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Concerned About Talent? Don’t Forget About the Graybeards

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With employment markets in the U.S. continuing to tighten, labor-intensive businesses are seeking candidates on the margins, and in some cases outside the mainstream, in an effort to fill current openings without getting into an all-out bidding war for talent. Recently, there has been considerable discussion around H1B visa hiring strategies, increased PT to FT conversion, and the growing number of employers who are now willing to hire non-violent criminal offenders, some of whom are still behind bars.

There is another, even larger market available, which is essentially untapped, and that is the strategic use of retirees and alumni as a source of candidate referrals or contract labor.

I got fairly snarky recently with a colleague who runs HR for a large (400,000 employee) company and was whining a bit about having a dearth of candidates.We discussed the fact that they have about 40,000 employees who leave the company annually, probably 80% of whom are classified as retirees or other regrettable turnover. When asked what measures they use to maintain contact with those people, the answer was. “none.” So, “You’ve got about 100 people with whom you are on perfectly good terms leaving here every day, and you do nothing to maintain a relationship or goodwill with them?” Sadly, the same is true for many of us. Yikes!

As but one example of how this can pay off, consider the case of 71 year-old Tom Coughlin, the original head coach of the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars circa 1994 who rejoined the team this season after a 15-year stint with the NY Giants, where he picked up two SuperBowl rings. The guy clearly knows football, and he knows leadership.

Though Coughlin likely wanted to resume a head coaching role with the Jags, team owner, Shahid Khan managed to convince him that his best role, both for him and the team, would be to sign on as EVP, Football Operations where his coaching would mainly be with head coach Doug Marrone and the team’s young GM, David Caldwell. As evidenced by the fact that the Jags made it deep into the 2018 NFL playoffs for the first time in a long time, it’s apparently working.

A few ideas from the cheap seats:

  1. Expand your base of applicant sources. I continue to be amazed at the number of otherwise well-run companies that rely almost exclusively on passive, single-source recruiting via walk-in, type-in sources for non-executive roles. That is akin to being in a sales role and waiting all day for customers to come find you, unaided by any effort whatsoever on your part! Aside from mining referrals from incumbent employees and alumni, consider doing things like co-sponsoring recruiting activities with business partners, taking on a larger presence in schools and colleges (I do b-school guest lectures as a way of getting a sneak peek at the talent farm), and sponsoring student activities.
  2. Use Longer Lead-times and Always Be Looking. Unless you’re just incredibly lucky, recruiting that is done purely on an as-needed basis is a terribly inefficient process. You’re much better off keeping your nets in the water, and establishing a relationship with viable candidates in advance of an actual need, or preemptively hiring them in some cases.
  3. Get More Adaptive With Women and Graybeards. Already this decade, about 4% of prime working-age women have removed themselves from the American workforce, and, as we speak, about 10,000 people “retire” daily. In each case, that’s not necessarily what people want to do. Rather, it’s often our clunky HR policies and methods that drives them prematurely from the workforce. Let’s get better at listening to these folks, and adapting to what they are trying to tell us.
Bill Catlette

Bill Catlette, @ContentedCows is an executive coach and business author who helps clients build lasting competitive edge by eliminating blind-spots and improving leadership habits.

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