A Blocking Strategy For Increasing Employee Retention, Part 1

Are you currently experiencing, or are you fearful of experiencing, an increasing turnover rate as global competition for talent drives more and more organizations to directly target your employees?

It’s no secret that demand for skilled labor in specific talent pools currently exceeds the available supply of local, and in some cases regional, talent in today’s labor market. This fact is driving organizations to become significantly more aggressive at targeting the talent of weaker organizations. If you want to develop an approach to block the raiding, read on.


As an avid advocate of poaching away top talent, I am well aware of the arsenal of approaches that recruiters use to poach talent from competing organizations and related industries. Like many of you, I am also aware that organizations with stronger brands will invariably be targeted by recruiters; it’s the price organizations pay for being a popular place to work.

This multi-part article leverages my learnings relevant to both poaching and employment branding to explain why poaching happens and what companies can do to limit it or block it completely.

Section 1: An Introduction

The first lesson is to invest as much effort into protecting your people as you do other corporate resources like computers.

Organizations often employ all sorts of sophisticated security to keep someone from stealing computers, trade secrets, and other equipment, so why shouldn’t you leverage the same level of sophistication in your protection system that prevent your most valuable assets (employees) from walking out the door and going to a competitor?

While nearly all corporate resources depreciate in value over time, many talent resources appreciate in value thanks in part to on-the-job development, training, and work specialization. You have invested in creating millions of dollars of intellectual capital; unfortunately, most if it resides in resources that have legs!

What Is A Blocking Strategy?

A blocking strategy is a systematic plan or series of steps designed to limit the ability of external corporate and third-party recruiters from contacting and eventually recruiting away your top talent.

Developing a blocking strategy is actually quite simple, one needs only to understand the process that is used by the very best recruiters to contact and eventually recruit your employees, and then to devise infrastructure and process changes that implement barriers to said approaches.

Most people think that blocking strategies are telephone-related, but in fact, a comprehensive blocking strategy covers nearly every channel a recruiter might use. Elements in an effective blocking strategy include identifying the recruiters, discovering the recruiting approaches that they use, identifying whom they are targeting or might target, blocking access, minimizing the impact of successful raiding attempts, and preventive strategies to keep it from happening again.

Many organizations leave selecting the firm to be poached up to each individual recruiter, while others develop precise strategies designed to “cherry pick” the very best from designated talent-competitor firms.

Fortunately, for those attempting to block recruiting efforts, the criteria used in both cases to select firms to target is generally the same. The selection of target firms is generally driven by either senior or line managers indicating a desire for someone from a particular company.

We have all heard, “I want someone from a Fortune 100 firm with experience in this industry,” or “get me someone from GE, Dell, IBM, McKinsey,” etc. Typical firms that will be targeted include those that fall into one of the following categories:

  • Fortune 100 firms
  • Global 200 firms
  • Industry leaders experience strong topline growth, profit increases, or a growth in market share
  • Firms that have consistently won local, national, or global “best place to work” type awards
  • Firms recognized by the business press as being most admired
  • Firms that have developed a strong employment brand (i.e., likely to be targeted because of the publicity they garner for being well-managed)
  • Firms known for innovation or excellence in product development (i.e., Apple, Google, Nokia)
  • Firms known for excellence in a mission-critical business area (i.e., P&G for product branding, the Ritz Carlton or Emirates Airline for excellent customer service)
  • Firms that have been recently highlighted in major business publications likeBusinessWeek, Fortune, Fast Company, Business 2.0, Workforce Magazine,the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and the Harvard Business Review
  • Firms included on the list of strong product brands (i.e., Pepsi, Starbucks, Google, GE, IBM, Toyota)
  • Any firm that has been routinely raided in the past

Firms are added to the targeted list if they are perceived as though they are going through some turmoil. Firms meeting this criteria might include those that are experiencing disappointing business performance; high-level turnover; ethical or legal issues; or a merger/acquisition.

Raiding: More Than Cold Calling

Many individuals think that you can block recruiters simply by blocking incoming telephone calls. Unfortunately, that’s a na?ve notion. Recruiters use a variety of approaches to identify and lure people away, so you need to set up a system to identify all of the recruiting tactics that are or might be used.

These include inbound telephone calls; direct targeting at professional conferences and events; networking through local association meetings and electronic communities; benchmarking processes; direct and indirect email; website advertising (overt and indirect); direct mail; and employee referral (a former colleague now at a competitor’s company poaches talent).

Like any business strategy, a blocking strategy should have measurable goals and objectives. The best blocking strategies include most of the following goals:

  • Identify individuals and firms that are raiding you
  • Identify “who” they are targeting
  • Identify what approaches they are using (both successful and unsuccessful)
  • Restrict or completely block the successful approaches
  • Learn from the raiding approaches and leverage them yourself
  • Take away more top performers from them than they take away from you
  • Prevent future poaching attempts

Section 2: Elements of a World-Class Blocking Strategy

The remainder of this article highlights the critical elements in a world-class blocking strategy. Of course, not everyone needs to have a sophisticated world-class blocking strategy, so pick and choose which of the following strategy elements are needed by your particular organization.

  1. Identify talent needs of competitors. It’s relatively easy to find out when competitors are hiring, and for what type of talent, because they post their jobs on their corporate websites. If you track their jobs over time, you can often identify patterns in recruiting practices that will help you predict possible poaching activity. Obviously, if they’re doing a great deal of recruiting for a particular job type or job family, individuals within that job family at your organization are at risk of being poached away. Conversely, if they’re doing no hiring in a job category, your blocking efforts can be temporarily relaxed.
  2. Use “dry search” to identify which employees are most likely to be targeted by others. When wolves attack, they don’t go after every sheep. Instead, they target the most vulnerable or the fattest, juiciest sheep they can find. Recruiters are no different. As a result, you want to identify which of your employees are most likely to be poached away and which ones are the least vulnerable. Use an executive search professional with expertise in your industry or a functionally aligned executive recruiter. Headhunters make their living by poaching employed individuals. They are the very best poachers and tend to know or be able to quickly identify which individuals would be prime targets. Ask such recruiters to conduct a “dry search,” which is a scan of your organization’s organizational chart and employee profiles to see which individuals are least and most likely to be desirable by an outside firm. Of course, you have to rely on their ethics not to actually poach the desirable people after they’ve identified them, but if you work with them regularly, that’s not likely to be a problem.
  3. Ask retained search professionals to be on the lookout. Talk to your retained search firm and ask them to note any competitive intelligence about what jobs major players are actively recruiting for and which firms are involved. You can also, if you’re feeling bold, ask them to be on the lookout for your own employees who initiate a job search (knowing who is looking can give you an opportunity to re-recruit them).

Next week in part 2, look for additional elements of a successful blocking strategy.

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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