Engage with employees even before you hire them to lay the groundwork for fruitful relationships.

By Darren Findley and Kim Shepherd

Employee engagement is a widely accepted best practice, but a lot of companies are missing a great opportunity by starting engagement programs during or even after onboarding new employees. The recruitment experience influences engagement, and a deliberate approach will help ensure the experience lays the groundwork for a long, mutually beneficial relationship between employer and employee.

You can weave engagement into recruiting practices in two ways: hiring for engageability and proactively engaging candidates from first contact.

Engageability is a Trait

Engageability refers to characteristics a candidate brings –or doesn't – to the table. A candidate doesn't need years and years of experience to be engageable, and you can't expect them to walk through the door fully trained. Instead, a highly engageable candidate not only has the basic skills, but also the motivation to learn quickly and start contributing.

For example, it may be a couple of weeks before a new retail associate can work the register, but a highly engageable individual should be able to start greeting and helping customers right away. As you would expect, engageability will vary from position to position – an individual who gets rattled easily won't stay engaged long as a QSR front-counter employee.

Personas of Top Performers

Borrow a tactic from marketers, who develop buyer personas to help define their target market, and create candidate personas for each open position. It's easy: Use your top performers as models. Let's say the best managers in your day spa are people-pleasers with a firm but fair leadership style. Use that persona as you evaluate candidates, perhaps by asking them to describe a situation in which they were challenged to balance firmness and fairness.

Based on more than 30 years of engagement research, Dr. Jack Wiley, chief scientific officer of Engage2Excel and professor of psychology at Manchester University, has determined that almost all highly engaged employees share the motivation to go above and beyond. You might ask candidates to talk about a time they took initiative or went the extra mile to help a customer solve a problem.

Pre-Hire Engagement

In addition to hiring for engageability, you should be proactive about engaging candidates in your company's culture as part of the recruitment process. It sets the stage for ongoing strong engagement and also helps ensure all candidates have a positive experience with your company, whether they are hired or not.

While your employment brand is important, it is all-purpose and can apply to any position. To truly differentiate your open position from all the others out there, base messaging on the candidate persona. Using the day spa manager opening as an example, don't go to market with "earn great benefits at a growing company." Ninety percent of your competitors are using the same pitch. Instead, home in on your target talent with something like "leverage your people skills and leadership savvy to make an impact."

Lifecycle Engagement

Wiley's research indicates that a solid engagement program is well integrated across the entire employment lifecycle, and incorporates the things he has found to drive engagement: recognition, exciting work, security, pay, education and career growth, conditions and truth – or RESPECT. Weaving engagement into the rest of the employment lifecycle requires that you understand today's employees. If several of the elements in RESPECT don't match with and fulfill an employee's wants and needs, that employee isn't likely to stay.

This may be the real reason millennials, currently the largest generation in the workforce according to the Pew Research Center, have been assigned a reputation for job-hopping. In fact, a beyond.com survey found that 81 percent of millennials surveyed described themselves as being loyal to an employer, while only 1 percent of HR professionals believe millennials to be loyal to employers.

Maybe employers aren't recognizing millennials' wants, needs and values. No strategy or program can be all things to all people, but be sure you are working with valid information and assumptions.

Data-Driven Tactics

Data is important in understanding candidate values and optimizing sourcing, recruitment marketing and onboarding activities. For example, the 2017 Trendicators Talent Acquisition Report: What You Need To Know About Today’s Job Seekers, finds that 81 percent of millennials and 55 percent of gen xers consider recognition and praise to be important during the hiring process.

Turn that into a tactic: When you first reach out to a management candidate, for example, mention that you noticed they were instrumental in reducing costs in their previous position. That simple personal touch helps warm up the engagement process.

Your culture and human capital strategies should account for each RESPECT driver at each stage in the employment experience lifecycle. But it starts before an employee has even read your position posting.

Darren Findley is president, recruitment solutions, for Engage2Excel. Kim Shepherd is chairwoman of Decision Toolbox.


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