Talent acquisition is shifting toward comprehensive, strategic talent management – that is, competitive advantage being contingent on all facets of talent strategy working together and relying on one another, from pre-candidate experiences impacting onboarding and engagement, to learning and development significantly influencing employee retention and turnover.
Toward this end, employee referral programs have likewise become more prominent; they not only empower your people but, as you receive applicants from top performers, this allows the organization to develop targeted personas around your highest performing employees. Referral programs are also one of the most impactful ways to reduce turnover. Referred employees are often more engaged from the start, as they enter the company with a positive impression of your culture, mission, vision and leadership. They’re also entering with a unique level of trust, having worked directly with a friend, family member, former colleague or professional contact to initially explore the role and company.
For many, the importance of employee referrals isn’t new information. However, its impact on turnover – and therefore, the bottom line – is substantial. It’s critical companies assess and optimize their referral strategies on a consistent basis. The following four steps can help kick-off your efforts, or serve as an assessment in re-evaluating your current employee referral strategy
1. Learn What Works (and What Doesn’t) from Industry Peers.
First-hand experiences and case studies, really drilling into the bottom-line impact certain talent strategies have had on your industry peers and/or competitors, can greatly impact your personal efforts in this area. For example, General Electric (GE) has gone through an employment brand and talent strategy revolution over the past five years. Specific to empowering their current people to help improve talent acquisition, according to Shaunda Zilich, GE’s Global Employment Brand Leader:
"Marketing right now is about connecting with people’s emotions. Marketing our employment brand needed to become person-to-person, about human relationships. We need to face reality, trust is at an all time low no matter what you’re talking about – whether that’s trust in our brands, our companies, our country, across the globe … People want to know from other people what it’s like to be part of a given company; people trust other people."
For GE, uniting their talent strategy and improving initiatives such as employee referrals needed to be built around empowering their current workforce. This may be different for you, but GE’s experiences offer a unique, transparent look into what it’s like to start from scratch and having to experiment their way to industry-leading best practice.
2. For Your People, Define and Answer: “What’s in it for Me?”
It’s not groundbreaking news that rewarding your people for their help will inspire them to act. But the return goes far beyond receiving referrals. It shows employees you trust them and need them, and that their voices matter. Likewise, it also trickles down to the people they refer, who will arrive to interviews and, if hired, their first day excited and fully committed to joining the organization.
Conversely, many employees shy away from referring people out of fear for their personal image and standing within the company should the referral not be hired or end up being a poor fit. It’s vital to communicate on the front end to your workforce that they are not responsible for hiring decisions by passing along qualified candidates.
Let your people know they will be rewarded for their help and appreciated regardless of referral outcome, and that you fully understand the onus is on you – the company – not them, to ultimately evaluate, hire, train and onboard a referral. Whether a referral lands in an open role or note, your employees need to understand their efforts are building and greatly impacting your pipeline and talent community for the long term.
3. Promote. Promote. PROMOTE.
A single, company-wide email regarding your referral program will not suffice. Work and work days move a mile a minute; things get lost in the shuffle (including memos). You’ve created a stellar referral program, and now need to make sure your workforce knows it exists, and are reminded frequently. This effort should be all-hands-on-deck and the more you share, the better.
Equip your leaders and advocates with all of the information they need to promote the referral program, including how to share, when to share and where to share. Do you have an intranet? Promote and formally, fully explain the program here (e.g., FAQs are a significant help to employees). Email? Send several, or include the referral strategy as a call to action in your email signatures. Office walls? Promote it with boards and posters!
Specific to messaging, promote the referral program in a way that accurately expresses your desired outcome and instructions for how your employees can best promote via their networks. Your best company ambassadors reflect your culture in all of their conversations and actions; in turn, entrust them with the promotion of the program but make certain you teach them how to evaluate, approach and communicate with potential referrals.
Foster their social media skills through tutorials, help them update their social media profiles, and instruct them on ways to find connections in the industry. Ultimately, be sure they’re fully aware of your culture, go-to-market brand messaging, benefits and the like when expressing such things to potential referrals. Inaccuracy in any of these areas may feel like false promises and, as we discuss the importance of uniting talent strategy based on the impact all areas have one other, could very well harm employment brand, engagement of the employee and the potential candidate, as well the results of your referral efforts on the whole.
4. Recognize and Prioritize.
Recognize your employees for being successful in the program, focusing on both quantity and quality of referrals. Let them know the value of building your company’s talent pipeline and community even if a referral doesn’t become an employee. And through this, encourage these individuals to become more involved in other internal committees as well.
Most likely, the people most willing to take part in referral campaigns are the rockstar brand ambassadors of your organization; they’re often highly engaged and will pass their positive attitude on to others, both internally and externally. The best brand ambassadors are infectious; recognize their efforts and find ways to maximize their willingness in a way that benefits them professionally as well as the company. Your brand, engagement, retention and, ultimately your bottom line, will be thankful for it.
Referred candidates should be prioritized in the recruitment process. For instance, if you do not follow up with referred candidates in a timely fashion, or do not keep your employees updated on the process, you may not be delivering on the promises that have been made, to both the referral and employee.
Transparency, accountability, diligence, empowerment – these are all integral qualities in not only your referral strategies, but your efforts to unite all facets of talent strategy. Referral programs are but one example of how all gears in the talent strategy engine function together, and need to be well oiled, from developing the referral program, to promoting, engaging referrals, to likewise appreciating the involved employees.
You've got the referrals. Now what? The next step is providing top-notch candidate experiences:
Wilson Human Capital Group, Inc., (WilsonHCG) is a global leader in innovative talent solutions that operates on the principle of providing true partnership to our clients. Through our highly configurable Talent Ecosystem™ model, we transform the talent function into a strategic advantage. At WilsonHCG, the relationships we develop lead to the results our clients realize. Better People, Better Business.®