Proactive Referrals From Your Top Performers – The World’s Most Effective Recruiting Program

Employee referrals are the top hiring source, and among niche subprograms, proactive referrals from top performers are the best. So why not prioritize your top-performing employees as a primary source for referring additional exceptional candidates. 

All employee referrals are not equal. Because a referral from a top performer employee will produce nearly 3 times more compared to the referral from a below-average performer (Source: UC Berkeley study)

Yes, when it comes to sourcing and recruiting options, there is a distinct overall winner. A niche referral subprogram that I call “Proactive Referrals From Top Performers.” Fortunately, either at the corporate level or by any individual recruiter responsible for maintaining a high-performance team can operate a niche recruiting program.

Why A “Proactive Referrals From Top Performers” Program Is So Effective?

This recruiting subprogram is simple to understand because it’s so intuitive. Highlighted below is the basic outline of the program’s key features. 

  • Great people know great people, so just ask your LeBron.  One of the ways top performers build and maintain their on-the-job performance is through learning from others. As a result, top performers are constantly benchmarking and assessing themselves against the very best. If LeBron (or someone at his performance level) happens to be on your basketball team, and if you want referrals covering other exceptional candidates. Forget scanning the contact lists from all of your employees. And instead, simply approach LeBron and directly ask him. Who do you learn from? Who regularly beats you? And what recruit from outside would make our team significantly better if we hired them? Additional remote work, expense, and social media make all top performers and their work much more visible.
  • Prioritize your open jobs that qualify for targeted referrals.  It’s not okay to waste our exceptional employees’ time and resources by asking them to make referrals covering “average job.” So instead work with your COO to prioritize all open jobs. Only the highest impact open jobs qualify for receiving any of the “referrals” from the top performer referral program.
  • Utilize a data-driven targeted approach for identifying/nominating targeted employees allowed to make referrals.   Rather than assuming that all employees have an equal capability of making quality referrals, utilize available data to identify which individuals or groups of employees within your company are most likely to know external exceptional recruiting targets. Normally, the employee subgroups to proactively target include employees recognized as innovators, top performers, leaders, and the well-connected in our industry.
  • Referring employees contribute to the team by accepting a role as a 24/7 talent scout. Our teams’ highest impact critical success factor is continually recruiting exceptional top performers, leaders, and innovators. However, many of these potential recruiting targets might be reluctant to talk to our recruiters, but not colleagues. Every employee must accept the additional role of a 24/7 talent scout. And in that role, they are charged to seek out referrals. However, not for any reward, but instead, 100% because “it helps their team, their colleagues and their customers.” Professional pride and the need to avoid hurting the team will help ensure that your participating employees making referrals make no mediocre or low-quality referrals that will clog your ERP system. Referring employees must also give immediate feedback on the quality of any referral they make under the program.
  • Proactively approaching top performers increases employee response/referral rates. Rather than spamming them or unnecessarily sending them electronic messages, personalizing the initial “request for help” message to the targeted employees’ can increase the response rate. And then, whenever possible, having the recruiter approach the targeted employees face-to-face and personally ask for an exceptional referral. 
  • Be highly responsive. The #1 overall critical success factor for maintaining a continuous stream of high-volume quality referrals over time is responsiveness. Staffing levels, resource allocation, and program success metrics all must focus on “white glove” response time and treatment once a qualified referral is received. 

The four certifications

For referrals to qualify under the program, the referring employee must certify that the referral passed each of the four assessment areas. These certifications ensure that we are not “hiring strangers” and that the potential referral has been thoroughly and completely vetted before it becomes a formal referral.

  1. Only refer those that have done exceptional work – Proactively educate the referring employees to be on the lookout for exceptional work and high performance on the job. The employee must have assessed the actual work of the potential referral target. Simply “ hearing about their work” is insufficient. 
  2. Only refer those with exceptional skills – Educate the nominating employees so that they are only seeking individuals who also have exceptional skills (i.e., higher than the current team’s average skill level). The employee must have assessed the prospect’s actual skills and then formally certify that they are advanced before submitting a referral.
  3. Only refer those with no “fit issues” – Educate the referring employees so that they only target potential referrals with no major “fit issues” and won’t be disruptive. Also, make sure the referring employee realizes that innovative and diverse new hires may not always be “perfect fits” initially but will adapt later. The referring employee must have thoroughly assessed and certified that there are likely no major “fit issues” with the team.
  4. Only refer those sold on accepting an interview – The fourth required certification covers the fact that the referring employee has “sold” the prospect to the point where they will agree to accept the initial interview. Recruiters simply don’t have the time to waste on candidates unsure that they even want an interview.

Final Thoughts

It’s essential during a business downturn that every one of an organization’s limited new hires is a high-impact hire. It also makes sense to consciously limit “junk referrals” that don’t have much chance of getting hired. Because if it is done well, this recruiting source will be your fastest, cheapest, and best source for most of your top-performing new hires. You can use it to identify immediate or future needs.

Author’s Note: This article was designed to make you think. And if it succeeded, please help others by sharing it widely among your team and network. 

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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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