How to recruiter-proof your company

Hint: it comes down to good leadership

(Reading time: 5 minutes)


In the early days of my career, I was hired as the general manager of a small cable TV business. Although I had experience as a manager, I knew nothing about cable TV, so I made a point of meeting everyone in the business and learning what each person did.

This included going down to the basement of the building and sitting with our dispatcher, learning his process for sending technicians to different jobs, and who got what assignments. I also spent one memorable night on the night shift with the techs responsible for electronically “sweeping” the system.

It had to be done every night starting around 1 a.m., so the job was rotated around the team. You’d start at the center of the system or “headend” (where the signals originate) and work your way out to the end of each trunk line, checking all the amplifiers in sequence to make sure the levels were correct. You’d find yourself up on a pole, on someone’s lawn, or in a manhole in the middle of the street.

Which is how I found myself down a hole on Bloor Street in February, getting sprayed as a salt truck whizzed by. It was miserable, cold, damp…and exhausting work.

We stayed out all night and then went for breakfast, after which I went home to bed. I only did it once, but I got a feeling for what the technicians needed to do and how miserable it was to do it. I think I earned a lot of credibility from the guys. I had more respect for them, and they had some respect for me after that night.

In fact, acknowledging and making all team members feel valued is an important way of minimizing the allure of a recruiter bearing promises of a better job somewhere else.  They’ll be less likely to be tempted by the offer of another opportunity if they are being treated well where they already are.

Great leaders know the names of their team members, understand the importance of each role, and remember to praise in public and criticize in private. They acknowledge everyone in the organization that they meet, even in passing. Poor or less experienced leaders tend to overlook and ignore people farther down the reporting structure.

Focused on employee retention? Here are some other key ways to recruiter-proof your business.

Don’t micromanage, especially with minute details

Set out broad goals to be achieved, then let your team determine how to achieve them.

If you’re fixating on doing a very specific thing in a very specific way, you need to explain your reasoning to the employees whose job it is that you are micromanaging.

In the best scenario, you might be right because you are an expert in this area, but it is unlikely that you are an expert in every area, with the result that you will be unable to find the necessary time and energy to focus on YOUR job which is to address broader, more strategic issues.

Even if you are mostly right with your micromanaging direction, you are removing the best parts of employees’ jobs and leaving them with no scope for creativity or for overcoming challenges.  Great employees will not stay around long in such an environment.

When the broader goal is shared, team members see how each person contributes to achieving that goal and can support each other more effectively. It’s a lot more fun for the team.

Consider this tale of two bosses from my own background, when I experienced two very different leadership styles in a very short period. The first boss was a micromanager who assigned tasks piecemeal and got very much into the weeds on things where I didn’t need his oversight.  He also dealt with his teams in a siloed fashion so each of the teams knew little about what other departments were doing.

The next boss had a broader approach and was more inclusive about running things. He’d bring his team leaders together, even parts of the business that were unrelated, and we’d each present our plans. He’d show how each individual plan rolled up to the top line for the entire business. I learned a lot about things unrelated to my area and we also worked through common problems that we all shared, whether it related to managing people or financial issues.

It was rewarding; we learned a lot and felt part of a team. He even walked us through the development of a strategic plan for the whole business using a process that I have since used many times.

Don’t neglect a business unit because you’re unfamiliar with it

Are you giving more attention to sales because it’s publicly visible or your area of expertise? Are you avoiding collections because you don’t know much about it? These choices are opportunities to embrace your weaknesses and grow stronger.

When you start paying attention to less familiar areas of business, you’ll grow your own leadership capacity, and your focus will make that team feel more valued. If some areas of the business are ignored, they will know that they’re not considered priority business units, and they won’t feel compelled to stay. Make sure that you’re mentoring all areas of your business and finding ways to help the people in them to grow.

Foster trust through honesty, transparency, and fairness

It starts at the top. If you want your team to behave a certain way, to meet deadlines, and to treat everyone with respect, then you must model that behavior. You’re responsible for creating the culture of your company, setting standards, and making sure that the standards are maintained and enforced.

When employees see that everyone is treated consistently, with respect and fairness, they’ll be more likely to stay. Don’t let one bad actor contaminate the culture. Make sure that individual performance issues are dealt with head-on with action plans and, ultimately, termination if necessary. The longer you wait, the more a problem will fester and compound. By avoiding dealing with one problem person, you may lose your best people who are the most attractive to other companies who have a better culture.

And most importantly, keep your promises.

In the recruiting world, broken promises are legendary. An employer will promise to create a bonus plan or give employees a piece of the business…then things drag out and never actually materialize. It’s a great way to lose employees.

I know of a recent case at a fair-sized company where a reasonably successful CEO had promised a couple of his senior people that when he eventually sold the company, he would help them buy him out. Instead, he sold the business to a larger company, breaking his promise to them.

The business was sold on an “earn-out” basis where he’d get a portion of the proceeds from the sale upfront, then a portion of the balance in succeeding years, based in part on earnings. He became an employee of the acquiring company and was in a position to ensure the success of his original business.

Unfortunately for him, the senior people he had betrayed were so ticked off that they quit, and his original business just collapsed. I think he was out within a year, which also had a large impact on how much he’d receive of the remaining proceeds from the sale.

It’s an unfortunately common thing…people say they are going to do something and then they don’t do it. By keeping your promises, showing people they are valued and playing fair, your employees will be much more likely to stay.

Larry Smith is the founder and president of Kathbern Management, an executive search firm based in Toronto. Kathbern helps companies find the executives and senior managers who not only have the experience and credentials to fulfill their responsibilities, but also have the emotional and “fit” requirements that will enable them to be successful in a particular environment. Kathbern simplifies the process and, through deep research, brings more and better candidates forward than would ever be possible through a do-it-yourself passive advertising campaign.

 Learn more at, or contact us today for a free consultation about your key person search. Follow us on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.

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