A Blocking Strategy For Increasing Employee Retention, Part 4

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

The first three parts of this column introduced the elements of a world-class blocking strategy, including tips to prevent poaching at conferences and events. This week, we look at online blocking techniques, the most effective general blocking approaches, and measuring the effectiveness of implementing these strategies.

Five Methods to Block Online Attempts to Poach Employees

Historically, cold calling was the favored approach of recruiters; however, in the modern world many recruiters use electronic approaches at least as often as cold calling. As a result, any effective blocking strategy must include elements that cover attempts using e-mail and website communication channels. To combat this, consider some of these approaches:

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  1. Block access to recruiting websites. After employee referrals, Internet recruiting is the second most-used recruiting method. Block them! The IT department can restrict access to certain websites, although this approach will only work when the employee is on your corporate network. The types of sites could include both national and local job boards, social networking sites, and careers sites of major talent competitors. While blocking social networking sites could impact your employees’ abilities to assist you in recruiting from other organizations, some networking sites are more likely to be leveraged by recruiters. If you don’t feel up to blocking such websites, educate employees about which sites are likely to be scoured by pesky recruiters. In addition to obvious websites, be aware of innovative recruiting approaches leveraging sites like MySpace, FaceBook, and even YouTube (recruiting videos).
  2. Log Internet activity. If you’re not up to actually blocking websites, you can at least keep a record of those job sites that are visited and use it to identify individuals who are probably looking for a job. Block them! It’s possible, based on your privacy policy, to have IT track the websites that employees visit to determine your at-risk employees. You don’t have to tell them how you know or even that you know they’re looking, but it’s a good idea to focus your retention efforts on individuals who are regularly visiting a site that includes job listings.
  3. Post blind ads. Individuals who are actively seeking employment are obviously “vulnerable” to recruiter calls. Block them! An excellent way to identify individuals who are at risk to poaching is to post blind ads on websites, which do not identify your firm. If your own employees apply, you know they’re at risk of leaving.
  4. Block or track recruiting e-mail or IMs. If you’ve developed an effective logging system, you’ll know which recruiters and firms are regularly attacking you. Once you have identified them, use a similar approach to the one used in blocking telephone calls to ensure that emails from recruiting firms, and in some cases, any email from a direct competitor are either tracked or directly blocked. Block them! Work with IT to set your “filters” to intercept obvious recruiter solicitations. Pay special attention to networking organizations like Jobster or LinkedIn, which have positive networking features but also serve as a poaching channel.
  5. Track mobile phones. Because mobile phones do not go through your switchboard and they can now visit websites and receive e-mails, instant messages and podcasts, they must be included in the online category. It’s important to note that in some cases, mobile phones are even more dangerous because, unlike a computer, they are “on” and with your employees all the time. As a result, they are most likely to be used whenever the employee has idle time outside of the office. Block them! Use cell-phone usage logs to identify recruiters targeting your organization. Work with your cellular service provider and IT department to employ the same Caller ID-based call-blocking schemes used on corporate extensions.

Five Miscellaneous Blocking Approaches

  1. Employee referrals. Over the course of the last four years employee referrals have become the number-one source for recruiting externally. Because a great deal of investment is currently being placed in such programs to make them more sophisticated and effective, any good blocking strategy should include methods to block them. Referrals are particularly insidious because the inbound attack can come from anyone at any time. Block them! The most powerful approach to blocking poaching efforts via employee referrals is education and employment brand management. Reinforce to employees that your organization provides the absolute best combination of employment features available, and that assertions by other organizations are just that, assertions. Accomplishing this relies first on a dedication to following through on employment brand messaging (something very few organizations attempt) and on competitive intelligence. With these two components underway, educate employees through frequent side-by-side organizational comparisons, benchmark studies, news reports, editorials, and management presentations.
  2. The restaurant across the street. Because large numbers of your employees are likely to go to a restaurant close to work, consider such venues obvious recruiting spots, especially when alcohol is involved. Block them! Educate employees about the likelihood of a recruiter being present. (In addition, tell employees not to leave their business cards in the “wish bowls” at restaurants or other locations.) The more aggressive approach is to directly ask key individuals to report back to you whenever they observe recruiting. Other approaches include asking the wait staff to keep you informed or even sending one of your own recruiters to these venues to periodically monitor what’s happening. If you don’t believe recruiting happens at these venues, you are na?ve at the very least.
  3. Temps and contractors in your midst. The use of contractors and temporary workers is growing in nearly every industry and geography as more and more companies embrace a project-based work allocation model. While this new work model enables organizations to remain significantly more agile and lean, it also brings a significant number of unaccountable eyes into the organization on a daily basis. Some innovative recruiters actually employ temporary workers as talent scouts. While on the job site, the temporary worker will scour the organization for trusted resources, the top performers, and the key process people. Having spent a few days on the job, they can leave your organization with a blueprint detailing how top talent is dispersed throughout your organization, and in many cases, provide insight to their real employer as to the motivations and habits of the identified key players. This is a serious problem that can not to be overlooked. Block them! Because the information mined by such temps is not leveraged by them or their temporary agency directly, it can be difficult to identify when you are at risk. Consider adding terms to your temporary labor agreements that bind such workers to confidentiality. While making them liable through contracts may dissuade a few, it isn’t going to eliminate the process. Consider having instant background checks done on any temporary worker who will have access to corporate directories and in a position to observe key business operations. Recruiters who employ these labor spies often pay them under the table, so your background investigations should look for obvious signs of unreported income. Work with the agencies that supply such labor to ensure they have systems in place to screen out such individuals.
  4. Interns as sourcers. Similar to temporary workers, interns quickly identify key individuals within an organization. Because interns often move on following their internship, they leave with a virtual treasure trove of information. Block them! Because some interns are na?ve, you need to let them know upfront that you have an expectation that all professionals maintain confidentiality. Obviously, offering interns return opportunities for another internship or a job is a possible way to limit these leaks. To maintain their loyalty following an internship, consider paying them a monthly stipend to act as an on-campus “ambassador” to spread the word to top students and student organizations about the value of working at your firm. This experience almost always solidifies their loyalty.
  5. Team lift outs. Some recruiters are realizing that poaching or “lifting out” an intact team can have a large and instant impact on business results. Block them! Lift-out attempts almost always focus on well-liked or charismatic team leaders. If you want to block this practice, identify any cohesive or “tight knit” teams that have a reasonable probability of leaving en masse. In addition to approaching the team leaders, ask individual team members to alert you whenever anyone on the team discusses a possible group move. You can also use a “dry search” to identify these teams or do periodic mystery recruiting to see whether they will respond positively to a recruiting-type phone call from someone on your team. Assign extra resources into “lift out” blocking because the business and PR consequences of a successful lift out are, to say the least, dramatic.

Blocking Effectiveness Metrics

Any good process continually monitors its effectiveness and reports its results to senior management. A blocking strategy should not be exempt to this rule. Here are some blocking results/output metrics you might consider:

  1. Giveaway/take away ratio. Firms that are truly competitors in the war for talent track each quarter the number of individuals that they “take away” from each talent competitor compared to the number that is “taken away” from them. Obviously, whenever you have a negative giveaway/take away ratio, your recruiting and blocking efforts need to be dramatically reinforced.
  2. Track your poaching loss rate. Most companies track overall turnover, but that is not the same as poaching loss rate. If you’re developing a poaching metric, I recommend that you include individuals who go to a direct competitor, individuals who leave and go to the same or higher-level jobs and the same job family for individuals that acknowledge that they’ve been poached during the exit interview or when you contact them six months later for your post-exit interview.
  3. Consider multiplying the poach rate. Some organizations weigh or multiply a loss when they calculate their poaching loss statistics. I recommend this approach because it puts a higher weight or value on the loss of someone from a mission-critical job, someone who is a top performer (the loss is multiplied or reduced depending on performance appraisals ratings), someone who is hard to replace, or someone who has a critical company knowledge or future skill.
  4. Mystery poach results. One of the best metrics to use is the percentage of “mystery poach” attempts that succeed. The process is simple: periodically ask an employee to call or email (using a generic account) into your organization to see what percentage of messages are successfully blocked. You can expect 100%, but if you’re getting below 50%, your system is just not working.
  5. Post-exit results. One of the best ways to identify where individuals are going and why they are leaving is to ask them directly during the exit interview. Unfortunately, they’re not always forthcoming at that time; instead, identify where they go during the standard exit interview and then call them three months later, using what is known as a post-exit interview. The metric to track here is the percentage of top performers who reported why they left and hopefully, the tactics that were used. This information is then fed back to the blocking team, so they can develop approaches to block these obviously successful tactics in the future.

Next week in the final installment, look for the best overall blocking approaches and some miscellaneous final tips.

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.



14 Comments on “A Blocking Strategy For Increasing Employee Retention, Part 4

  1. Is anyone catching the irony of a recruiting website suggesting methods to stop candidates being recruited? If you want to stop people from being recruited, lock them in a closet. Seriously, the suggestion of blocking websites is ridiculous. If someone wanted to view available positions, they’re as likely to do it at home as at work. As Keith Halperin mentions above, when you implement such methods you demonstrate paranoid behaviour to the point that serious employees , and moreso candidates, question your motives. Blocking is the easiest way to spot a company that treats their employees poorly to the point where their only recourse is to lock them in a dark closet until the bad recruiters go away. I’m sorry, Dr. Sulivan, but you’re doing a disservice to clients and recruiters alike.

  2. My personal belief is your time would be better spent not trying to ‘block’ your employees from leaving. Spend your time making your organization the type of place where people want to work.

  3. With all due respect, I believe the suggestions made in this article sound too much like ‘big brother.’ These tactics have the propensity to ‘backfire.’ Employees must be treated with respect, not like victims of a communist regime where information and contact with the ‘outside world’ is controlled.

    After all, it’s a free country. Employers who keep employees best interests at the heart of their operations garner strong loyalty, not easily swayed by even the best recruiter.

    Every organization has the right to limit the use of their internet to only those that pertain to business. However, as I said earlier, these tactics seem extreme. Also,asking employees to ‘divulge’ information about their fellow workers is dipping a toe into dangerous waters. ‘Rewarding’ people for providing this type of information may send the message that ‘providing gossip’ about a co-worker’s activities scores points. For example, Sue may pass word on to management about some ‘alleged’ activities of her co-worker, Sally, to try and elminate her as competition for an upcoming promotion.

    Companies would be best served to do better management/mentoring training, investing in their people and constantly reviewing benefits and promotion opportunities to be sure intellectual capital is utilized properly.

    On the flip side, an occasional interview with a competitor could make your employee appreciate what he/she has more than ever.

  4. I agree with Rick McCain – make your workplace one where people don’t want to leave. This article started off OK, but ended with infeasible recommendations – block people from restaurants or interns from taking info?? You don’t want a team lift-out? Keep the team leader happy and team intact! If employees are that unhappy – they SHOULD leave, let them find the grass purportedly greener. It is unfortunate also, that most employers focus on keeping those who don’t want to stay and ignoring or mistreating those who genuinely like their jobs and workplace. Plus, instead of tracking poach rates, do an employee satisfaction poll with no punishment and learn what your organization is really like!

  5. Being a recruiter that cold calls, emails, and ‘shows up’ at those bars or restaurants to find individuals as mentioned in this article, I’d say that irregardless of trying to block individuals from these things, if they are not happy with their current work environment, the blocking would be a waste of time on the part of the company because I would still get in touch with them. My phone number, email, and cell number have been blocked from several organizations in the Philly area due to my ‘poaching’ if you will but even though this makes it difficult to touch base with someone, it doesn’t keep me out. Once my name is known, candidates in the organization start contacting me and I have no issues at that point getting in whether I am blocked or not.

    In fact, I have had a few employees from these competitors contact me and tell me that my info had been blocked and that they were that much more disappointed in their current role because the company would do something like that to keep them from progressing. So be careful not to be sending your employees the wrong signals if you do choose some blocking strategies.

    I love it when I am blocked! Not only does it mean I am doing my job right, but it also creates a better scenario for me to recuit more individuals from the competition. Besides, I’m offering a better opportunity anyway…right?

  6. IMHO, the more a company implementso these methods and the more aware that employees are of them, the greater the loss of disaffected employees, the lowering of morale among those who remain, and the increased tendency to retain timid, cowed individuals who do not mind or are too afraid to object to working in an organizational ‘police state’.

    Perhaps this is the actual intent of these methods:
    to create an organization so paranoid, intrusive, and micromanaging in its culture that no one would wish to hire the people who would work in such an environment.

    Thank You,

  7. These articles are very clever! On one hand, they remind recruiters about all of the headhunting techniques required to perform remarkably, which is re-inspiring, and on the other hand they re-explain to recruiting employers the real craftmanship and therefore value of ‘high quality’ headhunting services. Of course only the most na?ve companies will consider implementing Gestapo-style anti-poaching firewalls, which have been demostrated ineffective over and over. All of the others will read between the lines. As a recruitment services provider, I can only say: Thanks! Very well done!

  8. I have not read anything this foolish in my 12+ years of recruiting/staffing.

    If companies put the time, energy and cash that you suggest spending on this poaching garbage into staff development and morale, employees would be less likely to leave. All this kind of behaviors do is breed a culture of suspicion and animosity between managment and the team.

    I think Dr. Sullivan has spent to much time reading the Patiot Act.

  9. How many of you out there would want to work for a company like this? I would not – this is a sign of micro-management at its worst. The attitude of ‘we don’t trust you’ is not productive in the workplace – it keeps true innovation from happening. Why not just place hidden cameras behind the employees backs so you can watch what they are doing every second of the day? ‘Opps – this one just clicked on a job link – block his internet access for the next 3 weeks’. What’s next – ‘uh oh so and so is wearing a new suit to work – he must be looking for a new job! Go out and let the air out of his tires so he can’t make the interview.’

    These kinds of gestapo actions would increase attrition. The tighter you hold onto something, the more it will fight to break free. And in today’s job market, it won’t be hard for the top performers to leave and find a better work culture the won’t make them feel like they are in maximum security prison. The word gets out about a company’s work environment, in turn making it harded to recruit new employees. Positions that generate $$$$ stay open longer and profits erode. The long and short of it is that these kinds of policies effect the bottom line in a negative way.

  10. For the longest time Sullivan was embracing these very same tactics for Recruiting and Raiding Teams from the competitor;

    In fact, these techniques were so embraced, that I remember the comments of free will, and employees are not prisoners, when it was suggested that some of the techniques he mentioned could be considered anti-competitive..

    Today, he is pushing similar techniques, but in the complete Reverse.. to create environments for employees that could be likened to the third Reich, or McCarthyism.
    Wow, I wonder, does the mood swing as the wind blows?

    One suggestion, beware of discussing competitors with former employees, or candidates, especially if they are still within a Non Disclosure, non-compete, privacy clause.. You would not want that to come back to bite you..

    The other responses re this article are excellent, especially that of Michael Peck..

  11. The only way implementing these strategies would be effective in preventing passive candidates from being raided is because they would all become active candidates.

    Today’s employees will not put up with these tactics. The second they find out that websites are being blocked, e-mail is being logged, and phone calls are being traced, they will go apply to a company that has more trust and respect for their employees.

    As others have suggested, your efforts would be much better spent creating a work environment that makes employees want to work there instead of trying to find ways to chain them to their desk.

  12. Paul Hawkinson…Where are you?
    A counterpoint article addressing Dr. Sullivan’s
    ‘Blocking’ article would be very entertaining.
    Are you up for it?

  13. Karen –

    Now now, maybe the good Dr.(Sullivan) has an editor. He is a writer, and it could be akin to a writer asked to write an article (during the Middle East crisis) about gas going to $4 or even $5 and causing a recession & stock market crash. The same editor probably asked them (in October) to write an article on gas going below $2 (per the AAA projection) precluding a recession and pushing the stock market even higher.

    I enjoy the writing and differing views, even the controversy, which, thankfully, provokes additional differing views – good for learning!

  14. Jon,
    It is indeed easy to enjoy the controversy when the mud slinging isn?t directed to you. In standing by what I say, I believe that there should be a level of responsibility that should be acknowledged by the authors who write articles on these forums, especially when one ?cites? oneself as a self proclaimed industry expert.

    There are many greenhorns who come to these boards, and accept what they see as being True and valid. When I read some of the articles on ERE, I often wonder – have these methods been ascertained to be efficient? Have they been implemented and been successful in many companies? Or is this just an opinion? A Personal viewpoint? Have you personally experienced this for yourself, or is it based upon hearsay? If it is hearsay, please define.. Because inquiring minds want/need to know

    This is a professional forum where we come to learn, professional information, from individuals who have actually had personal success in practicing what has been stated, or being taught. They have personal hands on knowledge and practical experience…Or they have been able to personally see it for themselves..

    Is it wrong for me to be concerned by the complacency and schism of our profession. We discuss problems in this industry and I see this exacerbated by articles written by individuals who do NOT have personal Experience, Personal Knowledge, and don?t really have a concept of the harm it can create, as they are not keeping in mind that there are the novice who wholly accept the word of wisdom written as the final rites in recruiting.

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