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Poach it or Coach it?

Advice from the Business Coach

When we’re looking to fill a senior vacancy, we often have a choice between bringing in outside talent and promoting from within. The right course of action will depend on the vacancy and the individuals available, and I’m certainly not advocating a blanket approach, but there are good reasons to consider coaching, not poaching.

Paying an inflated salary to draft in a supposed hot-shot may work if they have the skills to be instantly credible and spark swift results. But can you buy loyalty? The problem with hiring the person who’ll switch jobs for the highest bidder is that next time, the highest bidder might not be you. Incidentally, sometimes during the hiring process you may interview a candidate who’s already accepted another job but tells you they’ll change their minds and come to you if you make them a better offer. Don’t even think about it. By asking for a better offer they’re confirming that they’ll be coming to you for the money. By walking away from an employer they’ve already made a commitment to, they’re confirming that their word means nothing. You deserve better than that, and so does your team.

It may be tempting to poach talent from a rival company because the person you have in mind has a string of clients ready to jump ship along with them. Sometimes those clients will move, and sometimes they won’t. If they do, you may be starting a tit-for-tat war of attrition with a rival company that leaves you scrapping bitterly for diminishing rewards and being drawn into price-dropping contests that, ultimately, don’t benefit the winner much more than the loser. And of course when you live by that particular method of business development, you can just as easily die by it. If you poach from a rival and take a chunk of their revenue, don’t be surprised if they do the same to you in return. Promoting internally may not always be the answer but if you’re looking for an effective and ethical way of growing your client base, putting your faith in existing employees who understand your selling points and believe in what you’re offering might pay dividends.

What message do you send to your team when you bring in someone over their heads who’s played no part in their successes to date? How does it affect them as individuals and how does it affect the team dynamic? Not surprisingly, employers offering a path to promotion and career development do far better with employee retention.

The biggest mistake an employer can make with a member of staff is to take them for granted. Some people may question this at a time of economic uncertainty, when many are anxious to hold on to their jobs at all costs, but consider this:

What goes around comes around. If the day comes when your people have choice of where they want to work, give them a reason to choose you.

If you create an environment in which the smart, ambitious people believe they have to leave to make progress, you won’t lose everyone (employers very rarely lose everyone) but the people you keep may not be the people you want. If all you’re left with are the ones who lack the talent and ambition to move forward, what will that do to your team’s performance?

Happy people are more productive, simple as that. Every study, every survey, every fragment of life experience and common sense tells us that employees who feel valued deliver greater value. So make them feel valued.

There are times when you’ll need your people to rise to the occasion. Maybe you’ll need them to meet a tight and unmissable deadline. Maybe you’ll need an innovative improvement in a business-critical process. Whatever it is, you’ll need at least one person, and preferably more than one, to show the kind of leadership qualities that mark them out as a manager or director in waiting. How can you reasonably expect them to do that if you’ve blocked the path to promotion? You can’t expect people to keep buying tickets to a raffle with no prizes.

I’d argue that the most compelling reason to promote from within is the impact it has on you as a manager. It puts the onus on you to manage your team in a way that creates leaders, not just followers. It puts the onus on you to manage your team in a way that empowers people, nurtures their talent and prepares them for greater challenges ahead. And it puts the onus on you to prove that the training your people get has a tangible positive outcome and isn’t just an overhead. By offering employees a career path and delivering training that equips them to follow it, you demonstrate a clear return on investment. Your ROI is the time and money you save by promoting from within, instead of rolling the dice with a potentially expensive, and time-consuming hiring process. If you’ve nurtured the talent in your team, the answer to your recruitment problem might be right under your nose.

Good luck, and keep coaching.


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