Five Keys to Retaining Your Best Staff

Recruiting your internal staff first is one of the most powerful recognition strategies right under our noses!

When we don’t provide our internal staff with the opportunity and treat them as the priority, then how can you expect them to feel valued and respected? Especially if they’ve been looking forward to these great assignments, stretch projects and promotions.  When suddenly, that new opportunity arrives and just like that they don’t get it and hope is dashed. Especially if they were never really taken seriously. It’s just so painful.

Here is what we know about how to best retain top talent by first looking seriously at our talent within.

  1. Make a decision: do we have a ‘first try to hire from within’ philosophy?

Sometimes people will tell me they cannot hire from within because there just isn’t the talent there. But do your people know that? If someone doesn’t know they’re not performing to the ability and the level that they could be to have access to an opportunity, that’s your first problem! And it needs fixing fast!

Let’s assume, however, that this is not your issue. Does your organization value external people more than internals? Do they take outsiders’ perspective to be wiser, more valuable, and more respected? Or is institutional knowledge, fit with the culture, and “better the devil you know” fit more with your approach? If it’s the former, what evidence do you have that outside is in fact better?

The other piece is that it’s going to take a lot more to onboard somebody who doesn’t know your organization and get them up to speed compared to somebody who does. One of the greatest opportunity for recruiting our internal folks first is that you know them already.

  1. Shift your thinking: what ripple effect does our hiring philosophy have on engagement?

What message does your philosophy about hiring from within have on engagement? If people feel they’re likely to get passed over, why would they give their discretionary effort, ideas and improvements? Or at least, they’re less likely to.

Your philosophy will also approach how you think about investing in developing people. If you want to hire your own, you’re more likely to grow them. The law of reciprocity kicks in and they want to do more for you as they know they’ve been invested in. See the cycle?

You also need to understand where development needs to happen. This may come out of your job evaluation process and your performance appraisal process, of knowing what talent you need and where that growth needs to happen.  Are people ready for those opportunities? If not, help them prepare. It can also impact what sort of training you do and what coaching and mentorship needs to be available in order to ensure the readiness of the next group of leaders or folks who move into those lynchpin positions that are so challenging to recruit to.

The other opportunity is it allows potentially your employees to get involved in the process. To be able to put up their hand and say, “Yes, I would like an opportunity if it became available.” You don’t want to ask them if, in fact, you have every plan to give it to somebody externally.

I’ve heard from a lot of business owners and leaders that they’re concerned and hesitant about making this their process and policy. You may or may not be one of them. Perhaps you already have a process where internal applicants are given the opportunity before external, which is great. My question to you is, is it consistent?

  1. Upping the Preparation: Have you clarified your intent in your People Plan?

If you don’t have a People/Human Resources Plan, well, that’s where you need to start. But let’s assume you do. This is where you build in your philosophy and operationalize your strategy. This is where you can clarify how and why your recruitment practices flow the way they do. This is how you ensure continuity and consistency – from job postings to interviews to hiring decisions and beyond.

Do you have a process of being able to look at your existing talent pool and seeing what kind of development they’re going to need to be ready for those positions you anticipate will come available? Consider your turnover patterns – your past is the best predictor of your future – is there a way to leverage an internal recruiting approach to ensure you don’t have big gaps and anticipate the external recruitment you’ll need to do? And of course, build in what you already know about natural attrition, i.e. people retiring, moving, and contracts renewing.

  1. Spreading the Communication: Do all stakeholders know your philosophy?

If you have external or internal stakeholders with a vested interest in certain candidates, bring them in sooner rather than later. It could be your union colleagues, a shared management agreement with another organization or individuals identified through succession planning and so on. Make stakeholder consultation a part of your recruitment process; even staff positions you can have a colleague sit on the interview panel. As much as possible, make hiring decisions a shared process (yes the buck stops at one person, however, if others are involved at all levels then when decisions about going outside must be made there’s confidence it’s because it was necessary).

Of course, adjust your policies and your approach, not all of this has to happen overnight. However keep your people and related stakeholders informed about your intent to recruit from within first, that you value the talent already in the organization, and you want to know how to support people until such time the right opportunity comes along.

If you’ve found these suggestions helpful, why not share them? Let’s have more intentional discussions about our “recruit from within” philosophy. And of course, share any suggestions or comments below.

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

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Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

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Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

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