Human Resources IQ Miniseries: The Upside of a Downturn: How Smart "Investors" Find Bargains During a Business Slowdown
Part 1 of 3
The Engagement Cycle
A slowing economy has tangible burdens as employers become cautious in hiring (or even layoff workers). More subtle and insidious is the way even a gentle slowdown in consumption can trigger a well-known vicious cycle: Lower corporate revenues lead to job insecurity, which causes consumers to tighten spending, which hurts revenues, which causes more corporate belt-tightening and so forth until something (government spending, easier credit, unforeseen demand) halts the cycle.
This cycle offers a break in the fevered efforts to attract and acquire the most talented employees, a chronic problem that has beset booming economies for the past decade. To take advantage of a temporary lull in the chronic shortage of top talent, managers in human resources and executives leading companies must adopt the longer-term practice we call the Engagement Cycle.
The Engagement Cycle is a long-term practice combining employer branding, relationship management and communication. It recognizes that an employer must continually attract, acquire and advance talent just as brands attract, acquire and gain loyalty with customers over time. The Engagement Cycle creates strong bonds between employers and potential candidates before, during and after the brief period we call "recruiting." Its practices ensure that when the economy strengthens—and talent once again becomes scarce—an employer has built a strong "bench" of talented individuals who are interested, open to discussion and even grateful for the attention.
The Engagement Cycle helps employers take advantage of candidate psychology during a slowdown to attract top talent for the long term.
As companies move from the hiring-as-transaction view to the marketing view, we see that employer and candidate follow a clear three-phase cycle in the course of their working relationship. The three phases of the Engagement Cycle determine the level and quality of engagement between employee and employer.
- Attract. The attract phase is a long-term "dance" between you and the candidate. It includes every activity meant to position the organization as a potential employer in the mind of a candidate. You project a carefully crafted, authentic image as an employer; they become aware of your organization’s specific attributes. Your employees spread your reputation as an employer; the candidate listens and assesses you as a potential workplace. It’s a similar dance to the way consumers are drawn to brands in the marketplace.
- Acquire. This phase involves all the interactions between you and candidates from the moment they reach out to you. You advertise a position and they apply. You treat their application a certain way, and they react. You find their resume and approach them, and they judge you by your image and your behavior. Your interview process is a series of interactions with different parts of you organization. Both candidate and employer set expectations throughout this process that will be critical in making a good hire and later in holding onto the best talent. The Acquire state also includes the honeymoon period right after an employee starts working in which expectations will be tested against reality. In terms of consumer branding, this is the purchase of a product and its aftermath: Does the product perform as advertised? Is the customer so satisfied that he would recommend the product?
- Advance. Keep critical talent moving, not necessarily up, but growing in experience, responsibility, money or other tangible and intangible ways. Advancing talent in your organization is key to retaining good people and vital to your company’s ability to change as opportunity or necessity require. Retention is the "hold" part of hire and hold; in consumer branding terms, it’s the equivalent of customers becoming loyal to a brand and identifying with the brand’s attributes.
The Engagement Cycle is the long-term flow of activities that attract and advance talent, and it is the interplay of the full cycle—both the employer’s three activities and the candidate’s responses—that creates a strong relationship.
The first stage—Attract—consists of getting the word out, and the consumer-minded candidates’ activities in a job search (including checking you out). The middle stage—Acquire—is transactional and relatively brief. In the third phase—Advance—both sides try to maximize the value of the relationship.
This last phase might repeat over the time that an employee works at your company. A poised worker is always judging the employer against the other potential employers. When talent is in demand, you have to re-earn its engagement constantly or risk losing it to someone else.
The Engagement Cycle requires more attention than transactions because it is multidimensional and depends on the ongoing interaction. For example, it’s not enough for your outreach to be good; how you receive the candidate’s response is also important.
An employer must continually attract, acquire and advance talent just as brands attract, acquire and gain loyalty with customers over time.
The Attract phase can last for years. For the career-minded worker, employment is not a single event but a sequence of encounters: a candidate hears about an employer, maybe years before applying for a job there (but from the moment the candidate hears, he/she starts to form an impression). In the language of marketing, that’s a touch point. Sometimes later the candidate hears about the company from a friend who works there. That’s another touch point. Perhaps he/she uses one of the company’s products, or shops in its store; that’s another touch point. Then the candidate connects in a very specific way to an opportunity—a job advertisement, a network contact, a call from a recruiter who dug up his/her resume. More touch points. Then the candidate applies for the job and goes through the process of getting the job. More touch points. Then the candidate starts working as an employee, who is now in a daily relationship with the employer until he or she leaves the company—retires, quits, is let go or dies!
The Engagement Cycle is a multidimensional, long-term approach to hiring and holding skilled employees.
Adapted from Finding Keepers: The Monster Guide to Hiring and Holding the World’s Best Employees. findingkeepers.monster.com