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This article was published 22-07-2019

Pathé interview: How the cinema chain is putting personal growth first.

Over 1,800 employees at 28 locations in the Netherlands, all with one very clear goal: the film must roll and the customer experience must be second to none. This is the top priority for Pathé. So, with this mission in mind, how can the company ensure that its employees still have time for personal growth? Especially when there’s hardly any downtime? We spoke with HR consultant Bartjan Top about HR policy at Pathé, the leading cinema chain in the Netherlands. ‘We are not the kind of organisation that is only focused on working your way up the hierarchy.’


Service employees make up the largest portion of the workforce at Pathé. These are the staff members you encounter when you go to watch a film. They greet you, answer your questions, sell you snacks and keep everything in shipshape. In total there are around 1,450 of them, many of them students working part-time at the cinema. How do you invest in this target group during the time they are working for your organisation?

Quality as a learning goal

It is no easy task, says Bartjan. ‘We invest in everyone by offering hands-on training. But it doesn’t end there. Everyone who starts working for us goes through an onboarding programme. They need to have practical knowledge about safety and hygiene. Everyone also needs to know what to do in case of an emergency. You have to remember, we’re an organisation in the entertainment sector with around 16 million customers each year. And the quality of our service and how we treat our customers is extremely important to us. Each of our employees is trained in hospitality, so they know how to behave towards our customers.’

A positive job experience

‘Many of our service employees are students. The reality is that the majority of them will leave after they finish their studies. But they are still the face of our organisation. And it would be fantastic if they could look back on their time at Pathé as a positive job experience. The way I see it, being a good employer also means that you help young people to think about their own development. If you can find ways of doing that, for example, by finding tasks for them that tie in with their field of study, then I think that really helps to boost your employer branding.

Training in the digital age

While the organisation is ambitious about putting its learning and development plans into place, it is not a process that happens overnight. ‘We are working non-stop to develop and expand our HR policy, but we still have a promise of service towards our customers that has to be fulfilled every day. During busy periods, it’s not always possible to work intensively on each of our employees’ individual development needs. This is where digital training methods may be able to help us in the future. This makes it possible for everyone to meet their own learning needs and take the training courses that suit them best. But we’re still in the early stages.’

Customer experience takes human intelligence

As training courses become more digitalised, it raises the question of how digitisation will affect the cinema in general. More and more standard tasks may become automated. ‘Yes, that’s definitely true’, says Bartjan. ‘Nowadays there are automated machines where you can buy your own ticket. The projectionist’s job of manually reeling the film into the projector has been taken over by digital systems. But the film isn’t the only thing we sell. We are creating an experience. And that’s something that requires real human beings. We want for our customers to feel welcometo be greeted with eye contactand, if they’re looking for something, for a host to notice them and help. If the film itself is no good, then the customer doesn’t blame us for that. But if the service is lousy, then they’ll probably choose to go to a different cinema next time.’

Skills to last a lifetime

With its focus on training, Pathé is actually making an important contribution to its service employees’ personal development. After all, social skills and customer handling skills are vital assets that will help these employees throughout their professional lives. ‘That’s why we provide training on these topics’, explains Bartjan. ‘We recently organised a training session with Wouter Verkerk, one of the best-known hospitality trainers in the Netherlands. He literally puts a mirror in front of the trainees. How do specific kinds of body language impact us? How does it feel when someone does their best for you? He does his work with a great sense of humour, but the core message is serious. Those kinds of sessions are extremely valuable.’

Taking charge of your own development

‘We also let our service managers (team leaders, etc.) and cinema managers work at different locations during their onboarding, so they can experience the differences for themselves. We've developed a training calendar for them, which contains 14 external training courses and a number of internally organised courses. During those sessions, we work on developing their skills: leading, managing, welcoming, exceeding expectations, working together and making things happen. We leave it up to the managers themselves to decide which courses they want to take.’

Traineeship pilot programme

Ambition pays off. If you clearly show that you are ready to give your best, there are many opportunities at Pathé. ‘This year we started a pilot programmea traineeship for service managers’, says Bartjan. ‘We selected a number of people for it, based on their potential for growth, their high job assessment scores and other factors. Those things say a lot about the way you work. We are training them so that they can take the next step in their careers. For example, becoming a cinema manager. Or perhaps growing into a broader role with a position at our headquarters. If the pilot programme is a success, we intend to organise traineeships more often.’

More than just ‘climbing the ladder’

The traineeship programme is just another example of how the organisation is cultivating talent. However, not every high-potential employee will eventually go on to become a cinema manager. With 28 cinemas in operation at the moment, there are simply not enough vacant management positions to be filled. ‘We are open and honest about this’, says Bartjan. ‘We are not the kind of organisation that is only focused on working your way up the hierarchy. But that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of opportunities. Some employees will go on to work at our headquarters. Others just want to learn how to do their current jobs even better. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.’

Growing as a person

Too many directors, not enough crew members. It’s a recipe for disaster on the film set, and the same goes for any organisation. Especially at a cinema, where quality depends on real, hands-on tasks. It takes people power. ‘What we need is smiling faces and a customer-focused attitude’, says Bartjan. ‘Personal growth is about so much more than just trying to reach the highest possible job title. Working at Pathé means working on your personal growth. As an employee, but, above all, as a person.’

Getting started with talent development

The service managers of Pathé receive three different trainings by Schouten en Nelissen. Leadership is one of their focus points. The goals of the trainings are for the service managers to be able to work effectively. They learn to balance task-oriented leadership and people-oriented leadership, next to coaching skills and professional communication skills.

Want to learn more about getting started with talent development in your organisation? Discover the possibilities and ask for a free consultation.

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