A Blocking Strategy For Increasing Employee Retention, Part 3

Is your firm experiencing an increasing turnover rate because recruiters from other firms are raiding you?

Part 1 and Part 2 of this column introduced 15 elements of a world-class blocking strategy. This week, read on to learn six new, essential tips for blocking the poaching. In addition, this column will focus on six more tips to prevent poaching at conferences and events, as well as providing insights into some recruiters’ strategies.

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Six More Telephone-Related Approaches and Blocking Strategies

  1. Benchmarking calls. Any firm that has a strong employment brand and is known for its excellent management practices will get a large volume of benchmarking inquiries. What most people don’t realize is that those calls almost always result in the name of a best practice leader being “captured” by a competitor and possibly even a recruiter from a competitor. These calls are particularly dangerous because the individuals who manage a firm’s best practices are high-value targets for competitors. Block them! The first step is to identify your firm’s externally publicized best practices and identify the individuals who are associated with those practices. This includes individuals who are talked about in press releases, newsletters, or are quoted in the media. Educate those individuals about the likelihood of disguised benchmarking calls. Consider allocating someone within the HR function to become the dedicated benchmark effort coordinator, a model that would limit your exposure to just one project-manager person. It’s smart from an employment-branding standpoint to appear on benchmark lists and in benchmark research, but it is equally as smart to establish protocols that protect your employees who are made visible by such efforts.
  2. Electronically blocking phone numbers. Caller ID is a marvelous invention and one that recruiting departments can leverage to their advantage. Much like you screen calls based on the caller ID, companies can screen and route incoming calls based on the same data. Consider identifying all of the telephone numbers of recruiters who routinely try to poach from your organization. Ask the IT department to either block all incoming calls from those numbers or reroute them to a dedicated extension in the recruiting department. The smartest recruiters will figure out most number-blocking schemes and learn to call from other non-blocked numbers, but you will create a roadblock that makes their lives more difficult.
  3. After-hours calls. Calling before or after the receptionist’s scheduled hours in order to avoid gatekeepers is a common recruiter approach. Often an individual who gets to work extremely early or stays late will answer the call. If no one answers, many recruiting organizations map extensions by combing through the automated directory. Because many employees list their job title or department on their voice mail announcement, it enables them to build detailed directories. Block them! Consider having IT alert you when call logs show repeated calls in a short period of time from a single branch of telephone lines, and having a trigger embedded in the phone-control system that blocks inbound calls from numbers employing this practice.
  4. Miscellaneous recruiter “ruse” calls. The approaches that recruiters take when they cold call are too numerous to count, but listed below are some of the most effective ones that you need to learn how to block. Block them! For each of these types of “ruse” calls, the required blocking strategies are similar. Work with call screeners to make sure that they know what is likely to happen; educate employees; and periodically use your own mystery caller in order to see what percentage of these calls are effective. A really powerful approach is a small monetary award given to employees who record the name and telephone number of such callers and report the activity to the staffing function.
  • Plea from college student. Everyone wants to be helpful and most of us were at one time in school working on a research report or thesis, so there’s a natural tendency to help people in this category. Ask the person to email you a request from a university-issued email address. Most universities now distinguish alumni accounts from current students and faculty by using sub-domains such as alumni.university.edu.
  • Memory loss. This cold calls starts with “I met this person from your X department, and they asked me to call them back, but I forgot their name. I believe it was Mark or Mary or?”
  • International caller. In this case, the person uses an accent and acts “confused” (a significant number of name researchers are actually located in the Philippines or India). Because employees who have done significant international travel can often relate to the problem of communicating with people in another country, they often respond by helping them.
  • Made-up name. Recruiters ask for a fake name, but when the receptionist can’t locate the name, he or she says, “just pass me through to the head of X.”
  • First-name only. The caller gives only the first name and the department. All too frequently, the receptionist responds, “the only Mary we have in engineering is Mary Smith.” The recruiter says no, but then calls the identified person back a few hours later.
  • Background check. Some misguided ruse experts will call and pretend to be loan officers, reference checkers, private investigators, or even police officers in order to get through.
  1. Warm calls. A cold call is the most common call in approach (when they are looking for names) but there are also warm calls (where they have a name already, but they don’t really know the person). In these cases, the receptionist or call screener must be particularly vigilant because they are harder to spot given that the individual already knows the name of the person they want to contact. Block them! Ask the caller to identify his or her firm and the purpose of the call before passing them on. The call screener can check with the employee later on to see whether the suspicious call actually came from a recruiter. There is a second step in the blocking process that occurs whenever an individual making warm call gets through to their target. Once the recruiter gets through to the targeted individual (whom they really don’t know) they often use lines similar to a pick-up line at a singles bar. They range from “Remember me? We met before a conference,” to “Mary Smith said you were the very best in your field, and I just couldn’t wait to talk to you.” Block them! Warn your high-value employees about each of these lines. Make sure they report the details of the calls to your blocking team.
  2. Mystery poachers. A blocking system is like any other system: you have to test it to make sure it works. If you are aggressive, I recommend periodically calling your own switchboard as a recruiter would to see whether they successfully identify you and block you. If you are feeling bold, you can also have an outside recruiter call individual employees to see whether they react according to your blocking scripts. The same method can be used to approach your own employees at conferences or events. Incidentally, if you find that your employees are receptive to outside recruiter offers, don’t get upset. Instead, “re-recruit” these individuals, so that the best offer they get comes from within the firm as opposed to outside of it.

Six Steps to Block Poaching At Conferences

Because one of the most effective sources for recruiting top talent is recruiting at professional events, conferences, and seminars, it’s critical that you identify the strategies that recruiters use. For example, some of them include the following:

  1. The registration list. I thought everyone knew about this approach, but I was speaking with recruiters at a conference recently who had never heard of the practice. All conferences and seminars have a list of the attendees. Some post it on the wall, while others give it to each individual attendee and some others attempt to keep the attendee list a secret. Because I speak at a large number of conferences, I can assure you that a good recruiter will always find a way to get a copy. Because such lists include the name, title, and company of each attendee, it can be a valuable asset. Block them! Work with conference providers to ensure some level of confidentiality upfront, or consider having all employees register for such events using “XYZ representative” as their title and providing them with an alternative email address for use in public forums.
  2. The registration table. If the conference places all of the attendees’ name badges on a table, expect recruiters to take a picture with their mobile phone camera or to write down the names and titles of potential recruiting targets (I caught a company’s competitor doing this just last week while addressing a corporate meeting in Las Vegas.) Block them! Consider asking attendees to complain to the conference coordinator if name badges are publicly visible.
  3. Win a prize. One trick to get business cards from competitors’ employees is a contest held at trade-show booths where you win a prize if you submit your card. It might even have a statement saying, “I would like to know more about the company,” and when you put your card in the bowl, you have essentially nullified most non-poaching agreements, because you have “sought out” the firm. Block them! I recommend that you forbid your firm’s attendees from participating in these drawings, but if you don’t have the courage to do that, at least educate them about what might be happening.
  4. Recruiter in the booth. Many organizations now put a recruiter in their firm’s product trade show booth. One firm found that up to 80% of the individuals who visited their booth were from product competitors. Block them! Identify individuals who are going to conferences and then email them a warning about potential recruiting approaches. Education is important because most individuals who go to conferences (usually your best performers and key managers) are unaware of the likelihood of people trying to poach them. Consider providing such employees with a side-by-side comparison sheet that reminds them of how your firm is clearly superior in management practices that may enable them to turn the recruiting conversation backwards, should they be approached.
  5. Recruiting at bars near conferences. Don’t assume that all recruiting will actually occur in the conference itself. Attendees are known to wear nametags around after the event at local restaurants and bars. Block them! Warn attendees to remove their badges when they leave the conference floor and make them especially aware of recruiters who offer free drinks.
  6. Recruiting at your own conferences. Unfortunately, recruiting is not restricted to public conferences. Sometimes hotel conference coordinators notify recruiters about which companies are holding large company events and seminars. Be vigilant when your company event brings together the very best for benchmarking or an awards program. Block them! Make corporate-event planners aware of the potential for recruiting, especially if your company’s name will appear on the hotel’s marquee. Make someone at the event responsible for watching out for recruiters and don’t leave programs, name badges, attendee lists, or even used flipchart sheets out after the event closes each day. In addition, don’t make award winners obvious by giving them Hawaiian shirts or other ways of telling every recruiter within 25 miles that they are superstars worth poaching. Always check the hotel’s listing of events to see whether competitors might also be holding events at the same hotel. If they are, prepare to monitor meeting attendance more closely and to secure all event documentation. Sales meetings where sales and marketing strategy are to be discussed are particularly vulnerable.

Next week in part 4, look for online blocking techniques and the most effective general blocking approaches.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



5 Comments on “A Blocking Strategy For Increasing Employee Retention, Part 3

  1. …and takin’ names, is, I think, how the saying goes. I hope all you names sourcers are taking notes! I know I am.

    Reverse engineering is a wonderful thing…
    Thank you Dr. Sullivan!


  2. Just couldn’t stop humming this old Marvin Gaye song as I was reading your article.

    John, you’ve done a good job at listing several of the most common, well worn trails leading a recruiter into a company and I think corporations should thank you. I also think some HR managers might be feeling a bit paranoid by now.

    Please understand gentle readers, that if a recruiter really knows their trade and understands their industry, there is very little you can do to stop them from inching their way in. There’s just too much information available from all types of sources.

    Human nature being what it is, I also think the more forbidden you make us, the more appeal we will have to your people.

  3. Being a recruiter will naturally taint my response but I’ve found it next to impossible to recruit a candidate that fully enjoys working for that employer. Trust is the key. That should be the main focus for empoyee retention.

    I also think that once employees learn that efforts are being made to block their outside contact, a negative impression is made in their minds about maybe other things are being hidden also.

  4. I read this article with increasing wonder, and, frankly, increasing concern.

    As a recruiter myself, I spend a goodly portion of my time helping the firms I recruit FOR develop programs, methods, techniques, (insert adjective here), whatever, to increase retention and reduce churn. Basically, even though I recruit FOR them, I try to help them become recruiter-resistant, and it’s NOT through BLOCKING techniques. . .that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.

    Why? Because all of these things are temporary fixes, they’ll never work forever anyway, and there are already go-arounds. . .I know, because I have a go-around for every one of them.

    A better idea is to fix YOUR firm so that YOU become recruit-resistant. Let me give you a real-live example. The reason I don’t leave is because my boss has made it really REALLY hard for me to leave, and here’s how:

    1. I am paid very VERY well. In fact, we have frequent reviews to insure that we’re paid at the very top of the industry. In addition, we have additional bonus opportunities on top of our ‘top of the profession’ pay. Nobody pays better, so the grass isn’t greener anywhere else. There are no limits on my income, except insofar as those I create myself.

    2. I have the ability to set my own schedule. Within very WIDE margins, I work when I want, subject to the needs of the business, not my boss’s whims. I work to the needs of the clients, as it should be.

    3. Meetings are short, direct, and to the point, and don’t consume much of my time.

    4. I have one direct reporting line. . .my boss is THE boss. I can see him whenever I need to, unless he is involved with a client, or engaged in a task. He doesn’t bug me, and he doesn’t look over my shoulder. Neither does anyone else.

    5. Clients are subject to review, and a client can be fired when they are no longer of value to the firm. We are expected to give value to clients, but we are not expected to take abuse. If clients don’t add value to the firm, they do not continue as clients.

    6. The rules are simple, and so is the work. Come in, do your job, work hard, go home, get paid, celebrate wins, mourn losses, and move on to the next challenge. That’s it, that’s all.

    There’s more, but basically, it’s simple, direct, understandable and pays me very well. The only way the work could be better is if I could sit around in my underwear, drink beer, and watch TV, and STILL get paid. If that isn’t the offer, there’s no way I’m gonna get poached.

    Blocking strategies aren’t necessary when you’ve set the job up correctly, and you don’t need 15 points to see that. When you humanize the job, put in the required elements, and simplify the design, you won’t need to block poachers. . .the blocks will create themselves. I get two to three offers a week, sometimes more, and at every event I go to. . .my JOB itself is the best block of all. Strategize that.

  5. Hahahahaha…ooooooooo….owwwwwwww Oh my, my sides hurt!!! Anyway, after reading the entire article and laughing until my sides ached, I just wanted to give a respectful and well deserved round of applause to James Confidential (I think you should change it to ‘Bond’ though…just as mysterious..but better!) I can’t imagine a better and more factual response to the ‘Articles of Paranoia’ by Mr Sullivan. I too, help my Clients in different retention roles and, like John, the very best is to simply make them ‘WANT’ to stay…works every time!

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