Recruiting, Culture and Ethics

After working with more than 250 organizations in 23 countries, we can attest that while the companies themselves may be different, the issues they face are not. "We're different" has become nothing more than an empty excuse for recruiters and other HR professionals to hide behind when they recognize the business logic behind some practice or approach but personally don't want to do it.

Greatness Comes Through Differentiation

As huge evangelists for employment branding, we recognize that great companies often rise to their level of greatness by building a differentiated environment through management practices, workplace programs, and entrepreneurial vision. Some might call the unique interaction of all these elements organizational culture, but we prefer to recognize them individually, because doing so eliminates the opportunity to use culture as an excuse for shying away from something that makes sense for the business.

Nothing is more infuriation for a corporate advisor than to be brought in to identify major areas of weakness and then told that the weaknesses can not be addressed because it is part of the culture. This perspective paints culture as some highly rigid, static element, which it is not.

Like many things, culture is a ubiquitous element of an organization that is largely driven by perception. Two people may work for the same organization, yet define the culture in two dramatically different ways. Because it can be so many things to so many people, culture has become the easy excuse.

Ethics, the Backup Excuse

If culture doesn't emerge as an excuse following the "we're different" proclamation, you can be sure that ethics will. Somehow, it seems that every modern day business practice from functions other than HR generates an ethics violation when applied inside HR. We can't apply the same marketing principles inside the organization that marketers use externally to attract and retain customers, because that would be manipulation! We can't hire to hurt the competition, because that wouldn't be fair! We can't apply analytics to human performance, because that would be dehumanizing!

No matter what you want to do, someone in HR will find a reason why it is unethical.

The Time Has Come

Using ethics and culture as excuses for not acting in the best interests of the organization must stop. Letting your guard down during a war is tantamount to surrendering. As the second iteration of the war for talent picks up pace worldwide, it is asinine not to do everything in your power to attract new top talent and protect/retain existing top talent. Failing to do everything possible will result in your organization being decimated by the competition. No company large or small will be exempt from fighting. As demand exceeds supply, the enemy will raid your house, taking anyone of value.

Most salespeople spend a majority of their time trying to "steal customers" away from their competitors. Great recruiters also realize that the best hire a firm can make is a hire from their direct competitors' top talent. Only socialist recruiters fight this notion by throwing up cultural and ethical concerns around poaching.

There is no room for socialism in business; your responsibility is to the shareholders, not the greater public.

So why hire a competitor's talent?

  • Your talent pool goes up immediately.
  • Your competitor's talent pool goes down proportionately.
  • You can directly learn from your competitor's techniques and approaches.
  • You might get a few customers along with the new employee.
  • It forces you to pay close attention to your own top performers in order to keep competitors from poaching them away.
  • It forces your competitors to pay extra time and resources toward retaining their own employees.

Some actions to consider:

  1. Identify and hire away your competitors' most innovative people to slow down their rate of improvement.
  2. When one of your salespeople competes head to head with a competitor and loses the sale, hire away their salesperson the next day.
  3. Ask your own top performers who's better than them at a competitor and then target those individuals.
  4. Offer an increased referral bonus (bounty) for referrals from key competitors.
  5. Use the names of your competitors in your resume keyword search engine in order to flag and prioritize resumes from that firm.
  6. On their first day, ask new hires who came from a competitor who else is good, and then target them.
  7. Target your competitors' top recruiters.
  8. Have you recruiters target and hang out at restaurants and watering holes across the street from your direct competitors.
  9. Hire top talent from a competitor whenever you can get them. Hire them as a "corporate resource" and get them on board, even if you don't have a current opening for them.
  10. Search your competitors' promotion and PR announcements for names of top performers to target.
  11. Search industry publications, awards, and conference proceedings for the names of the best at your competitors.
  12. Hire an unbundled search firm to give you the names and profiles of the best.
  13. Encourage your mediocre and poor performers to join a competitor's team! (joke)

Building a world-class organization requires top talent. Every member of the organization must be actively engaged in both recruiting such talent and retaining it once onboard.

But securing top talent isn't easy, it requires great tools and great practices. Sales organizations have been perfecting the art of acquisition and retention for hundreds of years, so their tactics and approaches have stood the test of time. No longer can recruiters avoid making use of such tools and approaches on the grounds that they violate the organizations culture or ethics. If your sales organization uses the approaches, then so should you!

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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