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Leadership Thought #480 – Recruiting and Retention Is More Important Than Ever

August 24, 2016

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The War for Talent is not just a contrived theory, it is reality.  Despite what our politicians may be saying, there are many good jobs out there at all levels of skill, talent, and experience. In all my years of consulting/coaching I have never seen a period where so many companies have vacancies for key positions and are having a tough time recruiting for them.  From what I can see, there are several variables driving this phenomenon:

  • A genuine supply and demand issue. In many cases (especially in certain industries), there just aren’t enough talented people to go around.
  • There is so much noise in the recruiting area that it’s getting more difficult to gauge the ROI of recruiting efforts. Traditional methods have become trite.  There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of innovation or differentiation happening in the recruiting space. Quantity is battering quality at the moment.
  • People with minimal work experience are job hopping at an accelerated rate sometimes without any rhyme or reason. This makes it hard for these individuals to develop a useful skill set. It’s easy to hire raw, much more difficult to hire seasoned.
  • Employees now think differently about the employee-employer relationship. Top talent now more than ever fully understands their value and will act as free agents and leave if they don’t feel appreciated (and this means different things to different people).
  • Expectations around job flexibility have made it especially difficult for employers who need staff on site and require normal work hours.
  • Our societies continued devaluing of blue-collar trade work (to our peril) versus white collar sedentary service-related work. Physically demanding work is less attractive than ever before.  In addition, trade schools and apprentice programs just aren’t churning out enough graduates.
  • Commuting has become a major issue, especially around major cities. Geographical constraints are becoming a significant burden on working families, especially those with young children. The job may be a fit with their skills but the effort to get there and the stress around getting back home, as well as accommodating your spouse’s/partner’s work life, can tilt the cost benefit analysis in the wrong direction
  • Employers are getting much better at screening potential applicants and being disciplined about finding a good fit, therefore the process takes longer and filters out more people.


So, if there are not enough people with the right skills and experience who are also able to make the commitments necessary to make the job work, what do you do?  If your key people have many opportunities to leave if they desire, how do you keep them engaged?  How can you still recruit and retain talent in this difficult environment?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Make recruiting every employee’s job and encourage them accordingly. It’s amazing to me how many employers are willing to pay a recruiter 20% of a first year’s salary, but balk at paying their employees a much smaller percentage than that.
  • Keep communication lines open with vendors and key clients concerning your recruiting needs. In almost all cases, they have a personal stake in your success.  Why not pay them referral fees as well?
  • Don’t just recruit when you have an open position. Always be recruiting for talent at all levels of the organization.  This doesn’t mean you have to hire where no need exists, but you can begin building relationships for when a need arises, upgrade the talent that currently exists and even make some exceptions for the right candidates.
  • Depending upon how many people you hire each year, you may want to hire for in-house full-time recruiting positions who just focus on that. You should certainly keep using recruiters if they have proven effective or you don’t have the volume needed to justify an in-house investment.  In addition, using both in-house and external talent provides a nice check and balance on the efforts of both.
  • Do your homework and pay for what’s required to get the talent you need. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Pay is a dissatisfier not a satisfier.  If you buy someone cheap, they will eventually uncover it and resent you for it.
  • Work with local community colleges, universities, public workforce development agencies, trade associations, and others to build a longer-term pipeline of qualified candidates.
  • Aggressively use internship positions to attract young talent to your company.
  • Use temporary employment agencies wherever feasible and consider a temporary to permanent employment model if they work out for a reasonable period.
  • Be much more open to splitting job duties using a part-time model. There are many talented people who for any number of personal reasons cannot work full-time, but they can still add some value.
  • Whenever and wherever possible allow telecommuting (at least part time).
  • Don’t keep talent pinned down in any one job too long. Good people want advancement potential and a path to get there.  The path can either be deep or broad depending upon their skill set and personality. If people are learning and growing, they tend to stick around longer.
  • Just as we have a marketing/public relations budget to promote our products/services, we need to invest in selling our company to potential recruits as well.
  • Don’t burn the bridge when good people leave. Keep the door open for them if they decide they want to come back.  Make them feel good about the time you spent together.  I would also stay in contact with them and pay recruiting referral fees to them as well.
  • Lastly, build an employee friendly culture. Be a place where others want to come to work because of how well you treat your employees.  Word does get around.


I’ve always told my clients that business fundamentally comes down to two things: math decisions and people decisions.  In today’s hyper-competitive world for talent, you have no choice but to acknowledge this latter reality and consciously go about outperforming your competitors in your recruiting and retention efforts.

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