The unemployment rate is below 4% and technical positions are remaining open for up to a year at a time. Hiring managers need to up their game.
My consulting practice consists of human capital management transformation projects, so I spend a lot of my time around HR people. Many HR professionals will tell you they are fighting a “war for talent.” Employee turnover rates are higher and average tenure shorter than at just about any time in history for most organizations, for a variety of reasons. Employees with advanced technical skills are not staying in jobs as long as they used to, and every open position represents an opportunity cost. When the work has to be spread among other employees, the negative effects accumulate quickly. As a result, both recruiting and retention get a lot of attention—except from the managers they work for.
Suzanne Lucas, who writes as The Evil HR Lady for Inc. and number of other publications, recently touted an article by Chip Cutter on the practice of ghosting—job applicants cutting off communication with corporate recruiters and hiring managers. There has always been a fraction of new hires that don’t show up on their first day in retail and restaurant jobs, but this is now a growing phenomenon for technical and white-collar positions, too. Lucas and many other HR practitioners say this is a behavior that the applicants learned from employers, especially hiring managers, during the era of high unemployment. Now, there are more open positions than unemployed workers and the tables have been turned.
Perfection is Over-rated
“I couldn’t pass an audition to join my own band.” Frank Zappa
Every manager wants to hire someone who has exactly the right skills and personality, experience and education, and can hit the ground running. And just about every HR executive complains about managers who won’t choose among the candidates they’ve been presented for open jobs. They point to managers who admit that “This one is perfect,” but they want to see a few more. They forget that outstanding candidates have other opportunities. Unemployment rates in technology are much lower than the rates in the general population, which is now at the lowest point in this century. Even those managers who have successfully “poached” employees from another company underestimate the competition for talent. The hiring manager must be decisive and communicative to be effective.
Understand the Hiring Process in Your Organization
Most large employers these days go through an extensive HR-managed process that includes everything from drug testing, credit, and criminal record checks to nondisclosure and IP agreements. Equity grants and other compensation approvals add steps and approvers. This introduces a certain amount of latency, and the longer it takes to get someone on board, the greater the exposure to cold feet. I know of one Silicon Valley employer that had a 10% no-show rate among candidates who had already accepted offers, and that was several years ago. If your organization allows the hiring manager access to the applicant management system, you should monitor the workflow for each requisition, and if necessary, nudge those who have aging actions in their inbox. After you decide on a candidate, maintain contact with that new team member right up until their start date. Keep them informed and feeling wanted, or you might see them snatched away by some other firm.
Make the Landing as Smooth as Possible
Studies have found that the ‘new employee experience’ largely drives tenure. In exit interviews with people who decided to leave their new job in the first six weeks, most organizations hear reasons that amount to ‘disappointment.’ It’s not just onboarding, but fitting in. Excellent teams make a point of getting their new members to feel comfortable asking questions without fear of being judged. Excellent managers don’t just delegate the new hire experience to a ‘buddy,’ they work to establish a new relationship.
Retention Starts on Arrival
Say what you want about the job-hopping habits of the Millennials: they’re just applying the rules of the modern marketplace. Can you really blame a twenty-something for wanting to develop her resume? The challenge for the manager is to help her develop that resume without leaving. Special projects, additional responsibility, and training aren’t exactly golden handcuffs, but don’t you really want to retain the ones that are engaged? Understand that new hire’s personal goals and make that part of your management plan for them.
Getting to Team Stability
Most managers will tell you that continually re-forming the team as people come and go is a strain on everyone. It helps to engage the group in onboarding and retention. It’s a drag for the new hire to follow someone who was perceived as a valued colleague and trusted friend—no one can match up on the first day. Sensitize your team to the needs of the new starter and enlist them in helping her be successful.
The pace of business picks up a bit more each year. Don’t expend your valuable time as a manager being indecisive, and don’t let someone surprise you with a resignation. As tough as this year looks, next year will be worse, and you won’t like to face it with only half of a team.