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Dr John Sullivan
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The boldest recruiting strategy of them all



Asia’s most renowned regional HR Excellence Awards is back in October in Singapore and Malaysia to sieve out HR’s finest gems. Are you a diamond in the rough? View the categories and find out more.

Called “the Michael Jordan of Hiring” by Fast Company magazine, Dr John Sullivan specialises in high-impact HR solutions. Find out what he considers the boldest and most aggressive recruiting strategy – called Hire to Hurt.

Which strategy from among the 20+ possibilities is the boldest and most aggressive recruiting strategy?

The “Hire to Hurt” strategy (or H2H for short) is the most aggressive for a variety of reasons.

The name alone sends chills through the risk-adverse in recruiting. It is also clearly indicative of its chief goal, which is to identify key talent and then hire them away to the point where your H2H hiring actually hurts the competitor’s business results.

It’s a two-for-one deal. Not only does your firm get top quality talent but simultaneously your top competitors’ lose key talent.

As one CEO put it, “I really like that strategy; our ship rises while their ship sinks.” (Incidentally, the second most aggressive recruiting strategy is “make other firms your farm team”.)

Every other function already tries to hurt competitors

Recruiting needs to wake up and smell the gunpowder because almost every other business function already directly attacks competitor firms. For example:

• Sales – A majority of a B2B salesperson’s time is spent targeting competitor’s customers in the hope that they will shift over to your own company’s products or services.

• Advertising – Advertising leaders frequently run “attack ads” specifically to hurt the product image of their direct competitors.

• Pricing – It is routine practice to suddenly lower the price of your product in order to draw away customers from your competitor’s product.

As one CEO put it, “I really like that strategy; our ship rises while their ship sinks.”

Uber is the benchmark for H2H recruiting

To maintain a competitive recruiting advantage, most firms obviously don’t publicly announce they are raiding competitive firms for talent. But that secrecy doesn’t mean that dozens of firms aren’t currently using this practice.

Uber, the car service, revealed that its version of the H2H strategy recruited over 50 drivers in two large cities over a six-month period. It had its recruiters simply schedule Lyft cars, and once underway, the recruiter would directly begin their recruiting sales pitch to the “captive” Lyft driver.

To further incent this, it also put a “bounty” on recruiting drivers from their competitors, by doubling the standard reward for recruiting a Lyft driver, and then doubling the bonus again for recruiting away “a Lyft mentor” (the experienced drivers who help train new drivers).

Hurting the competitor isn’t illegal, unethical, or even immoral – it’s merely part of the competitive game.

Lyft vigorously complained about the recruiting process, which is verification that the process was “hurting” the competitor.

Despite that, there were no legal consequences because employees are not owned by any company and are free to leave at any time. And, hurting the competitor isn’t illegal, unethical, or even immoral – it’s merely part of the competitive game.

More benefits from the H2H strategy

If you’re still not convinced, here is a list of additional benefits that can occur to a firm that successfully implements a “hire to hurt” recruiting strategy.

• You get fresh ideas, best practices, and new perspectives (Note: It’s okay to recruit away employees, but you can’t take or use intellectual property).

• Recruiting one key talent away from a firm may turn into a “magnet hire” who may eventually result in a stream of recruits coming from that firm.

• Customers may notice the exodus from one firm to another and consciously or unconsciously follow the talent to your firm.

Your competitors will lose a great deal of management time and money, in recruiting replacements, who will probably perform, at least initially, at a significantly lower level.

But because the poaching is continuous, managers will also have to spend a great deal of time protecting and retaining their remaining top performers.

Taken together, these two factors will reduce the amount of free time that managers have to spend on product development or other worthwhile business tasks.

Consider targeting these high-impact positions

If you expect to maximise the amount of hurt, you certainly cannot randomly select your hiring targets.

Although every firm is different, you should focus on targeting individuals who are hard to replace, those who are innovators, those that now hold or will soon hold leadership positions, and those that have future skills that will be extremely valuable in one year to 18 months.

Your competitors will lose a great deal of management time and money, in recruiting replacements, who will probably perform, at least initially, at a significantly lower level.

The ones that the managers at your competitors fight the hardest to keep are the ones that you really want.

Some of the H2H targets that I recommend include:

• Sales managers and professionals (target the top at each of your primary competitors)

• Product development managers (target those from the most innovative firms)

• A product innovator and “idea person” at any competitor

• The “CEO in waiting” (i.e. the successor to the CEO)

• The general manager of your competitor’s most profitable business unit

• Brand managers at firms that have recently built or improved their brand

• Leading social media expert in your industry

• The heads of their “critical best practice” functions (marketing, advertising, design, supply chain, etc.)

• Recruiter (target those who are proactive and have successfully poached your high-impact employees)

• Succession planning leader (target those who have the best track record in the industry for successfully slotting and developing leaders)

• Chief compensation analyst from major competitors (because they can identify all of the top performers and key leaders)

• The mentor/friend/family member of any top performer who is currently at your direct competitor who may “bring” the top performer with them (immediately after they are hired)

Final thoughts

There are two basic categories of recruiting. Ninety-five percent of recruiters fall into the first category, which I call “Hire To Help” because the goal is to recruit and hire individuals who can help your firm, regardless of where they come from.

The remaining small portion of recruiters fall into the second category, which is the “Hire To Hurt” category. You are once again simultaneously helping your own firm, but in this case you are also purposely damaging both the talent bench strength and the business results at your competitors.

Your recruiting leaders will need to “grow a pair” because a majority of the ones who I encounter do not view recruiting as a fierce “winner-take-all” competition.

This second H2H approach has as much as double the business impact but it also has its drawbacks.

First of all, because you are directly raiding a competitor, you must have highly competitive and well-trained recruiters (hopefully with executive search backgrounds) because they are fighting for top talent that the managers at your competitor will fight fiercely to retain.

Next you need superior metric-driven recruiting tools. This is because your recruiting targets are fully employed individuals who are “not-looking” for a job (i.e. passives), which means that they have to be talked into even considering a new job.

And finally your recruiting leaders will need to “grow a pair” because a majority of the ones who I encounter do not view recruiting as a fierce “winner-take-all” competition.

Dr John Sullivan has written over 10 books, contributed articles to every major business magazine in the world and had a distinguished career in HR management culminating as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies. He is a headline speaker at Talent Management Asia 2015.

Held in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong in mid-April, Talent Management Asia is a two-day annual event focused on global best practice HR strategy.

To get a global and pan-Asian view of talent management, don’t miss Talent Management Asia in April. To review the topics & agenda, check out the stellar speaker list and reserve your seat visit www.talentmanagement.asia.

For more information please contact Carlo Reston on +65 6423 0329 or carlor@humanresourcesonline.net.



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