Employee referrals — the key to hiring and retention greatness

Hiring the wrong people for your job openings is an error that compounds over time. Don’t put salad dressing on your breakfast cereal. Let your employees help you out.

Let’s talk about hiring and retention best practices for a moment. If you follow football or other major sports, you’ve probably heard this before: The NFL is “a game of replacement.” This means the top teams know how to replace players leaving their roster — voluntarily or involuntarily — better than their counterparts.

NFL general managers know they have to replace as many as 23 players (on a 53-man active roster) every season*. If they want to win, they have to do it better than the other 31 teams. Every year.

Your employee churn rate may vary. And you may not be judged with a final ranking at the end of every season but internally, you know the score. Employees leave. Sometimes, the good ones get away.

Fortunately, there are ways to stop the bleeding. It starts with hiring and continues with engaging employees throughout the span of their careers in your business. Improving your employee referral program is one of the best, most underused opportunities to rally your hiring and retention objectives.

Who loves you?

Savvy businesses know that often the best brand ambassadors for their business are their employees. That’s a subject for another time, but know this: you can leverage those same types of brand ambassador practices aimed at acquiring and retaining customers for your employee hiring and retention practices.

In other words, what’s good for the sales and marketing departments is also good for the human resources and C-level folks.

Employee referrals are your best resource for acquiring talent because:

  • they know your company culture,
  • they are invested in the success of your company,
  • they are invested in their own personal success, and
  • they are unlikely to suggest a dud since they are motivated to protect their own reputation.

Simply put, new-hires referred by existing employees arrive with some of the early legwork already completed. Your recruiters will thank you!

Culture is king

Even working diligently to curate potential hires with the right qualifications, it’s still a guessing game as to whether or not your new hire is the right cultural fit. Cultural fit, of course, is the key determinant in whether or not an employee stays with your company long term … or if you want them to. According to Jobvite’s 2014 Social Recruiting Survey, 60 percent of recruiters report their best candidates come from employee referrals. That sounds like an edge to me.

We’ve all sat in interviews (on either side of the table) and presented our “best face” to the other party. Like buying a 55-gallon drum of Costco salad dressing, you’re going to have to spend some amount of time after you’ve already made the decision before you fully understand if you’ve made the right call. Or you could find yourself trying to come up with creative ways to add salad dressing to everything you eat.

Well-qualified employee referrals can help you avoid a similar kind of hiring regret. Hiring anyone takes work to make the relationship successful. Hiring poorly increases the necessary work exponentially. You want to limit your likelihood of having made the wrong decision (if you’ve contemplated putting salad dressing on your breakfast cereal that’s a clue) by getting a qualified referral first.

So how do you harness this tribal knowledge? Two factors come into play.

  1. First, your own employees need to be fully engaged. You may not ever hit the 100 percent engagement mark, but if you’ve got a healthy company culture you will be able to identify who your homegrown promoters (brand ambassadors) are.
  2. Second, your employees may need a little nudge. They need to be reminded, at the very least, to keep an eye out for strong, complementary talent that can take your business forward. They also need some incentive.

Business as usual often leaves gaps. Businesses tell us the same thing: employees refer one or two people and then they simply forget or don’t always check when vacancies exist. They have to be reminded and incentivized.

Strategically incentivize

No matter what your business, you can grow it by implementing a powerful employee engagement solution — one that scales, motivates and resonates. Bringing such a solution to your business isn’t magic. It’s an edge.

The incentives you may offer could come in the form of referral bonuses, which many companies do. It’s a fine tactic. A more successful, long-term approach is to develop a highly engaged workforce that is brimming with enthusiasm for your company culture. We recommend identifying and growing brand ambassadors to generate employee referrals.

Today’s workforce, — especially millennials — want to do meaningful work at companies with a strong culture. They seek honest, real-time feedback, collaboration and peer recognition. If you can deliver that, you’ve got fully engaged employees.

Because it’s not all about you. Job-seekers want to make the right move, as well. You can help them help you by building that bridge that is employee referrals. The right hire is a win-win for everyone involved.

In short, employee referrals can help you get the good ones before they’re gone. The current job market for skilled workers, with the nationwide unemployment rate of 4.9 percent hovering at its lowest rate in several years, is more competitive than ever. Even if it weren’t you still want to make the best hires — consistently. Whether you’re looking at hiring as a matter of survival or a competitive edge, leveraging employee referrals is a strategy you just cannot ignore.

* Comparing the 2014 & 2015 Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos

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