Bring in the Reserves: an Argument for Over-Hiring

Jul 25, 2013

Consider this scenario: A talent acquisition director makes a seemingly great hire for a specialized manufacturing role. However, several weeks after the new employee starts the job, another, better — actually, amazing — candidate is referred by a colleague.

The HR professional decided to bring in the late-coming candidate for an informal interview even though a true “job opening” no longer exists. After the decision makers interview the late-coming candidate, they acknowledged that he’s a perfect fit for the culture, qualified for several potential future opportunities in the firm, and a prime candidate for leadership grooming.

The talent acquisition director considers two options:

  1. Fire the original hire (even though he has thus far met expectations) and upgrade him with the newer, better candidate, risking the morale of other employees and damaging the employment brand by appearing insensitive.
  2. Commit to developing the current staff, and keep the late-coming candidate in the pipeline for future opportunities, knowing full well that he will probably be scooped up by the competition before an appropriate position opens up in the company again.

Well, let’s explore the third option. One that is counterintuitive and requires some further analysis, not to mention a lot of convincing …

Hire the new superstar now instead of waiting and hoping for perfect timing down the line!

Some call it building a bench. Other call it over-hiring. Upon initial consideration, this recruiting tactic seems indulgent … even risky. After all, when there’s no wiggle room in the head count, numbers and budgets need to be juggled to fund a talent reserve. Certainly, it is not a recommended strategy for every position or for every company. But in certain types of organizations, industries and departments (such as certain retail, healthcare, IT, and manufacturing environments) this strategy may make sense.

For example, building a sales bench may prove to be a smart, flexible recruiting solution during this time of economic recovery. According to Pareto, a UK staffing firm, “The concept of having a sales superstar, trained up, off head count, waiting in the wings for something to change and ready to step up to any challenge could prove an invaluable sales safety net. Benching is fast growing in popularity, and reflects the changing demand of the modern day marketplace.”

Certainly, we’ve seen this in the past. Since the early 1980s, the bench model has been working in the IT space.

Jason Gorman, a software development trainer, coach, and author, believes that if you find a great software developer it might make sense to keep the talent on the payroll for months before a real project materializes. Actively recruiting when there’s an urgent need is like, “last-minute Christmas shopping. We run around town at 4 p.m. on the December 24 trying to get something for everyone on our list. But all the good toys are gone and all the supermarket shelves have been picked clean … So you make massive compromises.”

Does building a bench make good sense for your current hiring needs? Consider these six qualifying factors …

  1. Evaluate your firm’s analytics for turnover rates by department and by job.
  2. Quantify costs related to vacancy, especially overtime pay .
  3. Examine time-to-fill data for the position and/or the department.
  4. Find out if your customer satisfaction/customer loyalty is affected by staff shortages.
  5. Explore the effect of staff shortages on employee engagement, retention.
  6. Consider the administrative and recruiting costs associated with replacing those employees lost due to staff shortages.

But keep in mind, superstars don’t like to sit idly by. So put the talent on your bench to good use until the right opportunity appears within the organization. Here are a few options to keep your reserve players in the game:

  • Develop a rotational program to give bench warmers well-rounded exposure to relevant departments within the organization.
  • Pre-train those on the bench by shadowing more experienced/higher-positioned people in department.
  • Use your bench as fill-ins while others are on leave/vacation.
  • Volunteer your bench: Provide their services/manpower to local charitable organizations and elevate your brand at the same time.
  • Ask bench warmers to come up with specific ways to use their talent while they are waiting for their opportunity.

Proactive recruiting is all about predicting expectations. But in some cases, to be truly competitive, firms should seriously consider hiring more staff than currently needed. After all, when all is said and done, you may find that the costs of over-hiring in key areas are much lower than the price of staying lean. Even if your extra employees warm the bench until a job opens.

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