Consider Other Firms As Your “Farm Teams”

In baseball, major league teams get much of their talent from “farm teams.” A farm team is a team that they sponsor so that when they developed talent beyond the skill limits of the farm league, the farm team then passes along that talent to the next higher level team. In a similar light, it might help managers to look at other firms as their farm teams! Taking advantage of other firms (generally of a smaller size or smaller market) that fail to offer individuals sufficient growth opportunities is a great way to boost your hiring efforts. It’s good business AND it’s often in the best interests for the individual! OK, before the “weak-kneed” have a cow, hear me out. Why It’s Ok To “Poach” Talent From Smaller Firms Business is a competitive proposition. In sales we “steal” and try to steal each other’s customers everyday, without a second thought. In recruiting it is no different. It’s a battle to get the best talent from other firms. Those that offer the best value will get (and deserve) the best customers and employees! Why Farming Is Great For Employees Too Think of the employee as an individual. Shouldn’t they have a chance to seek their highest and best use? There are a number of benefits to the employee when successful firms seek them out from their current position.

  1. Size matters: Talented people, just like athletes, naturally want to play in the “highest” league. Unfortunately not all firms are big enough in size to offer the wealth of jobs or locations to satisfy workers seeking growth opportunities.
  2. Training and learning opportunities: Some firms can’t (or won’t) offer “growing” workers enough opportunity to grow and learn. If your firm has superior training it’s natural for employees to want to move up.
  3. Promotion: Smaller and family-owned firms don’t always offer the individual enough chances for promotion. Larger and more geographically dispersed firms just have more and faster chances.
  4. Pay: Firms that look at top talent as the most valuable resource naturally pay more (based on performance). The most successful firms can afford to pay top dollar also.
  5. More advanced customers: It’s only natural for top talent to want to work with top or prestigious customers. It’s both for the opportunity to show what they can do as well as to learn.
  6. Play with the best: The best employees naturally want to play with other “great players.” Small firms (or firms with low recruiting standards) don’t offer talent a chance to grow with and compete against the best.
  7. Great managers: The best firms almost always have the best managers (managers want to progress to the “top level” firms also).
  8. Speed of growth: Some individuals want to move to a faster-paced environment that their current firm can’t offer. Faster growth means more opportunities.
  9. A new industry: “Rust” and brick and mortar industries might not work in the fast paced 24/7 environment that some workers want.
  10. Technology: Some firms use and develop the latest tools and technology. It’s natural for the very best to want to be part of that.

More Business Reasons To Treat Other Firms As Your “Farm” Team Just as farms can develop immature race horses in size and maturity until they are ready, some companies naturally develop and train talent to the point where they are ready to move up to a higher level at another firm. This is the perfect opportunity for the smart recruiter to grab that employee. No, it’s not stealing; it’s good business. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • It allows other firms to spend the initial time and money to train “new” talent and to sort out the culls for you.
  • It provides you with an opportunity to pick the “cream of the crop” from already trained and working professionals.
  • It gives college grads a year or two to make mistakes, to develop, and to decide what they really want to do.
  • You get a chance to observe the talent as it develops, so you make fewer dramatic errors during the selection process.
  • In a “treat them well or lose them in a second” world, the best talent will always shift to where the opportunities are. It’s the other firm’s fault that they didn’t assess and appreciate their own talent enough.
  • In a time of almost zero unemployment, the best are guaranteed to be already working, so hiring the unemployed is not a viable option. Someone will be bidding on employed top talent on a weekly basis. If your fear of direct competition or “ethics” keep you from bidding for them…someone else will get them!

How Do You Know Which Firms Would Be The Best Farm Teams?Finding the “farm” firms that develop talent is easier than you think. Here are some tips:

  • Start with your current top talent. Look at their resumes to see where they came from. What companies and experiences do top talent frequently have in common? Track the “source” farm company at the end of your firms annual performance assessment process.
  • Ask current employees which firms helped develop them the most. Then ask if a particular department (or manager or mentor) is the best “developing ground” for talent.
  • Ask your sales people and others who are out in the community to keep an eye out for those that compete well against your own company.
  • Ask new hires on their first day who else is good and which departments attract and develop the best people.
  • Ask executive search professionals and your own recruiters what the best farm teams are.
  • Look at the target firm’s public promotion announcements to see whom they regard as good. Target promotees 12 – 18 months after their last elevation.
  • When employees are terminated, look to see if your bottom performers also come from a “common” firm or background.
  • Don’t forget to look at internal departments and divisions as “internal farm teams.” Great talent often moves in predictable patterns inside an organization also.

Conclusion It’s inevitable that individuals will move from jobs of lower importance to those with more impact. It is also true that smaller and slow-growing firms will lose top talent to larger more glamorous firms. Some managers at smaller firms even help their talent leave when they realize they can not offer them the greater opportunities they need. So as a manager/recruiter, plan for and take advantage of your farm teams. Be ready when their talent has peaked and is ready to head for the big leagues!

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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