo, a huge food and facilities management services company. Her effort would reflect Sodexo’s renewed emphasis on recruiting after it had had a bad outsourcing experience of its own.

    "One of the things we wanted to do was build a recruitment culture," says Arie Ball, vice president for sourcing and talent acquisition. "It’s everyone being a talent scout 24/7. It’s wherever you are, [you’re] thinking about talent."

    The internal focus on recruiting is a 180-degree turn from where Sodexo was in 2003. At that time, the company tapped an outside vendor to help it fill more than 5,700 executive and management positions annually at client locations.

    The experiment quickly failed.

    "We just were not able to get enough candidates who met our needs as fast as the hiring managers needed them," says Sherie Valderrama, senior director of sourcing and talent acquisition. "If a position is not filled quickly, it can be disruptive for operations."

    That is a problem that strikes directly at the heart of what Sodexo does—filling management ranks with top performers in food service, groundskeeping, housekeeping and maintenance so that the client’s daily activity in its core business doesn’t skip a beat.

    "Our product is our people," Ball says.

    Not finding the right people threatened Sodexo’s existence. Dick Macedonia, the CEO for North America at the time, made talent acquisition the company’s No. 1 priority.

    He decided to overhaul the way Sodexo found and attracted candidates. Instead of relying on an outside organization, it would build an internal recruiting powerhouse and magnet for top talent.

    Under Macedonia, Sodexo created the Talent Acquisition Group, a centralized unit comprising 97 employees, 76 of whom are recruiters. Their performance and incentive plans measure hiring time, customer satisfaction and candidate diversity. A full-time training manager contributes to the recruiters’ professional development.

    Thanks to the initiative, talent management is now conducted across divisions for the first time in company history. Silos have been abolished, allowing employees to be deployed and promoted in the way that best uses their skills. Macedonia’s ideas have been embraced and strengthened by current chief executive George Chavel.

    "Our CEO believes talent belongs to the company," Ball says. That philosophy is underscored by the Talent Advisory Board, made up of operations executives who ensure that recruiting is aligned with business needs, and a council of divisional human resources professionals who coordinate talent acquisition among various businesses.

    The changes have produced positive results. From 2004 to 2007, the amount of time it took to fill a position dropped from 54 days to 34 days. Since 2004, customer satisfaction has increased from a score of 3.3 to 4.43 on a five-point scale. In 2008, the quality-of-hire rating was 4.36.

    The upward trends are likely to continue as Sodexo recruits younger and older generations. The company is building a database of potential candidates through Facebook and YouTube pages, as well as a recruitment blog. It also has established an alumni/boomerang program to encourage former employees to return.

    For saving itself by building an innovative internal recruiting practice, Sodexo is the winner of the 2008 Optimas Award for Service.


Headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Sodexo employs 342,000 people in 80 countries—with 125,000 located in North America. The company, which provides staff at 29,000 business sites, generated more than $17.7 billion in revenue last year. A polyglot enterprise, its employees represent more than 130 nationalities

Sodexo,— founded in Marseille, France, in 1966—is a leading global provider of food and facilities management services. Clients turn to Sodexo for staffing in areas including food service, housekeeping, plant operations, asset management and laundry service. The company, formally called Sodexho, dropped the "h" from its name to make it easier to pronounce in more languages.

Workforce Management
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