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How to Make Your Team Poach Resistant

In the “information age” environment, executive recruiters, corporate HR, hiring leaders, team members incentivized by finder’s fees can search for talent faster than ever. With the powers of LinkedIn and Google, they can identify professionals with the skills and background needed, no matter how specific, or how much in demand those credentials may be. My clients consistently find that only days after we expand their online profiles to include details of their expertise, from “Chinese market development” to “brand expansion” to “palliative care management,” they receive contacts from companies and recruiters seeking their specific qualifications.

In the hot growth sectors, there has been a considerable focus on this trend, as covered in the May 2014 issue of Inc.: How to Master the Art of Poaching Employees.  Naturally, this creates a challenge for leaders who seek to retain their best players, without resorting to the obvious (and not always successful, and not always possible) tactic of increasing salaries. To provide some additional context and guidance beyond my tips included in the article, I’d like to offer the following:

  1. Ask and learn first.
    Express genuine interest in your employees’ career aspirations. Absorb as much detail as you can, before explaining how they can become more valuable to your organization.  Listen attentively to the words they use and the emphasis they place on certain priorities.   By asking open-ended questions, you’ll learn a lot in a short time.  For example, “What would you like to say about your professional role a year from now that you might not be able to say today?”You can also gain clarity on their personal or work-life priorities which as a leader, you may be able to align with higher job satisfaction and motivation. Follow up with a responsive solution. In one case, a Director at a leading financial services firm learned that her marketing manager regretted not participating in his child’s school events. She suggested, “Would it be helpful if we organized your schedule so you could take half a vacation day every other month to attend your son’s concerts or sports practices?” The marketing manager was relieved and appreciative of this simple solution which only improved his loyalty and performance.

2. Understand the breadth and depth of their strengths.
Take time over lunch or during a one-on-one session to review the backgrounds of your colleagues and your team – you’ll be surprised at the information and advantages you may discover.

Let’s say you’ve been thinking about the potential benefit of better business results analysis. Someone on your team, who is a specialist in regulatory compliance today, may have had a prior role in financial reporting. You’ll never make the association if you don’t fully understand that person’s background and skills. On the other hand, maybe you’ll learn that your Travel Manager was an actor for years after college, and could be useful at trade shows, or in certain client-facing situations which require a strong presence and a bit of dramatic effect.

3. Outline a 12-month plan with mutual clarity and commitment.
After you have listened, then you can propose a win-win match between your strategic needs and their professional and personal aspirations.   Have them write up a 12-month professional growth plan for your review. Then agree in advance that you will schedule quarterly checkpoints. Set realistic and achievable goals: the idea is to create win-win momentum, not additional stress or pressure.

4. Remember: they are entitled to feel recognized.
While Shakespeare assures us “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” when it comes to job titles, people truly care. Once a year, review each person’s actual contributions and role. If possible, collaborate on a title which accurately reflects his or her contributions, within bounds of what your organization allows. Offering the highest, most descriptive title possible will make people feel proud, connected to their role, and recognized. It will likely work in the company’s best interest as well as customers and vendors will also appreciate the expertise of their contacts.

If you try this out and would like to share the results, or ask any questions, pleasecontact me.

Which Way Should You Lean ?

In response to the widespread publicity on Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean InMoney Magazine asked me to comment for their counterpoint article Lean Out.  I was quoted as advising that if you seek greater authority or higher pay at your current job, you should ask your boss what it would take to get promoted and, “If there isn’t anything you can do, you should be leaning out.”

Since then, readers, colleagues and clients posed some thoughtful questions, which I would like to share, along with my responses:

If I start to expand my circles or upgrade my online profile, what will my boss and coworkers think?

I understand the natural tendency to worry about the outside reaction to your efforts to advance yourself. Rather than viewing this as a solo act or self-aggrandizing endeavor, engage your boss and coworkers in the process – ask for feedback or time to brainstorm your action plan. Present initiatives tied to strategic goals and market objectives, and discuss how you can capitalize on them together.

If you provide internal training and demonstrate and share the depth and breadth of your knowledge within your organization – it reflects well on your entire department. In one case, when I trained a client to speak with the media and introduced him to an editor at The Wall Street Journal, we also invited the CEO to participate in the interview. Hence, my client became responsible for the CEO’s most prestigious press quote to date, while also gaining the same exposure himself.

Can I lean out while still maintaining my primary focus on my current job?

The Lean Out article shares several excellent examples of professionals who decided to leave corporate roles for options which better suit their values. Is this the only way to lean out? Absolutely not!

In fact, when you start to “lean out”, you also increase your chances for promotion within your current company or potentially at another.  You can “lean out” in ways that are win-win to simultaneously enhance your career and add to your company’s bottom line. There doesn’t have to be any conflict at all (see the next question).

You recommend leaning out, but how exactly can I? What can I do?

Consider three levels of leaning out, all of which benefit you and your organization:

  • Enhance your own professional standing

    “This quarter, I will invest $300 to advance myself by…” Reality check: If you don’t invest in yourself, how can you expect anyone else (including your boss) to invest in you? Maybe it’s time to upgrade your LinkedIn profile with details to properly convey your achievements, such as a customer acquisition milestone or the performance recognition award you received but neglect to mention out of modesty. Or, maybe this is the time to take a course you’ve been thinking about for years, buy an elegant new suit, hire a temp to organize the mounds of files in your office. Do whatever works for you, but make it count!

  • Extend your company presence beyond your immediate group at work:

    “This quarter, I will invite the following 5 people to lunch …” We’ve all heard “It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know.” But beyond that, it’s how well you know them. Seek out those beyond your immediate group at work who can mentor and enrich you – perhaps colleagues with whom you can exchange ideas, and former subordinates who have now gone on to new and higher roles.

  • Expand your industry and media presence:

    “This quarter, I will step out of my comfort zone by…” Maybe you will talk to the press, lead an event in your area of expertise for your alumni group or attend a trade show to make new contacts. It may be a challenge, but you’ll reap the rewards of increased job security and confidence.

If you are interested in accessible, actionable steps along these lines, my ebookThe Power of Professional Presence: Get Their Attention and Keep It! (available onAmazon and iTunes), contains recommendations for kicking your online profile up a notch in Chapter 5, and ways to prepare for and succeed with media interviews in Chapter 6. Please contact me if you have any other questions or comments.