Re-recruitment: Keep your people from walking out

People don't quit jobs. They quit managers. Are you doing enough re-recruiting -- recruiting employees already on board, rather than outside, recently separated workers? InfoWorld writer Loretta Prencipe investigates the HR department's latest strategy.

People don't quit jobs. They quit managers. Are you doing enough re-recruiting -- recruiting employees already on board, rather than outside, recently separated workers? InfoWorld writer Loretta Prencipe investigates the HR department's latest strategy.

Re-recruitment is the newest weapon in a company's retention arsenal. These heightened retention efforts will play an increasingly important role as corporate -- and recruitment -- budgets tighten.

Top performers are constantly targeted by other companies. Re-recruitment devotees make it their mission to remind top performers why they signed on with the company in the first place.

A re-recruitment programME carries enormous benefits but is not easy to deploy: It requires that management take a critical look at how and why star employees leave.

Honest conversations

"Why is it that only 54% of companies have retention strategies when 100% of them have recruiting strategies?" asks Sharon Jordan-Evans, co-author of Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay. "It's a fundamental disconnect that guarantees companies will suffer from costly turnovers."

The problem, Jordan-Evans says, is symptomatic of how corporate resources focus on the initial sale, or candidate recruitment, to the detriment of ongoing service, or employee re-recruitment. "What attracts us and keeps us are different," she says.

Recruiting is part dog-and-pony show. The company puts forth the best side of its work, mission and corporate culture. That's not enough. Companies often fail to hold on to the hearts, heads and spirits of top performers. "How can they?" Jordan-Evans asks, "when employers often have little or no clue about what really makes employees stay and what makes them head for the door?"

According to Jordan-Evans, the re-recruitment approach is to ask them, "What would it take for another company to lure you away from us?" Few managers -- or employees -- are prepared to deal with this loaded question.

Managers often oppose asking employees such candid questions. The answers they might hear could cut both personally and professionally. They also fear putting ideas into employees' heads or dread being unable to respond effectively. "These are symptoms of an industrial-age approach to human resources," Jordan-Evans says.

Training for re-recruitment

"We recognise that every Pacificare employee is a target recruit for another employer, [and] we believe in being adult about the dynamics that are a reality for every employee and every employer," says Judy Ehrenreich, vice president of human resources at Pacificare Health Systems in California.

Pacificare is experimenting with a re-recruitment training programME designed to get front-line supervisors to ask just the right questions. Managers go through a half-day training seminar based on the ideas in Jordan-Evans' Love 'Em or Lose 'Em. The goal is to create opportunities for employees and managers to hold candid conversations which will allow Pacificare to really understand and preempt the hot offers that might lure employees away.

Initiating the conversation and then responding to employees' statements effectively and with authority is important. "Managers know what they can offer so that they don't make a commitment they can't deliver. The conversation is about probing what the managers can realistically put energy into," Ehrenreich says.

Training for the tough conversation and identifying retention risk are also part of the re-recruitment programme at The Hartford Financial Services Group in Connecticut.

When are employees most vulnerable to being recruited away? Hartford managers ask this and other questions such as 'What are the hot areas in which super-skilled employees are most targeted? How does geography enter into the equation?'

"Based on this type of [inquiry], The Hartford can put some strategies around those people in particular," says John Madigan, human resources executive for The Hartford's 3500-member IT group.

IT managers are also trained to conduct retention risk assessments. A key part of the training, says Madigan, is for managers to recognise that employees in their first year with a company are more of a turnover risk than their more senior colleagues.

Re-recruitment role playing

Role-playing is an essential part of management re-recruitment training. Diana Barlow, an assistant director at The Hartford's IT financial unit, and other managers conduct mock discussions with trainers. "The trainers walked me through all the steps, trying to understand what about my job is important to me and attempting to retain me," Barlow says.

After training, Barlow developed a short list of questions designed to get her seven-member team to clarify the values they considered most important. She gave her team members a week to think about it and then met with them one by one.

The conversations, not surprisingly, centred on issues of career advancement, training and certification, financial security and work/life balance. The results were often startling.

One of Barlow's employees was surprised to find that her values had shifted within the past nine months. Such unacknowledged changes often lead to people leaving because a manager can address only acknowledged problems.

Another staffer wanted to be on the top of the challenging assignment list, but also wanted flexible work arrangements including leaving the office on time and working from home. The conversations around these issues created more possibilities for worker satisfaction, according to Barlow, and brought compensation and training changes to the company.

The Hartford is compressing the compensation-cycle times: semi-annual salary reviews may not be sufficient for the most talented employees. The company is also rolling out a corporate university with online access to course work and professional development.

Re-recruitment risk

But re-recruitment is not without its risks. "Employees who are in perpetual recruitment mode may not get the sense of ownership in the company that is so critical for retention," says Kathi Jones, director of human resources at Aventail, a Seattle-based provider of extranet services.

To Jones, the key to re-recruitment is employee referrals. In response to an aggressive referral programme, more than 60% of Aventail hires come from other employees. "The main benefit is that referred employees have a vested interest in making things work out," she says.

Aventail's retention rate is hovering at approximately 92%, Jones says, a figure that may be skewed upward because Aventail is in startup mode, but that rate is higher than the industry retention average of nearly 60%.


All successful re-recruitment programmes are driven by the reality that what motivates a candidate may radically change after he or she has become an employee. Strategies that fail to recognise this are doomed to fail.

"Money and perks matter more in recruitment mode than in retention mode," says Aventail's Jones. "What a candidate really wants to know is, 'Will I love this job?' That's impossible to know in advance, so they concentrate on things they can know: money, stock options, perks, the BMW."

But when the candidate gets on board and becomes an employee, the issues that were indefinite -- the work, the career path, the boss -- now come to the fore. And the individual elements of the package that attracted the candidate in the first place decrease in importance to the employee. "If they are not happy with the working conditions, they won't stay for the car or the good pay check," Jones says. "They will look for the next place to land."

Re-recruitment works when a company understands what matters most to individual employees, anticipates when an employee is open to lures from another company, and is prepared to customise a response that meets the needs of both the company and the employee. "Companies need to be constantly asking, 'What rings this person's chimes?' and 'How can we give him or her more of that?'" Jones says.

Role for recruiters

Increasingly, companies are giving their in-house recruiters an important role in the re-recruitment mission. "It makes sense because often the recruiter and the employee have forged a good relationship," says Jason Warner, who leads the recruiting team at ECS, an Oracle software consulting unit of CSC in Washington state.

"Why not leverage that relationship? Although the front-line manager is ideally the best [person] to recognise an employee's vulnerability to being recruited, in practice recruiters are often better equipped to leverage the relationship in order to address issues which may prompt the employee to take that recruitment phone call."

Creating a foundation for an ongoing relationship between employees and the recruiters who brought them into the company is not easy. At a minimum, it requires companies to rethink the way they compensate recruiters. It also demands a mechanism that, when the facts support it, will enable a recruiter to go to bat for top performers who are thinking of leaving the company.

Ten steps to re-recruitment
  • Blame yourself first. Start with the premise that top performers are leaving because you are an ineffective manager.
  • Make managers accountable. The company must come down hard on managers who consistently drive away good talent or who inadequately prepare new recruits for the job ahead.
  • Re-recruit your best people. Maintain ongoing conversations with employees to determine when, where, and how the company can induce star talent to stay on board.
  • Build interactivity. Leverage the power of the web by building and fostering a digital gateway where the company can sell the mission. This allows employees to visualise new opportunities for growth, community and fun.
  • Eliminate Mickey Mouse policies. Seek and destroy toxic policies such as inflexible work schedules and stringent dress codes before they poison the corporate culture and turn away potential candidates.
  • Demand pre-exit interviews. If you can't avoid losing a desirable employee, try to understand the real issues, which are never what you think they are.
  • Leverage your recruiters. Design recruiter/employee relationship-building events into the re-recruitment programme. These must not appear to be company-sponsored; they should instead be genuine opportunities for recruiters to build personal relationships.
  • Reward re-recruitment. Adjust compensation to provide an incentive for in-house recruiters to re-recruit existing top performers.
  • Promote re-recruitment. Publicise re-recruitment activity so top employees call the in-house re-recruiter before they take the call of a recruiter representing another company.
  • Act quickly. If an employee comes in with another offer, he or she needs answers in no more than a day.

Re-recruit yourself Not happy with your job? Before you jump ship, why not give your employer a chance to make things right? Following are some tips.
  • Be realistic about the things that can be changed and those that cannot. Balance the value of working in a proven environment with the risks of a new position.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Make a list of what you do and do not like about your current situation. Then develop a career goals list.
  • Start with the facts. Build a case based on facts, not grievances, so that management can clearly see, in black and white, what you want.