Building an Internal Mobility Program to Increase a Diverse Employee Population

Aug 18, 2010

When you think about building a diverse workforce, an internal mobility program may not be the first thought that comes to mind. In fact, when we at Sodexo first looked at internal mobility programs, we were focused on helping our employees achieve their career aspirations through internal promotions and hires.

However, over time, we’ve come to learn that these programs also represent a vital component of our company’s journey to build a diverse and inclusive workforce.

The Beginning of an Evolution at Sodexo

Like many companies, Sodexo’s diversity initiatives have evolved over time.

We created a diversity and inclusion framework that was based on measures of accountability from the CEO down, tied to incentives and performance goals. We established a consistent and transparent recruiting and selection process and provided training in compliance in such areas as EEO/Affirmative Action to ensure that all our managers understood the legal environment.

And, we built a comprehensive diversity sourcing strategy, focused on best practices, and using technology and new communications media to identify and connect with top diverse talent. We required all of our recruiters to become AIRS-certified diversity recruiters. We also focused on the importance of building relationships with top talent. From recruiting at colleges and universities that have highly diverse populations, to diversity-focused professional associations, to positioning our company as a top employer of diverse talent, we worked hard on the front end to attract and hire. But, we realized that all of these efforts would be meaningless without a work environment that let our employees thrive.

Embedding Diversity and Inclusion Into our Corporate Culture

Encouraging all employees — from senior staff to front-line workers — to embrace diversity and inclusion values can be can be daunting for an organization our size, with more than 6,000 individual operations across the U.S. alone. Our company created this cultural shift by literally embracing the words of Mahatma Ghandi: “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Through diversity-focused training, to the establishment of vibrant employee network groups and mentoring initiatives, over time, diversity and inclusion have become a part of our company’s DNA. This value is so deeply embedded in our culture that it is viewed as a distinct competitive advantage. In fact, we’ve even been recognized this year by DiversityInc as the #1 overall on their top 50 list of diverse and inclusive companies and #1 for Recruitment and Retention. In 2008, ERE recognized Sodexo as #1 in diversity recruiting.

Why Internal Mobility?

The short answer is that our employees are our greatest asset!

We know from our candidate surveys and our company engagement survey that our employees want to stay in a company that provides a range of professional opportunities and career paths where they can grow their career. So, if we can leverage the opportunity to promote and hire from within the company, we may be able to retain existing diverse employee populations.

The Challenge

Like any large organization, our challenge lies in the existence of multiple market segments all within our one company. It can be difficult for individuals to plan, identify, and compete for promotional opportunities — especially when those opportunities might be in a different market segment.

Meanwhile, we see an opportunity to stimulate employee creativity and innovation by introducing employees who may have different business perspectives. They bring a fresh perspective to existing work plans and can stimulate process development and productivity.

Blazing the Path for Internal Mobility

Thus we launched our internal mobility initiative with the goal of helping our employees achieve their career aspirations, and, ultimately attempting to influence the engagement and retention of our top and diverse employees..We began with “soft” internal sourcing: sharing jobs with our employee network groups and sending e-cards internally to individuals on our succession plan. As we progressed, we learned that just sharing information with our employees was not enough. We needed to help them to overcome organizational barriers that make it difficult for our employees to post and compete for positions outside of their markets.

So, we took a more consultative approach to our challenges. For example, we engaged our executives in panel discussions and held focus groups on internal job opportunities and barriers. We looked for ways to focus on competencies vs. organizational experience when looking at talent, and considered developing partnership programs to team with other company initiatives to more explicitly focus on helping our top and diverse employees achieve their career aspirations.

Team Effort: Engaging Multiple Leadership Levels to Drive Results

Buy-in from the executive level is critical for cross divisional movement to be successful. To assist in driving success, our talent acquisition group launched three vodcasts with messages from senior leaders in support of internal mobility to be used at team meetings throughout the organization and with recruiter training.

Additionally, our talent acquisition group formed and now leads a cross-divisional and cross-function team that is systematically looking at program enhancement opportunities and ensuring that proposed solutions will fit within our company framework. Early results from these efforts show that on average, 10% of our internal management hires have been cross-divisional transfers. And the information from our 2010 Employee Engagement Survey is especially encouraging in an environment where most companies have seen the engagement of their employees drop (as reported by the 2010 Hewitt Study). We have succeeded in increasing ours by a strong 7%, with 85% of our employees reporting that Sodexo is a better employer than the competition.

More Than Just Another Hire

While Sodexo has been recognized for implementing best practices in diversity and inclusion, we know that our journey is not complete. We are continually looking for new ways to take our programs to the next level.

To be a competitive employer for top diverse talent, we need to be able to do more than simply source and hire. We need a corporate culture where employees thrive and are able to achieve their career aspirations. As such, we believe that our current focus on internal mobility is an important initiative to increase retention of top diverse talent. It completes the circle: sourcing, hiring, and retaining top diverse talent.

Let’s Continue the Conversation at the ERE Expo

Will you be at the ERE Expo this fall? If so, I invite you to join my keynote session. I would love to continue the conversation, share with you some of what we at Sodexo are doing to take our diversity journey to the next level, and also learn from you the best practices at your organizations.

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