A Blocking Strategy For Increasing Employee Retention, Part 2

Is your firm experiencing an increasing turnover rate because recruiters from other firms are raiding you?

Last week’s column introduced three elements of a world-class blocking strategy, including analyzing your talent competitors’ immediate needs; engaging third-party recruiters to determine who is most coveted; and working up an agreement with trusted third-party firms to notify you when at-risk employees become more visible.


This week adds 12 new tips for blocking the poaching.

Mapping Vulnerable Employees

First, identify which employees and jobs are vulnerable by putting together an individual and job vulnerability chart based on your current organizational chart.

Identify the individuals and the jobs that are likely to be targeted by external recruiters and highlight them in the chart. Use the chart like a battle plan and plot your blocking actions, as well as your successes and failures.

  1. Ask employees to tell you when recruiters call them. Use employees as a reporting network. When recruiters contact them, encourage them to call central recruiting to let them know. Perhaps you can offer a coffee card as a small reward for reporting the enemy action.
  2. Ask new hires during onboarding. Ask new hires from major competitors which jobs were in high demand and assume that individuals in those jobs are targets.
  3. Look at the applicants for your own jobs. Consider the type of people who apply to your job openings as a source of information about recruiting trends. For example, if a large number of people apply for a single job family from one company, you can assume that they have made an organizational change and are downsizing, thereby indicating that no blocking will be needed. However, it could also mean that when these individuals leave the company, it will create a desperate need, thereby resulting in an increased attempt to poach from you.
  4. Track team, departmental, and individual job poaching loss rates.Although it’s important to track your overall “give away, take away” ratio, it is also important to analyze the trends at the department and team level. When you see that an individual manager is being raided, you can then focus your efforts on educating him or her about what is happening, why it is happening, and how to prevent it.
  5. Identify “targeted” individuals. For example, individuals who have recently gotten public exposure include employees who have been written about or were quoted in the press, industry publications, or have appeared on TV or radio; employees who have spoken at major conferences or seminars, and especially those who appear in a widely distributed brochure; individuals prominently featured on your website; or individuals recognized in corporate press releases.
  6. Identify employees who signal they might be receptive to recruiter calls. Obviously, some individuals might be looking forward to being contacted, so you need to be extra-vigilant in blocking recruiter contacts with such “at-risk” individuals. Situations to watch out for include individuals who have inquired about the amount of their 401(k) pay-out should they leave; have recently accessed resources on updating their resume; have begun attending professional conferences, even though they typically never attended in the past; or started subscribing to industry publications that are a primary source of job listings.
  7. Identify other employees who might be open to recruiter calls.Individuals who are highly desirable or highly vulnerable because of recent actions by the organization include
  • employees who have recently been recognized for outstanding performance, received large bonuses, or received awards
  • employees who have been turned down or passed over for a promotion
  • individuals who have recently had a manager, mentor, friend, or team leader leave the firm; if the individual went to a talent competitor, the risk of these former employees helping to poach away their mentees and former colleagues is extremely high
  • employees who have recently had a major project proposal rejected
  • individuals who have recently been divorced, had a child, or experienced another major event that might cause them to rethink their current employment situation

Putting Your Battle Plan Into Action

Don’t let your inexperience or ignorance hurt your firm. Even junior recruiters at third-party firms know about these raiding approaches. Learn how to block them and maybe even use them yourself, if you have the courage.

The most important step in all blocking strategies is awareness (i.e., making every employee aware of the approaches that recruiters will use). It’s also equally important to note that while your organization may have a set of rules, guidelines, or ethics to govern recruiting efforts, other corporations and third-party recruiters might not have such rules.

For example, many international recruiting firms don’t even have a rulebook to refer to (this is especially true in India and China). Recruiters from organizations desperate to fill roles will do vicious things that you might not ever consider.

Developing an effective blocking strategy requires that you be able to think like them and create a roadblock for every potential tactic they may employ. If you find yourself in a “war for talent,” don’t be surprised when the tactics used against you are “warlike.”

Strategies to Block Telephone Attacks

Recruiters are great at cold calling and gaining access to candidates via phone, so be aware that even the best blocking strategy will fail occasionally.

The primary element of any blocking strategy must be a work environment that allows employees to be productive, challenged, growing, recognized, and rewarded.

With this foundation in mind, engaged employees should be educated about possible recruiting tactics competitors may try and how to avoid being fooled into something.

  1. Buying the phone book/organizational chart. Recruiters often pay hundreds of dollars for a company’s hard- or soft-copy telephone directory or organizational chart. Block them! Eliminate print directories altogether and implement Internet safe guards that prevent downloading, printing, and cutting/pasting online directories.
  2. Static on the line. Aggressive recruiters take advantage of the phenomena of “garbled” cell-phone calls by calling into a receptionist or even an individual employee and saying “someone named ‘X’ called me on my mobile phone but I was unable to hear exactly what they wanted. I thought his name was ‘X’ but I would not swear that I heard it correctly. He was in the marketing department and was referring to the ‘X’ program/initiative. Can you help me with the name?” When the receptionist responds with possible names, the recruiter indicates that none of the names sounds right and hangs up. Hours later, they call back and ask for one of the names mentioned earlier. They might even mention the name of the person who “helped” them and say that person referred them to you to give the call more credibility. Block them! There is no magic to blocking this approach. Educate receptionists and employees about the tactic and periodically call in as a “mystery caller” to your own company to see if the education works. Also, ask everyone to report whenever this happens to “blocking central” so that the blocking team will be aware of its frequency.
  3. Calling the CEO’s office. Many telecommunication systems these days have caller ID so that an individual can find out who is calling. Some recruiters call to the office of the chief executive officer or general manager and ask to be transferred, stating that they dialed the wrong number. When the call is transferred through to the individual employee, the caller ID indicates an internal call coming from the CEO’s office. These calls are almost always answered immediately. Some recruiters go so far as to say that they were “referred” by the CEO. Unfortunately, many employees take the bait. Block them! Because most of the problems occur in senior managers’ offices, focus your education and training on people who answer the phones in those offices. When someone states they dialed the wrong extension, have call recipients take down the name and number of the caller and indicate that they will have the targeted caller return the call.
  4. A former employee calls. Most people think when a former employee calls, he or she is just calling to connect with an old friend. Unfortunately, at least right after they are hired, these calls might be recruiting calls. Managers, team leaders, and top-performing employees who have recently gone to other firms are highly likely to try to poach three to five of their former teammates, mentees, and even some college hires. Block them! I would start with the assumption that everyone who just left your firm is an “evil person” for one to three months after their departure. Identify the potential individuals who are most likely to consider following a colleague, then have your blocking or retention team talk to them individually and work with the manager to ensure they have no valid reason to leave. Because individuals who leave will get new phone numbers, you can’t immediately block their calls. But if you have employees report to “blocking central” the first time they do call, you can identify and then block or redirect the number to the receptionist.
  5. Plea-for-help calls. There is no need for cold calling or lying about why you are calling, but if I were to have a favorite among the approaches that most third-party recruiters use, it would be this one. It’s simple and just flat-out works almost every time. The caller requests to be connected to a certain person (an unusual made-up name). The receptionist responds with “I’m sorry, but there’s no one with that name here.” The caller then uses a fake excuse, such as “I need to send a check and need to know where they want it sent” or “I know it’s probably against the rules, but couldn’t you help me just this once?” Invariably, the receptionist or the employee gives in, violates the rules, and gives up the name. Block them! Warn receptionist and call blockers to be aware of calls from “confused” callers. Educate employees about the need to balance their wanting to “help” people in trouble and the best interests of the corporation.

Next week in part 3, look for more telephone blocking techniques and blocking during conferences.

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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