Some recruiters in large organizations are throwing up their hands when faced with competition from the dot-com, start-up world. If you are a recruiter or an HR professional in a large company, you have most likely tried to stop some great employees from leaving for the lure of the dot-com excitement and instant fortune. Even the past few weeks of stock market sluggishness haven’t significantly diminished that lure. Yet you CAN compete with dot-coms. I was speaking recently with an engineer who was in the midst of thinking through whether to accept an offer from a dot-com or to stay with his well-respected large company. He was generally very happy with his employer and enjoyed the working environment and resources it provided. He knew that by going to a startup he would be leaving a great work environment and many intangible assets. As I listened to him, I filtered out four things his large company could do to keep him-if only they understood! None of them costs much and none of them are really very hard to do. But, to put them into place does require a change of mindset and a willingness to break (or at least stretch) the rules. Here are the four things I think could be done to keep this person, and probably most others:
- Offer the opportunity to move within the company easily, with minimal bureaucracy, and without time constrictions. His major reason for even listening to the dot-com recruiter was his desire for a new opportunity. He had been working in one area for two years and was getting a little bored. He did not see any place to move to within the company. The rules required him to notify his boss that he wanted a change, required him to fill out a form and then to go through an interview process internally. And, of course, if he didn’t get the job his boss would know that he wasn’t happy. Not a situation he wanted to be in. He had looked at other job opportunities within the organization via the company’s Intranet, but the ones that seemed exciting required skills or experience he did not have. The dot-com recruiter promised him the chance to work on an exciting project with a guru who would act as a mentor and coach-plus he didn’t have to tell his boss he was interviewing. Why can’t organizations put in place a simple process that requires no notification until the offer is made and that allows the internal candidate to compete equally with external candidates? Even better: guarantee internal candidates a new job every two years if they want one. The idea is to keep up the excitement and the freshness that comes with a start-up, combined with the stability of the larger organization.
- Educate employees all the time. Make learning available online via e-learning, and also offer free tuition and books, as well as frequent opportunities to take certificate classes. No matter how much this costs, it is less than you will pay in agency fees, sign-on bonuses, and lost time and productivity. Will you loose a few people to the competition? Probably. But once again think about the net cost versus the fees and so forth usually paid to recruit someone. Education and development are the cheapest retention tools in your arsenal. We are in a talent war and everything has to be tried. Locking people into degree or certificate programs is almost a guarantee that they will remain with your firm until they complete the program. Most will be loyal and thankful. And all of them will be better-educated and hopefully more productive employees. Dot-coms may offer a coach or mentor, but they are usually way too busy to allow employees the freedom to take classes on company time. And the employees of these dot-coms are most likely way too busy working to have time for self-improvement. This is a BIG plus for the large organizations and you should be capitalizing on this right now.
- Help every employee build an internal social network. The employee I talked about above was clearly devoted to his fellow employees and felt a strong attachment to them. This was one thing that was keeping him from instantly accepting the other offer. We all know how powerful networks are and companies that actively promote employee interaction and teamwork have less discontent and less turnover than those that keep employees apart or at odds. I recommend starting clubs and social groups within the company that work and play together. Some companies form college clubs for new college grads that help them become oriented to the firm and meet other new hires. This tends to raise the level of commitment they have to the organization and reduces turnover. Internal networks are powerful binding devices.
- And finally, offer flexibility in lots of ways-in benefits, in vacation, in working hours, in the perks that only large companies can usually afford. Companies like Hewlett-Packard offer flextime and flexible benefits along with opportunities to get educated. They have very low turnover rates and high acceptance rates for the offers they make. The same is true for Intel, Cisco, and many other organizations that know the secrets of retention in a talent war. Remember, dot-coms are not fun places to work for the most part. They work everyone hard and have sketchy benefits compared to most large organizations. What they offer is an appeal to greed-lots of money. What an established company has to offer is variety, growth, and a constant challenge dosed out at a level appropriate to the individual.
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So get out the medicine bottle and take a large dose. After all, it’s 90% common sense.