Winning ‘the War to Keep Your Employees’ Requires Re-Recruiting Your Top Talent


If you expect to win “The War to Keep Your Employees,” you must continually assure that the best offer that a top performing employee receives comes from inside your own firm.

In order to assure that, management must periodically approach top talent and recruit them again (re-recruit) just as if they were a new external prospect. Although I coined the term “re-recruit” more than 20 years ago, it is still an effective retention tool today.Its basic premise is that you must re-energize your best employees every few years either by redesigning their jobs or offering them a new one that is clearly superior to what any external recruiter might offer them.

Much like married couples can re-energize their marriage by renewing their vows, managers should periodically change and update what the company has to offer during the re-recruiting process. Re-recruiting is necessary because even if your top performers are loyal and have not actively applied for a new job, they are still constantly being identified, assessed, and contacted by corporate recruiters and by employees seeking out potential employee referrals. Your desirable employees will also be identified indirectly through benchmarking efforts and having their ideas and work viewed and/or read on the Internet and on social media.

Why Re-recruiting Is Effective

There are many reasons why re-recruiting your own employees is a powerful and proven retention and productivity improvement approach. Those reasons include:

  1. Re-recruiting can keep them out of a rut — even well-treated top talent will eventually get bored or want a change of pace. Research has shown that entering a rut can occur as frequently as every 18 months, so new opportunities need to be offered frequently.
  2. Employees have continual contact with recruiters — because the best employees are being contacted as many as five times a week, managers must realize that top talent doesn’t need to apply for a job in order to get an external offer. Unfortunately, many managers are naïve and they don’t realize that recruiter and referral contacts are continuous because the Internet and social media make finding and communicating with top talent so easy.
  3. The process makes internal offers more exciting — re recruiting works because it is based on the foundation principle that top performers and innovators want 1) continuous excitement, 2) to be doing the best work of their life, and 3) to have a significant impact. To ensure that that these three things are continually happening, re-recruiting requires that you assign responsibility to both their manager and HR to maintain that excitement. And by sharing the responsibilities, you increase the likelihood that several individuals are making sure that targeted employees periodically receive superior internal offers that meet each of these three factors.
  4. Unexpected recognition can be powerful — because re-recruiting is not a scheduled event, employees are often surprised and extremely pleased to hear that the firm thinks enough about them to recruit them again without the pressure created by an external offer. Obviously the same exact offer by the firm in response to an external offer would not be viewed as positively. In addition, because it happened once, most employees will assume that they will be periodically re-recruited in the future if they stay.
  5. Being first with an offer has an impact — if their current firm makes their re-recruiting offer first, the odds are high that the employee will stay because of inertia, coworker and family pressure, and the fact that there is no counteroffer to compare to.
  6. Typical internal opportunities are not driven by competition — because  many employees are taken for granted and the manager is not aware of external competition, when managers do provide an internal offer, it is likely to be as much as 25 percent lower in rewards, excitement, and learning compared to the verbal offer that the employee received from an external recruiter. 

External recruiters beat internal managers at selling. Even if the internal opportunities received by your top performers are excellent, it is unlikely that they will be sold as effectively as an external recruiter can. Usually internal openings are merely posted and no internal recruiter will proactively contact the employee to tell them how exciting it is and how that employee would be a great fit. Internal offers usually come instead from managers who are not as skilled at selling as trained recruiters are. An external recruiter is likely to continually rave about a potential recruit’s talents and potential, while those offering internal opportunities are likely to be more reserved.

In addition, external recruiters never mention any downsides at their firm, so your employee will only hear about the rosy side of any new external opportunity.

Your job is to assure that the best offer a top performer receives comes first from within your firm, as opposed to from an outside recruiter!

Re-recruiting Action Steps

The concept of re-recruiting is pretty simple. You apply the tools and strategies of external recruiting to your top current employees. It means that instead of waiting and then having to compete against other offers side by side, a manager proactively makes a compelling internal offer first to his or her top talent. Some action steps:

  • Make re-recruiting a goal — start by adopting the premise that unless they are re-recruited, no one will stay at your firm longer than 18-24 months. Drop loyalty from your vocabulary and assume you must continually excite top talent if you are to keep them. Make “the best offer will come from the inside” the goal for both managers and HR. Make successfully re-recruiting a percentage of top-performing employees each year part of a manager’s bonus criteria.
  • Develop a re-recruiting toolkit — HR must accept responsibility for developing an effective re-recruiting approach. So HR must work with your external recruiting function to come up with dos and don’ts and sample templates for managers to use. This toolkit should also include a list of the possible re-recruiting options (i.e. flexibility, pick your own project, 20 percent time, pick your own leader, etc.) that managers can offer to their re-recruited employees. Also consider putting up an internal online re-recruiting forum to exchange ideas and to share problems.
  • Identify and prioritize re-recruiting targets — require managers to identify who they would classify as “regrettable turnover” within their team. Prioritize those employees and focus your retention efforts on those employees who you would most regret losing.
  • Identify which top performers are at risk of leaving — although re-recruiting all top performers might be a good idea, limited resources may force you to focus your retention efforts on only those individuals who have a high risk of leaving in the near future. Recruiters can help by identifying which jobs and job families are being targeted by external recruiters. HR should help by developing a list of precursors or indicators that can help a manager assess whether a targeted individual employee is at risk of leaving. Some of those at-risk indicators may include average length of time in previous jobs, the number of frustration and excitement factors, whether an individual is overdue for a raise or promotion, and whether an employee feels underused.
  • Put together a list of re-recruitment excitement factors — provide managers with an updated list of the approved re-recruiting factors that have routinely excited employees during past re-recruiting efforts. This list can guide an individual manager so that they include enough of these factors to create an effective re-recruiting offer each time.
  • Put together personalized retention plans — because you are targeting only top performers, you can afford to put together individualized retention plans that are personalized to meet the unique needs of an individual employee. For each target, HR must work with the employee’s manager so that they know the “frustrators” that are causing them to think about leaving, the likely turnover triggers which might cause them to begin a job search, and then the appropriate set of personalized retention actions that should be used to counter each turnover-related factor for this individual. The retention plan should also include goals, intermediate success measures, and who will be accountable for each step of the plan.
  • Approach an employee to re-recruit them — starting the re-recruitment process can be awkward for a manager, so provide them with a rough script to guide them. Start with a phrase that says “because you are one of our most important employees, I would like to talk to you today about updating your current role so that it is more exciting, challenging, and impactful. I would like your help in identifying how we could change and update your role over the next few months so that you enthusiastically look forward to coming to work each and every morning.”
  • Identify internal re-recruiters and help sources — the very best firms like Cisco and Booz Allen Hamilton have designated internal “movement teams” of their own recruiters that proactively seek out and move top talent. If you can’t afford a mobility team, you should provide training on the re-recruiting process to your managers and also provide the names of your own recruiters who are willing to provide advice and coaching on how to excite a recruit (even if it is a current employee).
  • Process — because the job market place is continually changing, your re-recruiting process needs to be continually updated and improved. In order to do that, six months after re-recruiting an employee, interview them and find out what worked and what didn’t work in order to continually improve the re-recruiting process. Also conduct a “failure analysis” any time that an employee who was targeted for re-recruiting quits.

Some Additional Actions to Consider

  • Get help in identifying who and why — ask your current employees to help you to “keep the team together” by identifying those in the team who they feel are at risk of leaving and what would cause them to leave. “Why do you stay?” interviews with targeted employees can also be used to identify the factors that make individuals stay and the factors that might cause an employee to leave.
  • Understand external offers — identify the elements of typical external offers for each key position by looking at the other offers that your new hires received. Ask executive search professionals to periodically update you on the offers that similar professionals are getting in the marketplace.
  • Prepare an instant response — in the cases where your employees actually get an external offer, prepare an instant counteroffer strategy and action plan so that you can respond immediately and effectively.
  • Make praise and recognition routine — without making it appear staged, periodically tell your current top employees how important they are and how much they contribute. Consider asking them for the professional courtesy of notifying you when they begin a job search or even consider an external offer.
  • Identify frustrators — periodically ask your current top-performing employees what frustrates them in their current job. Ask what factors restrict their productivity and innovation. Use that information to remove frustrators and barriers to success. For the very best employees that you want to re-recruit, ask them to describe their dream job and where they would like to be in the next year, and then work to provide them.

Final Thoughts

The concept of re-recruiting is really quite simple. Periodically “update” your original job offer (the one when they started or with their last promotion) so that it appears new, fresh, and exciting to a top-performing employees. And don’t just settle with re-recruiting once. Assume that it will be necessary to update their offer and their job periodically if you expect people to stay loyal and productive.

If you expect to win “The War to Keep Your Employees” you must forever bury the notion that the best employees will naturally stay at your firm without periodically taking proactive actions. Employee retention is becoming problematic because we live in a world where the minute after a manager does something to anger or frustrate an employee, they can react negatively by instantly applying for a new job by simply pushing a single button on their smart phone. And even if they never push that application button, managers need to realize the best, because of their visibility, will be found and contacted on a regular basis by either recruiters or employees trying to make a successful referral.

Taken together, that means that in a world full of job offers, both the first and the best job offers come from inside the employee’s current firm

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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