Surviving With the Fittest at ERE’s Recent Conference

Fewer speakers, fewer attendees, fewer vendors ó but no less substance, networking, or fun! I think everyone that attended ERE’s second annual ER Expo conference in San Diego last week will agree that it was probably the most worthwhile conference they have attended since, well, last year’s conference. Quality outweighs quantity anytime. Even the vendors, who, prior to the event, were nervously calculating their cost per attendee, will agree that this was a worthwhile event. The thought-provoking content truly challenged our thinking as to how we are approaching recruitment and retention strategies for today’s and tomorrow’s workplace. The speakers included a mix of new faces, like Peter Capelli, the director of the Center for Human Resources at Wharton, and Bruce Tulgan, the author of Winning The Talent Wars; as well as familiar faces like John Sullivan, Gerry Crispin, and Kevin Wheeler. All had something new, interesting, and worth noting to say. The days of conference “boondoggles” are over ó at least for the foreseeable future. As result, the attendees, while fewer in number than last year, were all there to learn something new. They seemed, on average, to be from corporations rather than staffing or search firms, and at more senior levels in their recruiting organizations. When polled, over three out of four indicated that they are actively recruiting or are gearing up for major new recruiting initiatives in the next 2 quarters. I even met a few recruiters who were at the conference actively recruiting additional recruiters. Apparently they were following the advice John Sullivan always gives: to recruit great talent you have to go to where good talent hangs out. No better place than the ERE conference. Here are a few of the key issues and insights reinforced by the speakers and attendees: 1. Recruiting and new hire orientation go hand in hand. While we all inherently know this, Peter Capelli and Bruce Tulgan provided strong rationales for paying attention to this notion and planning accordingly. Though he was talking somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Bruce commented on the irony of the fact that when valued employees leave the organization ó sometimes to go to competitors ó we throw them a big going away party. New employees, on the other hand, rarely get more of a welcome than the standard orientation necessary to fill out benefits forms. The first few weeks of a person’s career with a company are still part of the recruiting process and need to include a valuable orientation program. In a previous career, I worked in the marketing department of a very large consumer products food company. While I haven’t worked for that company for more than 10 years, I will never forget the welcome that I and all new recruits to the marketing department received during our first week. On the first day of work, we were met for breakfast by our immediate supervisor and taken to lunch by three or four people from our team. Our cubicles already had our name plates on them and were well stocked with business cards, monogrammed note paper, department and corporate telephone lists, pencils, pens, note pads, stapler, paper clips, and other necessary “tools.” Our calendars were filled with prescheduled meetings with individuals across all departments whom we would be interacting with on a regular basis. We were assimilated into the team as quickly as possible, minimizing the amount of time we felt like we were new hires. These small gestures go a long way toward building strong first impressions and higher first year retention rates (I stayed with the company five years and left for geographic reasons). 2. Turnover is not as much of a labor market issue as we would like to believe. Peter Capelli aptly pointed out that even in times of economic uncertainty, the most valued employees always have attractive employment opportunities presented to them. As employers, we have to quantify the value of high performance to our organizations, and we have to create strategies that will regularly reinforce that value. Peter’s research showed that organizations felt that the best programmers were 20 times more effective than average programmers. This means that a company would need to hire 20 average employees to replace that one great programmer. But companies rarely take appropriate steps to reinforce that value to the employee, nor do they take steps to help the average employee become above average. This lack of regular performance management leads to early turnover for the best employees. Bruce Tulgan reinforced this notion when he pointed out that great performers want to work on teams with other great performers. They have little tolerance for mediocrity. If they don’t feel that the organization is committed to maintaining a workforce that has the same standards for performance as they do, these top performers will leave. Often they will take other great performers with them. The loss to the company is tremendous. Not only does the company lose productivity that is 20 times better than many of the company’s other “people” assets, but they also lose all the knowledge and intellectual capital they have invested in the employee. The cost of this type of turnover is far, far greater than simply being “down one headcount.” The replacement cost (productivity loss, financial investment in recruiting, recruiter’s time) is typically higher than the cost of any program that reinforces a commitment to supporting high performers. John Sullivan pointed out this same notion in a somewhat different way. He related it to revenue dollars generated per employee. He asserted that high performers can generate as much as 100 times the revenue of poor performers. Companies need to do what it takes (i.e., spend the necessary money) to recruit, reward, and retain the highest performers. 3. There’s more to technology selection than meets the eye. There is no perfect “end to end” solution. One of the biggest challenges companies face is choosing the right technology to assist with the recruiting process. Notice the emphasis on assist. Too often companies lose sight of the fact that technology is a facilitator, and does not actually do the recruiting. Recruiting is about relationship building and human interaction. The speakers reinforced the fact that technology selection should be based on a thorough evaluation of how the tool will help facilitate the recruiting process as it relates to current or desired processes. Panelists from corporations like Johnson & Johnson and Wachovia Bank reinforced this fact with examples of their own experiences with technology (both positive and negative). Since no one product offers the perfect end-to-end solution (even though there are vendors who try to convince you of this), one of the key factors you should consider when selecting a solution is its ability to adapt and integrate with other technology. If you believe that your organization is moving toward tying together everything from sourcing to performance management into one system, then make sure the technology you select is on a platform that can be scripted to integrate. Most “add-on” modules to base systems are being developed for relative easy integration. Don’t take on the burden of technology selection and implementation alone. Bringing in a third party to facilitate the process, challenge your thinking, and offer an objective, expert opinion is most often worth the investment. It can help you from making a very expensive, poor decision. To summarize, the team at the ERE clearly delivered on the theme of the conference, “Survival of the Fittest.” All of the presentations motivated our thinking as to how we are going to create organizations that will survive the economic ups and downs of the coming years. Recruiting and retaining top talent is the most important ingredient to that survival.

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Karen Osofsky (karen.o@tiburongroup.com) is a co-founder of TiburonGroup.com, an e-recruiting consulting firm that provides outsourced recruiting solutions to rapidly growing companies and new ventures. The firm provides a broad range of recruiting consulting, sourcing, screening, and strategy development services to help companies manage the front-end recruiting process. Tiburon Group is a Certified AIRS Solutions Partner.

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