How leaders can stop worrying about their persistent and damaging talent shortage
It’s hard to find a large corporation, a tech firm, or a small business that isn’t currently suffering from a shortage of top talent with the required skills. So if you’re an executive or manager, you might be surprised to learn that a handful of firms have literally solved this almost universal recruiting problem. So here is a heads up: if you want to put your firm’s recruiting problem permanently behind you, you need to borrow from the successful approaches of firms like Google, Zappos, Sodexo, Uber, and Accenture.
The first lesson to learn is that you need to realize that your firm is likely struggling in the areas of recruiting and retention primarily because you rely almost exclusively on your HR function to solve your talent problems. HR routinely produces unacceptable results because it is tradition bound, it is risk adverse, it has a shortage of top quality recruiters, and it’s not a data-driven function. Instead, what is needed is more “recruiting horsepower” due to a companywide effort that engages all managers and employees as talent scouts under what is known as a “recruiting culture.”
Why Is a Recruiting Culture So Effective?
A recruiting culture is a relatively simple “all-hands-on” approach to recruiting. It is effective because it turns every employee into a 24/7 talent scout. In essence, it allows a firm to increase the number of recruiting hours and more importantly, multiply the number of eyes that are looking for talent by as much of a thousand times. It also turns out that employees are effective recruiters and employer “brand ambassadors.” That is because employees are equals with potential recruiting targets, so they have shared knowledge and interests. As a result, they can more effectively identify top talent, easily make contact with them, and then sell their recruiting targets on becoming a referral. And by having all employees continually “talking up the firm” during their search for referrals, it also spreads the firm’s image as an exciting place to work.
You will get even more traction if you also involve former employees, your vendors, and even your customers. With an effective recruiting culture you can finally declare your talent problem solved! And fortunately, the elimination of your recruiting and retention problems only involves three simple components.
Develop a Recruiting Culture and Declare War on Your Talent Shortage
A recruiting culture is an intensive companywide effort to expand the ownership of recruiting problem by involving everyone in recruiting. This cultural approach also increases commitment by making everyone aware of how the talent problem affects them.
The recruiting culture effort begins by having your CEO openly declare to everyone that they are assuming the role of the firm’s Chief Talent Champion. This builds awareness and company-wide enthusiasm for getting more involved in recruiting. Next, the firm’s CEO needs to make it clear to all managers and employees that beginning immediately, they have an added primary role of acting as a 24/7 talent scout. And in that role, they must seek out high-quality talent as part of their regular work, including their daily networking, Internet research, and even social meetings.
Each employee would be expected to submit at least three pre-assessed quality names per month to your recruiters as referrals. Employees would also be charged with proactively boasting and spreading the word about the exciting aspects of working at your firm throughout their contacts, family, and networks. And during the hiring process, managers would be required to use the “27 names” approach (made popular by the Wall Street Journal) to identify the names of a large number additional top talent. Managers would also be charged with trying to bring back top performers who left (boomerang rehires). Managers would be given individual recruiting, retention, and team productivity goals and their bonus and promotion criteria would be weighted heavily towards meeting those goals.
Since most referral programs are antiquated, your firm’s program would have to be modernized and become 100 percent data-driven. And finally, everyone must be provided with how-to guides that provide practical data supported tips on how to effectively find, assess, and sell top talent on social media and during their professional interactions.
A Major “All-hands” Retention Effort Is Also Required to Stop the Talent Loss
With turnover levels at all-time highs, a major initiative will also be required to stop the hemorrhaging of top talent that is quitting and walking out the door. Once again the key to success is to get “all hands” involved in the retention effort and educate them on the most effective retention approaches. Once again, unfortunately, the typical HR run retention effort is essentially worthless, so instead a modern data-driven effort that fully involves everyone is needed. The goal is to energize managers and employees and to get their 100 percent commitment. The first step is to make everyone aware of how losing a single team member affects their job security and the amount of money that is available for rewards and corporate growth. Next, as part of their talent scout role, every employee must be charged with the shared responsibility of identifying employees that may be considering leaving (aka flight risks).
In order to do that more effectively, employees should be provided with a list of the precursors that reveal that a coworker is thinking about leaving. And next employees need to be aware that they have the responsibility to encourage fellow employees to stay.
Managers need to be provided with a retention toolkit that reveals typical turnover triggers, which are the negative factors that cause someone to begin to consider leaving. The simplest and most effective prevention tool is “why do you stay?” interviews (where you identify and strengthen attraction factors). Each manager would be required to periodically hold these stay interviews with each key employee. They would also be required to re-recruit their team’s key employees (i.e. re-energize them and add excitement to their current job) as if they were being freshly recruited. Every key employee who is a potential flight risk must also have a personalized retention plan that has an element for increasing their key motivators and reducing their personal frustration factors. And every manager’s bonus and promotion criteria would have the retention of top-performing employees added to them. An internal best-practice sharing site and discussion forum should also be developed so that managers can learn practical retention tips from other managers.
While You’re At It, Transform HR Into a Business-Like Function
HR in its current configuration is never going to outperform in these critical talent areas unless you replace the existing model with a more businesslike approach to talent management. That transformation can only occur rapidly if you assign some of your existing business-side managers and employees (who excel at creating data-driven processes with high business impacts) at least temporarily into HR. At least in the short term, recruiting and retention efforts must be prioritized, and HR resources, employeesm and budget funds need to be channeled away from lower impact HR areas.
The new HR leaders need to be ruthless so that any HR programs that are not 100 percent data-driven or that cannot prove a positive ROI are dropped. In order to ensure that everyone in HR is laser focused, the bonus and the promotion criteria for HR professionals need to be heavily weighted in the important areas of meeting recruiting, retention, and workforce productivity goals.
As an executive, you should know that your frustration with recruiting and retention is shared by others. Unfortunately, the Human Capital problem has been at the top of The Conference Board’s annual CEO’s ranking of the “top business challenges” for four years running. And I can assure you that after many decades of working in recruiting and retention, a minor tweak in HR won’t cause human capital to move from the list of challenges into the more desirable asset list. Instead, what is needed is an all-hands energized commitment to dramatically increase the number o
f employee-recruiters who are working on finding and retaining top talent.
You don’t need huge budget increases or even new technology to turn around your talent function. However, the transformation can’t happen without the CEO becoming the Chief Talent Champion. You must also shift to a data-driven approach that identifies not the most commonly used, but the most effective recruiting, retention, and productivity tools within your organization. It really is that simple.