July 31, 2015

What to Do If You Keep Losing Talent to the Competition

ExitIf you’re regularly losing great talent to your competitors, you likely feel drained of morale, unstable, and constantly anxious, waiting for the next employee to jump ship. Being on your toes at all times is not necessarily a bad thing in business, but when there is a net outward flow of talent to the competition, then you need to take action.

Before doing that, though, you need to get some perspective. Employee turnover is both inevitable and, at times, beneficial. Moreover, staff defection to the competition may actually be a good thing in some cases. A joint study from the Wharton Business School and the University of Maryland describes “the outbound mobility effect,” a two-way transfer of knowledge that occurs when an employee leaves you and joins the competition. Although competitors may get insight into your business from your defecting employees, you will also get insight into your competitors’ businesses from your defecting employees, who are likely to stay in touch with your existing employees. If you play your cards right, then, losing employees to the competition can be a competitive advantage.

One of the key things to do if your organization is losing talent to the competition is to embrace each incident of staff defection — once you know it is inevitable — and make sure that the information back channels are left open between current and defecting employees. Encourage trusted staff members to network with defecting employees in order to gain insight into your competitors’ practices. This is perhaps the best way to negate the effects of losing talent to the competition.

Now, I am not suggesting that you just sit back and smoke cigars while your top talent walks across the road to the competition; you do need to take some corrective action. Losing employees to your competitors can be a good thing in some ways, but you don’t want to make it a regular occurrence.

If you are losing a worrisome amount of talent to the competition, you may have a systemic problem with your employer brand, or your competitors may have specific employer branding advantages that could be driving the excessive outward migration of talent from your business. If you want to find out why your employees are jumping ship for the other guys, try these tactics:

1. Exit Interviews

MegaphoneYou can use exit interviews to find out which key factors are responsible for driving staff away. It’s not always easy to get defectors to participate in exit interviews, so you may need to get more tactical and conduct more informal exit interviews much earlier in the game. As soon as you find out that an employee is going to leave, sit down with them and have an open conversation, and you’ll soon get an idea of the push and pull factors that led to their leaving. It may soon become clear that there is a systemic weakness in your employment offerings versus your competitors’ offerings. If you want to stop — or at least stem — the excessive overflow of talent to the competition, you can’t afford to ignore such issues. You need to fix them.

2. Benchmarking

It’s not always sensible to base your branding strategy on the testimony of a few defectors, as their opinions may not be representative. If you don’t have a large data set of exit interviews, a more reliable approach could be to benchmark the pay, benefits, and culture of your business versus the competition.

Benchmarking in this manner is not a straightforward investigative task. Direct inquiries about a competitor’s business are not usually welcomed. This form of benchmarking may best be performed by a specialist consultancy.

Benchmarking of this kind can give you a 360-degree view of how your brand stacks up against the competition. It will outline weaknesses in your employer brand which could be driving the mass migration of your staff and give you a launchpad from which you can tackle issues with your brand, thereby making your business less susceptible to staff defection.

Read more in Turnover

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.