Get Ready for Talent Swapping!

The economy seems to be on the mend lately. The unemployment rate is going back down. Corporate spending is up. And it’s been over a month since we’ve seen a CEO in handcuffs. It’s time for talent swapping! Recently, the FCC gave 152 million U.S. wireless customers the opportunity to port their phone numbers over to another carrier. “Consumers,” says one study, “have not been happy with their service but have felt somewhat stuck.” T-Mobile’s recent TV commercials capitalized on this new regulation by showing consumers shackled to their old phone numbers breaking free. Researchers have estimated that up to 40 million wireless customers will be changing carriers. Many of your employees are in the same boat, just waiting for the shackles of the recession to be lifted before exploring other opportunities. They’ve sat by while we fired hundreds or even thousands of employees by email. They’ve dealt with double-digit productivity increases. They haven’t had a raise in months or even years. Meanwhile, they’ve seen executives buying $6,000 shower curtains ó for the maid’s room! And now they can do something about it, because companies are starting to hire again. It’s the recruiting equivalent of “Bob & Carol and Ted & Alice.” Most Wanted List Recruiters have spent much of their time over the last three years adding value by recruiting top talent away from their competitors. Tools like Eliyon and AIRS SearchStation have helped companies uncover highly specialized passive candidates. Yet some of our most vulnerable employees may be the ones we haven’t had to spend much time recruiting for the last few years. Think of your less specialized employees in finance, HR, and marketing, for instance, the ones with three to five years of experience. It hasn’t taken much to find people for these types of openings for some time. If the job market continues to improve, they will be some of the most mobile employees in 2004. Everyone will be losing and gaining them simultaneously. The wireless industry provides a great example of why this will be more of a talent swap than a talent loss. Researchers forecast that all of the major wireless carriers ó from T-Mobile to Verizon to AT&T Wireless ó could lose 16-45% of their customers. But where would these customers go? To the same set of six carriers. The winner of the portability wars is predicted to be the company that either attracts the most switchers or loses the least. The same goes for the coming talent swap. As candidates start to feel more secure about their prospects, the companies with the most satisfied employees and the most to offer new employees will not necessarily come out ahead, but will lose the least. Preparing for the Talent Swap There are a few possible strategies to deal with the coming talent swap:

  1. Fight it. Focus your employee communications efforts on some of the previously ignored parts of your workforce. Reiterate how you’re trying to make your company a good place to work and how much you value your employees. Give some targeted raises and develop and improve your employee loyalty programs. This may be too little, too late for many of your employees ó but you’re not going down without a fight.
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  3. Accept it. Accept the fact that many of your employees will be leaving as the economy improves. Minimize your losses and look to the future by dusting off some of the old initiatives you started when times were good, like your alumni network and internal mobility program. Create an advertising campaign designed to attract the “switchers” from your competitors. Incorporate recruiting the talent you are most likely to lose into your workforce plans.
  4. Panic! Many companies will choose a combination of the strategies above. Chances are that everyone may experience some degree of panic, regardless of which strategy is chosen, when their carefully crafted recruiting and workforce plans begin to smoke.

A spate of negative press has followed the wireless carriers that have made it the most difficult to leave their service plans. If you want to keep negative word-of-mouth from spreading like wildfire, you’ll want to deal with employees that do leave with respect. Who knows, they might even come back one day! Things are about to get a lot busier in 2004. Happy new year and happy recruiting!

Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (, a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.


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