Preparing Against a Talent Raid
By Ranya El-Farnawani, Consultant, Knightsbridge Career Solutions & Seleena Juma, Consultant, Amrop Knightsbridge Executive Search
Can you hear that? It’s the sound of a new, major competitor sniffing around your top talent.
None of your people have actually left yet. Even so, you’re already imagining the stealthy tentacles of a competitor reaching into your office. They are arranging interviews, checking references and otherwise preparing to pry your people away.
The truth is that no organization is 100-per-cent immune to a talent raid. However, those that devote considerable time and resources to developing a truly engaged workforce will find that they suffer far fewer losses than those that ignore the needs of their workers.
Here are some simple, yet effective, dos and don’ts for defending against a talent raid.
The Don’t List: The good news is that this list is very short -- but very important.
Don’t throw one-time-only retention bonuses at your top people. Research on talent raids show that short-term, emergency payouts do little to ensure long-term loyalty. In fact, true top talent will likely see a retention bonus as a sign of weakness.
Don’t inflate job titles, especially if they don’t come with additional influence or responsibility. Top talent is always looking for new challenges and opportunities. Offering to change someone’s title without fundamentally changing his or her job is a fairly obvious sign of desperation.
Don’t threaten people to make them stay. Some organizations think it’s acceptable to tell part-time workers they cannot work for competitors. If you’re at the point where begging or threats seem to be the only options left, you’ve already lost the battle.
The “Don’t” list encompasses the hallmarks of an organization that, with no plan in place to retain top talent, is trying anything they can think of to stem the exodus. The hard truth is that there is no effective way to stop a talent raid if you wait until after it starts to take corrective action.
Do Care. Caring organizations are, by their very nature, less likely to suffer widespread talent raids. These organizations have long, robust histories of identifying the needs of their employees. They do the spadework to identify a greater purpose for everyone within the organization, often by demonstrating social and corporate responsibility. Employees at these organizations boast about their organization’s culture and identity. And that manifests in greater loyalty in the face of a raid.
Do Have Dialogue. The best organizations are those that have ongoing career conversations with their employees. They drill deep into the top talent to find out what makes them tick and what they think of the organization’s culture. They involve employees in decision making whenever and wherever possible. Managers are mandated to talk one-on-one with employees to create a forum where they can talk frankly about what they like and don’t like, and to let those employees know the organization wants to keep them in the fold. When it comes to retaining top talent, sometimes you just need to be able to ask them, “What will it take to keep you here?” That’s a tough question to pose if you’re not involved in a regular dialogue.
Do Offer Fair Compensation. Although temporary measures like retention bonuses are not effective, competitive compensation is a key factor in fighting off a talent raid. If there is a huge gap between what you are paying some of your key people and what the new competitor is offering, then you have a problem. It’s important to note, however, that top talent will look beyond remuneration when deciding where they want to work. That means pay alone is not going to fend off a talent raid.
Do Be Flexible. Dress codes, hard and fast office hours and a lack of work-life balance may have been accepted by previous generations, but younger employees won’t put up with these conditions. Surveys of recruited workers consistently show that organizations offering genuine work-life balance often win out over organizations that simply offer more money.
Do Be Consistent. Engagement initiatives, including career development and planning, must be part of a regular regimen. If these tools are pulled out sporadically, or only when there is a clear and present danger of a talent raid, they will not be effective. Employees will see them as insincere attempts to generate loyalty. As a result, rather than boosting employee engagement, they will only make employees feel more estranged.
Too many organizations think that you can defend against a talent raid the same way you protect your home against a flood: rally the troops, spend liberally on emergency measures, lay in temporary mitigation, and then hope for the best. In fact, the only organizations that are truly successful at withstanding a talent raid are the ones that devote themselves year-round to employee engagement. Those organizations don’t fear talent raids because they know, given the choice, their top people will choose to stay. That confidence, and the comfort that comes from it, is well worth the cost of true employee engagement.