By Marlin Hawk
High profile talent raids are regularly reported in the press, whether it’s Uber picking up bankers from Goldman Sachs or Apple taking a bite out of Tesla’s leadership team. Research recently conducted by Marlin Hawk suggests that such talent raids are just the tip of the iceberg. Poaching is a growing phenomenon, yet most companies are not prepared to combat it.
Executives have all manner of reasons for jumping ship. While they can be compared to financial assets or intellectual property in terms of value, companies do not own them and they have the right to carve their own careers and fulfil personal ambitions. No policy, system or process can account for human nature and prevent all executives from being poached, but some measures can be taken to thwart unsolicited approaches and retain prized talent.
Here are some top tips for HR professionals:
1. Ensure the fundamentals stack up
Identify your top talent (not just the obvious ones), conduct compensation benchmark studies, ensure key executives are competitively compensated and tie them in with long-term incentive packages. Non-compete contracts can also help, but focus on the positive aspects of staying and having a stake in the company’s future success.
2. Focus on culture and values
Don’t get hung up on financial rewards, especially with the millennial generation. Build a team of like-minded people with a strong culture and shared values. Even at the highest executive level, people are incentivised to stay when they know their contribution is recognised and when they are extending their experience and skills and taking on more responsibility. Ironically, by increasing executives’ employability elsewhere, they become both more likely to stay and better equipped to add value.
3. Track vulnerable executives
Keep an ear to the ground to spot executives who may be susceptible to poaching. Disaffection may be caused by someone’s role being impacted by a merger or organisational restructuring, or by their budget being cut, or by a project resulting in an unsuccessful conclusion through no fault of their own. Be vigilant and acknowledge such obstacles, letting the affected executive know that you are aware and care - show them a positive outcome to alleviate the situation.
4. Foster mentoring to uncover problems
Provide a regular forum for key executives to vent frustrations. Top senior performers can still benefit from mentoring, preferably from someone at a similar level who can be objective, such as the Group HR Director or a non-executive director. It may be that an executive feels that promises are not being fulfilled, or that time-consuming projects are derailing achievement of objectives. Early identification of a problem provides an opportunity for resolution before it becomes too late.
5. Succession planning and pipelining
It is inevitable that key talent will leave at some point, so be prepared. Use succession planning to build a shadow board across each senior position, with coaching and upskilling to fast track potential replacements. In tandem, develop an external pool of talent as a contingency plan, lining up high calibre leaders with the potential to replace key executives.
In the event that an executive does get poached, don’t assume that the reason for leaving is purely financial and respond with an immediate counter offer - it may persuade the leaver to stay on, but for the wrong reasons. Find out their genuine reasons for moving on and use the information to prevent further losses of key executives. Shore up the team around the outgoing executive as the loss of their leader could be unsettling and potentially cause a wider exodus. Try to let leavers go on good terms as there is always a chance that they may come back in the future, armed with valuable knowledge and experience gained from a competitor or a different sector.