A Blocking Strategy For Increasing Employee Retention, the Final Part

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

The first four parts of this column covered all of the elements of a world-class blocking strategy. In this fifth and final installment, we wrap up with miscellaneous blocking tips, as well as a listing of the possible blocking strategy categories.

Final Tips to Consider

  1. Get executive support for blocking by calculating the potential cost of being raided, and more important, the cost of top performers migrating to direct competitors.
  2. Set up an anti-raid/blocking/retention team to manage the process.
  3. Work closely with your labor-relations team, because union avoidance and blocking raiding share similar tools and approaches.
  4. Be proactive and realize that it is best to develop a blocking strategy long before any active raiding begins.
  5. “Sign-on” search firms that might raid (or that are already raiding you) because that alone will stop their efforts (it’s in the contract).
  6. Develop a profile of the top recruiters and top firms that attack you and the appropriate blocking strategy to block each approach. Distribute those profiles in a “rogues gallery” so managers and employees can know the enemy.
  7. Find out who does the recruiter training for each raiding firm; then take the training to learn their tactics.
  8. Conduct a failure analysis after each failed blocking attempt to determine the root causes of the failure.
  9. Learn from the poachers themselves by visiting Maureen’s sourcing group or other similar places that talk or write about the very best recruiting strategies so that you can learn the insiders’ secrets and then learn how to block them.
  10. Use the knowledge gained from external poachers to limit internal poaching by managers that are grabbing employees from critical business units.
  11. Have your CEO call the raiding firm’s CEO and ask for cooperation. Consider threatening to cut off purchases if you are a customer.
  12. Spread the word internally about the problems at raiding firms. Identify disgruntled and former employees of the raiding firm by posting questions on chatrooms and listservs. Use them to make a list of what is wrong with working with the raiding firm. Use quotes, stories, and information to bring some reality to the image being painted by their recruiters. Visit “anti-company” websites and vault.com to see what others say. (Also, check and counter your own.)
  13. Put yourself in their shoes and use your recruiters/headhunters to develop a mock plan on how you would raid a firm/yourself. Use the mock plan to help you anticipate moves and identify blocking strategies.
  14. Prioritize and focus on key jobs (i.e., hard to fill, key impact).
  15. Develop tools to identify potential or actual internal spies within your firm.
  16. Visit all of their recruiting events to see their approach. Find out whether any of your people are looking there.
  17. Send your loyal employees to interview and find out what they are offering and what they say.
  18. For large-scale raiding, set up a management “war room” to monitor your progress and to focus your resources.

Possible Blocking Strategy Categories

Throughout this series, I have mentioned numerous individual blocking strategies. In this final section, I will broaden the perspective to the 30,000-foot level.

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Below I list each of the possible “broad categories” that these numerous individual approaches can fit into. When considering new blocking approaches, it is important to place individual approaches into these categories in order to limit unnecessary duplication and over-lap.

1. Blocking Entry or Access

  • Limit access to information. This category includes blocking easy access to organizational charts, promotion announcements, telephone directories, and employee business cards.
  • Train those who can block access. This category includes tools and training that prevent outside recruiters from ever talking to employees. This includes training call screeners and electronic blocking strategies for phone calls, emails, and websites.
  • Block recruiting when employees are off site. This category approaches the limit-poaching success at job fairs, professional events, during travel, while surfing the Web at home, and while employee are at public non-recruiting events.

2. Information-Gathering Approaches

  • Call and incident logs. This category covers any mechanism for discovering a caller’s pitch. Having employees log calls or log incidents when they are approached online or at a professional meeting fits under this category.
  • Exit interviews for learning “who and why.” An essential part of your blocking strategy pertains to gathering information obtained during the traditional exit interview. It’s essential that exit interviews include a simple request: “Please give us the name of the recruiter who convinced you to leave.” If you can get it, you also want to know what company the separating employee is going to and what approaches were used to reach and convince the employee to leave. Other approaches under this category include delayed (post-exit) interviews and “why do you stay?” interviews.
  • Information gathering during orientation. A lot can be learned from new hires on their first day. The approaches that fit under this category cover questionnaires and interviews with new hires during orientation to find out what approaches were used on new hires by other firms’ recruiters. If the new hire has had multiple calls, you can learn a great deal about how competitor approaches differ from your own.

3. Focusing Your Effort

  • Prioritize who is at risk. Focus your blocking strategies on at-risk individuals. Identify who is vulnerable, who is currently looking, which raiding firms are the strongest, and which jobs get priority in blocking efforts.

4. Training and Awareness

  • Increase employee awareness through information. Make employees aware of poaching approaches through posters, e-mails, tent cards in the cafeteria, or through inserts in their pay envelope. Or, provide managers and employees with side-by-side comparisons so “targets” will know when outside recruiters are exaggerating offers.
  • Increase employee awareness during orientation. Teach employees that successful poaching impacts everyone’s job security and business success. Remind them it is part of their job to be on alert for both poachers and employees who might consider leaving.
  • Offer training programs. Consider offering employees brief training in how poaching occurs and what to do when it does occur. Because training can be time-consuming and expensive, focus on key target employees who are most likely to be targets. If you can’t afford the time for training, at least post some online training on your intranet.
  • Identify the poaching approaches. In addition to the already mentioned categories, a competitor’s poaching approaches can also be identified through finding out who trains their raiders, benchmark calls to identify their best practices, how they learn about new approaches, and how to turn the tables and use their own approaches against them.

5. Metrics and Rewards

  • Use rewards for managers to encourage their support of blocking. I find managers to be simple people. They are very busy, and as a result, they tend to focus on a few things and those are the things that they are either measured or rewarded on. As a result, it’s critical to add poaching and retention to managers’ bonus formula.
  • Measure poaching and distribute those metrics widely. Distribute a forced ranked listing (listing managers from the best-performing to the worst) on their blocking and retention performance. Distribute the list to every manager the first of every month in order to build awareness or to increase “embarrassment” and competition between managers to excel at stopping poaching.
  • Reward HR. Most HR functions have no blocking strategies or function. Part of that is due to confusion about who should own the blocking process. If you measure blocking success and then reward HR professionals for reaching blocking goals, it should clear any confusion quickly.

6. More Aggressive Categories

  • Stop them once they have returned the recruiter’s call. This category includes strategies that focus on convincing an employee who is already talking to a competitor to stop the recruiting process. This includes counter offers, re-recruiting them, transfers, and redesigning their job.
  • Involve your recruiters. No one knows more about poaching than recruiters themselves, so it just makes sense to use your own recruiting workforce to help you block others from poaching you. Recruiters don’t always get upset when someone poaches from their organization because high turnover rates translate into full employment for in-house recruiters. As a result, educate all recruiters on how poaching negatively impacts the company, their colleagues, and themselves (replacing top performers is, after all, hard work).
  • Steal their recruiters and their related practices. It might seem radical, but the number-one way to stop poaching from an organization that regularly poaches you is to hire away their most successful poaching recruiters. The recruiters you poach away will not poach from you anymore, and they are well aware of the successful poaching strategy used by their previous firm.
  • Use mystery callers. Another category of blocking approaches includes testing the blocking system by hiring recruiters to try to break in. It’s too aggressive for some but it is effective.
  • Prevent the “lift out” of entire teams. Block the most sophisticated group of raiders, those who specialize in poaching entire teams at one time. Approaches under this category include monitoring team leads that are influential enough to “bring along” their team and building a warning network of employees who “talk” when their leader approaches them about leaving as a unit.
  • Poach to distract them. This is a proactive category that emphasizes continuous intense poaching to distract any attacking firm.
  • Use contracts to guarantee protection. As a final fail-safe option, consider signing key employees to individual long-term employment contracts, so that leaving is no longer an option for that employee during the specified period of time.

Final Thoughts

Blocking raids on your employees is really less about which approach you use and more about doing something and seeing what works best for you. As a result, I recommend that in addition to a corporate-wide strategy, you provide managers with a range of blocking tools and let them choose the ones that make sense to them.

By allowing for some experimentation, you can learn faster what works and what doesn’t. The only real mistake is assuming that you are not currently being raided and thus waiting until it is too late to develop a blocking strategy!

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.



6 Comments on “A Blocking Strategy For Increasing Employee Retention, the Final Part

  1. Some of these suggestions are very innovative, but I feel like the overall approach is very negative. Great companies don’t bleed talent. People who are treated fairly by their managers, are offered a decent place to come to every day by their companies and find themselves challenged and decently rewarded in their roles usually prove very difficult to actively recruit. These strategies are all reactive, but they don’t address what is usually the root cause of the problem…poor management.

  2. The article should be re-named ‘A Blocking Strategy For Decreasing Employee Retention’.

    I have a small issue with the word ‘poaching’ – poaching is illegal theft of somene elses property, recruiting is not – and I hate to break it to John but the company doesn’t ‘own’ the employee, company pays said employee to do a task.

    Acording to the most recent article, companies need block recruiting to employees while they are at home. We’re back to Big Brother, SS, Nazi, Communist, Police State tactics. What an employee does on their own time is that person’s business, not the company. What’s the plan, send the SS out to hook out ‘blocking’ filters to the employee’s cable line as it enters their house? An employee is paid to do a 40 hour a week job (granted, it’s longer in today’s corporate world), but time outside of work is the employee’s time

    These tacics will increase attrition, not retention. Employees don’t need and don’t want the stormtroopers watching their every move. Micromanagement strikes again, this time in its truest form, the police state which will stop innovation, increase attrition and, in the end, make profits disappear. I wouldn;t want to be the person who OK’d this strategy.

  3. While this series has been fairly comprehensive, almost exhausting the subject of blocking strategies, I feel that certain critical, highly effective methods have been overlooked.
    In an endeavor to shed even further light on this subject I will enumerate a number of methods that we use here.

    I believe that I am highly qualified, even uniquely qualified to speak on this subject as a veteran of the ‘Wars on Talent’, no one knows better than I.
    The youngsters may not remember, but in the old days, we actually fought the talent; fought em’ to a standstill.

    Let me help the good doctor by enumerating some of the blocking strategies we used in the theory x golden days.

    Use crazy glue to glue the handsets to the bases. If they can’t pick up the phone, they can’t talk to recruiters. Don?t use contact cement–the cleaning people hate all those gooey strings–making THEM vulnerable to poachers.

    Wrap the most vulnerable employees in tin foil to prevent TPRs from reading their thoughts or communicating with them by any means short of gamma rays.
    Wrap the building in lead–that’ll close the gamma ray opening.
    Retain physical possession of key employees? family members (pets will do for the more sensitive)
    Shoot the least loyal employee–leave the body around for a few days.
    Make ridiculous counteroffers.
    ‘So, Smedley, they offered you 100,000! –I’ll give you a million! (the check does not need to clear)

    Use and enjoy these techniques that took me years to develop.
    I have many, many more–four or five articles worth, at least.

    Bill Wager
    Hunter Green
    40 Exchange Place
    NY, NY 10005

  4. Leo,
    I am with you, the word poaching and recruiting should not go hand in hand.

    If a company is Poaching from their competitors, generally it is assumed that they are not recruiting with the intent to offer someone an opportunity to help advance their career, but have more unfair or anti competitive strategies in mind – like was mentioned in a former article, stealing a whole department with the intent to impede a competitor.. Not too cool!

    Like many have said in previous posts.. focus on finding ways to earn loyalty – salaries, bonuses, benefits, 401k, payed education. Most of all find out what the issues are.. deal with it..

    Retention is the key here, focus on how to create a work friendly environment.. Focus on Employer/employee loyalty

  5. Stefan, I think you are right on point here, and research supports you. KFI did a survey a number of years ago, which revealed the top 4 reasons for voluntary terminations:

    4. MONEY (Makes us feel good, or surprised?)
    3. CREATURE COMFORTS (Shorter commute, better office, etc.)
    2. FEEL UNDER-UTILIZED (Hooray for Abe Maslow!)

    Statistical margin of error be damned, at its least this survey indicates that the best measure of protection against raiding may be to create an environment and culture that employees find stimulating and professionally rewarding. Investments in management training to improve employee relations will not only help curtail the most frequent cause of voluntary terminations, but may well have the dual benefit of improving retention of managers because, as we all know, the retention tool with the highest ROI is training. Sounds like a win win, no?

    Using more proactive tactics, as Stefan suggests, may be the best prevention against raiding. Not that strategies to protect against raiding don’t have their place, but perhaps the best place may be in the bunker as a doomsday plan.

  6. I at one time or another have discussed this issue..with a corporate president. The discussion focussed on corporate retention. The reality was that I had jokingly stated that if every company treated their employees well….there would be no reason for the employee to talk to a recruiter or leave a company.

    Some of the suggestions I simply disagree with and do not address the real issues of treating employees well and rewarding performers who for lack of recogniton or financial rewards or negative bosses seek opportunities else where.

    A talented corporate professional is a like a beautiful robust flower. If not provided a nurturing and rewarding environment, it simply blooms and dies.

    I am glad that I am a recruiter because unfortunately most companies treat people as numbers and not as people who have their own goals and dreams that are unfortunately secondary to a company

    Your argument simply does not address the individual who will simply leave the company rather than deal with the artificial obstacles that you have suggested that may be effective in the short term but create resentment in the long term.

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