“To build or buy talent?” is a question that many companies ask themselves when assessing the merits of either talent-badgetraining their own people and investing in their development throughout their careers, or alternatively, hiring ready-made professionals from competitors.

Of course, every company has to use an element of both, and either approach carries risks. The “bought” talent may prove to be expensive hires that never fit in culturally. Conversely, the “built” talent may use a lot of your training and management resources for a year or two and then decide to up-sticks and leave for one of your rivals.

At AccorHotels, our approach is very much focused on building our own future leaders. Three quarters of our UK hotel managers are promoted from within the group and eight of our Comex members started with the company at entry level. Indeed, I began my own career in hospitality as a Maitre D’ in one of our hotels. Twenty-six years later I am still with the group, in overall charge of a portfolio of 222 hotels in the UK.

We firmly believe that developing our own leaders is an important part of creating a culture and a sense of loyalty that will reap long-term rewards for any organisation.

But saying it is much easier than doing it. How do you create a culture that attracts, retains and develops talent to the extent that many of them want to stay with you until they get to the upper echelons of management?

Recognising talent

It starts by recognising talent. At a time when the hospitality industry is changing at a meteoric rate, finding the right talent is crucial to staying ahead of the game. As such, we have looked carefully at the way we recruit.

Traditionally, we recruited according to technical skills. But we can teach these – we have a whole training “Academie” with over 200 different courses to do this. So in a market where we are investing a lot in making our bars and restaurants destinations in their own right and throwing more emphasis on world class customer service skills, personality and passion are everything – and they are attributes you can’t teach.
Rather than just asking people to send in their CVs and interview them across a desk, for our new Jamboree restaurant we took over the 400-seat Shaw Theatre at Pullman St Pancras and held an “audition” on stage where people could turn up and sing, dance, do a sketch – whatever they wanted to do to show their creativity, passion and confidence. Thinking laterally about what you are really looking for in your people, and then how you can best identify this, is an important first step.

We also aim to make sure we don’t miss hidden talent, by giving opportunities to people who wouldn’t ordinarily have them. We fund a scheme called Hospitality Futures, which takes young disadvantaged people and puts them through a nine-week course, including classroom training and on-the-job experience. At the end of the process most of them will get a foot into a career in hospitality. Many of these young people have had a tough life up to this point, but given the opportunity and the right guidance, there is no reason why some of them can’t be leaders of our business in future years.

Developing talent

Once you have identified the talent, you have to start developing it. Employees need many things to keep them truly satisfied, but the feeling that they are constantly learning and developing is one of the most important. Our training “Academie” has 17 campuses around the world offering 200 courses in hospitality-related expertise. This investment means that our people know they are in the right place to train and develop. But the training has to adapt as well. Millennials like to work and learn in different ways to previous generations, so we have adapted our teaching methods with an increasing amount of flexible, technology-driven training modules.

A common reason for people to leave their role is because they feel they have nowhere else to progress to in their current company. When potential future leaders leave a business simply because they don’t feel they’re getting enough opportunities to progress, it is an expensive loss for a business. To mitigate this risk, we give people a wealth of different opportunities within the group so they always have another step to move to, another challenge and another string to add to their bow.

Of course, as a business which operates in 94 different countries and has a broad spectrum of hotels from budget through to luxury, it is easier for us to offer a wide range of opportunities than most. But the principle is important; the most rounded leaders will have gained experience in a wide variety of roles within the business, so giving talented people a range of opportunities is positive from the perspective of employee retention, and also from the perspective of developing a pipeline of future leaders with a broad range of experience.

And finally….trusting talent

You can identify talented people, support them, teach them, and give them opportunities in different types of role. But leaders need to understand what it is to have responsibility on their shoulders.

My own industry, like many others, is changing fast due to the rapid pace of technological change and changing customer behaviour. This is a huge opportunity to evolve and innovate, and one of the real spin-off benefits is the opportunity we can give some of our young talent to take on a real challenge and real responsibility. We’re currently initiating a project where a select group of our Millennials will be responsible for taking a key strategic problem for the company and providing solutions to it, working with our senior management to bring an entirely fresh perspective for the new generation of guests.

My hope is firstly that they will come up with some ingenious solutions for the business. But my expectation is that by giving them this kind of responsibility, they will feel valued at an early stage in their careers and much more likely to stay loyal to us as they progress.





Thomas Dubaere is the Managing Director of AccorHotels UK & Ireland. He is living proof of the career development ethos at AccorHotels, having worked for the group for 26 years. Starting his hospitality career in Belgium as a maître d in 1990, he held numerous positions within the group in Europe before being appointed to lead the UK business in 2012. Passionate about helping people progress through their careers, Thomas also sits on the British Hospitality Association (BHA) Board of Directors