Hire Those That Beat You – A High Business Impact Recruiting Strategy

After a sports team beats yours, you try to hire their highest impact player away. Corporations can also prevent losing future competitions using a “hire those that beat you” recruiting program. Which is a program that targets directly hiring at least one key employee away from a competitor’s team that recently beat your company in a head-to-head product development race.

Excite Executives By Using Hiring To Prevent Future Competitive Losses 

If you haven’t already noticed, it’s almost impossible to find a P&L manager that literally doesn’t hate losing to a competitor in any major side-by-side competition. But I find that they especially hate losing in a direct competition involving product development, a large B2B sale, or a competition to develop a critical internal process (i.e., machine learning/AI). After losing one of these competitions, the recruiting function should activate its “Hire those that beat you” (HTTBY) targeted recruiting program. The goal is to hire at least one person that was a key driver (but not necessarily the leader) on the competitor’s functional team that recently beat you. The process starts with identifying at least two key team members that were key drivers of success in your competitor’s successful effort. Next, you begin an extended pipeline recruiting effort that is specifically designed to attract and eventually sell the HTTBY recruiting target on joining your firm. Targeting those that beat you is a sub-variation of my powerful “hire to hurt” recruiting strategy. This strategy has a high business impact because it will strengthen your own team the next time around, while simultaneously weakening the capabilities of your competitor’s team in the same business area. 

The Many Benefits Of A HTTBY Program 

Unfortunately, I have found over the years that many in recruiting and HR are not fierce competitors. Which is one reason why so many in recruiting react negatively when someone calls what we do “a war for talent.” But, that’s precisely what it is. A battle and a fierce competition. Where although no one dies, the stakes are extremely high in economic impacts. And with side-by-side hiring competitions for top talent, there is always only one winner. Managers and executives desire to win every side-by-side competition with product competitors. However, many in recruiting don’t even know that these side-by-side business competitions are constantly going on. So, they can’t show executives how recruiting has directly contributed to each of your victories in these external competitions. In addition to showing executives that your recruiting function is highly competitive, many other business benefits result from a HTTBY direct poaching program. Those benefits include: 

  • In today’s business environment with limited hiring, the program makes more sense. When overall company hiring is restricted, recruiting leaders need to ensure that every new hire has a clear and significant business impact. Fortunately, when you proactively reach out and hire someone “that beats you,” you show your managers and executives that you don’t take losses sitting down. And of course, you add important experience, knowledge, and capabilities to your mission-critical team. While at the same time, you are directly reducing your competitor’s capabilities. CEO’s simply love that because it’s a two-for-one benefit. 
  • Hiring away from your competitors may now be easier. Because, in today’s business environment, everyone’s budgets are tight. The odds are now better that your competitor may have failed to adequately reward or recognize their own key employees that contributed to their win. And not feeling fully appreciated (especially after realizing that they have won) will increase the likelihood that these high impact employees would now consider an external move. Also, during a time when many corporate layoffs are occurring, it’s quite possible that a junior team member that drove the winning process may have been mistakenly let go. If that is true, it is an even better recruiting opportunity.
  • The probability of future successes will increase. The new-hire will have already been a significant part of a successful competitive effort. The odds that they will have a follow-on success in this business area are much greater. Because of their track record, this new-hire will also bring with them a high degree of confidence, which will likely eventually rub off on most of their new team members.
  • You gain an immediate boost in your team’s capabilities. From a single hire, your team will instantly gain added capabilities in several areas. Including, a wealth of successful experience, the best practices from another firm, and new knowledge and skills. If the new-hire is also an innovator or a leader, you will also boost the team’s capabilities in those critical areas.
  • Your whole team will learn from them. Everyone on your team will learn the critical success factors that contributed to the new-hire’s last success. Your team will also learn to avoid the approaches that were proven at the competitor not to work. 
  • A low probability of a hiring failure. The new-hire will have already succeeded in one major endeavor within your industry. The odds of them not making a positive contribution once again this time around at your company are small. Compare this success probability to that of hiring an individual that doesn’t have the same recent proven track record, and that may also require an extended period of training.
  • The program doesn’t require forecasting, only a fast reaction. This HTTBY recruiting program doesn’t require many upfront resources, because it doesn’t involve any forecasting. Instead, it is only activated after your company has lost a major external competition.
  • It will build recruiting’s image as a bold competitor. In today’s environment, where the budgets of overhead functions are being dramatically cut, it makes sense to take bold actions that will likely be noticed by executives. Recruiting leaders should realize that most senior executives got where they are by being risk-takers. They immediately admire those rare individuals in competitive overhead functions that are also bold calculated risk-takers. Unfortunately, most executives are immediately aware of recruiting’s lack of boldness when they see that their own recruiting function doesn’t have any type of formal program for continually poaching talent directly from their competitors. 
  • HTTBY program operational costs are extremely low. This program is targeted to one or two individuals in a particular team. So, it doesn’t require a high volume of random poaching from your competitors. Instead, it is relatively inexpensive in recruiting and salary costs. Because it only involves one or two hires in a business area that has recently lost a head-to-head competition. The ROI is high because you gain a great deal of knowledge, competitive intelligence, and an improved probability of future success. All from a single hire.
  • The competitor’s manager will be distracted. Losing key talent and knowing that your company is actively poaching will force the managers at your competitors to focus a great deal of time on replacing that lost talent and retaining the rest of their team. Diverting their attention will also likely slow both their current productivity and new product development. And be aware that any potential retaliation raiding by your competitors will be less of an issue if your firm has already acted to minimize your own turnover risks proactively.

Action Steps For Implementing A “Hire Those That Beat You” Program

If you are going to implement a HTTBY effort, you are eight foundation action steps to consider.  

  1. Build the business case. This effort doesn’t require a lot of financial support. However, it never hurts to have a great deal of internal political support. Work directly with the CFO’s office to build the business case for this program. And then communicate it widely to all executives and hiring managers. 
  2. Identify the critical competition areas. Work directly with the COO’s office to identify current business areas (i.e., B2B sales, store locations, investor support, product development, etc.) where your company needs to win every external competition. Then work closely with the relevant functional managers so that they alert recruiting promptly when we have clearly lost in a critical competitive area. 
  3. Put together a HTTBY hiring team. In most cases, a skilled hiring team that is put together specifically for each targeted HTTBY hire provides the highest probability of recruiting success. Educate team members so that they become extremely proficient in the essentials of targeted poaching.
  4. Develop a formal talent mapping effort to identify a competitor’s talent to target. It’s critical that you accurately identify the specific individuals that were major contributors to a competitor’s success. First, start by purposely interviewing talent from your most successful competitors for all of your open jobs. Next, subtly ask your competitors current and recent employees during the interview to reveal their business acumen by naming the most powerful contributors on the team in the targeted business area. Also, ask your new hires in the functional area during onboarding if they learned who were the key contributors during their normal benchmarking work. During your inquiries ask everyone to especially focus on identifying key contributors that don’t have formal titles. Also, ask each of your employees on your own functional team to gather competitive intelligence to make HTTBY referrals continually. Next, realize that your assessment and selling components need to be near perfect if you expect to succeed in recruiting. Start by warning your hiring managers to be tolerant because some of these HTTBY candidates will, after the recent success, be a little cocky during interviews. And finally, identify the attraction factors and the specific “job switch criteria that will be necessary to successfully attract and sell the targeted HTTBY candidate. Also, realize that you will be able to increase your success rates if you are willing to tailor the job to the candidate’s specific expectations and interests.
  5. Build a HTTBY talent community pipeline. In some cases, targeted team members will be reluctant to move because they are still waiting for a significant reward for their contribution to the winning effort. I recommend that you develop a talent pipeline for these reluctant HTTBY candidates. That means assigning at least one key manager and recruiter to work with them over several months to build trust and to answer any of their questions and concerns.
  6. Avoid legal issues. There are few legal issues associated with poaching relatively junior employees. But, it doesn’t make sense to want everyone to avoid directly stealing product secrets. So work with legal to ensure that the new-hire knows about any restricted work areas during their first year. 
  7. Quantify success. Once again, work with the CFO’s office to put together success measures and metrics. And make sure that they allow you to quantify the business impacts in dollars of your HTTBY hires during the past year. Also, calculate how much money the competitor lost as a result of your HTTBY poaching. In addition, you should also follow the lead of Amazon and conduct a formal success/failure analysis after every major HTTBY hiring success and failure. So that in the future you can repeat the positive steps and eliminate the negative ones. And, that eventually, you end up winning more than your fair share of head-to-head talent competitions.
  8. Expand to preemptive poaching. If you encounter a great deal of success in poaching after your firm has lost a business competition, consider adding a preemptive poaching component. This is a bolder but a higher risk approach where you target and proactively recruit high impact talent from a competitor’s team before they reach success.

Final Thoughts

A recent leadership survey of trends at the top 10 most desirable employers revealed that increasing recruiting’s business impact was the second-ranking trend. So, if you want to keep up with these elite firms, I recommend that you take a closer look at both the HTTBY and hire to hurt strategies. Because they have the highest total impacts of any of the talent acquisition strategies. Incidentally, if you’re really a bold recruiting leader. You’ll go the next step and you will convince your executives that recruiting for mission-critical positions should be added to the list of strategic side-by-side business competitions. If they agree, that means that you add individual recruiters that routinely beat in head-to-head competitions for top talent to your HTTBY target list. 

Author’s Note: Please pass this article on to your team and network if it stimulated your thinking and it provided actionable tips. Also, take a minute to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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