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monday morning manager

It may be time to renew your wedding vows. Not with your spouse, but with your top employees.

Recruiting expert John Sullivan, a management professor at San Francisco State University, says they are likely receiving offers from head hunters and peeking at job openings from online sources such as LinkedIn. "The best offer they receive had better come from within the firm rather than outside," he said in an interview.

This is not a new idea. The fight for talent revs up in cycles. He remembers back in the late 1980s and 1990s, when he was a human resources executive at Hewlett-Packard, that some of the top engineers were fielding three to five calls a week from recruiters. Most were happy with HP, but it was hard not to listen to the offers, and inevitably some departed. The company decided it had to respond with a "re-recruiting" initiative, which Prof. Sullivan he feels many organizations today would be smart to consider.

The idea is to re-energize your best employees every few years either by redesigning their jobs or offering them a new one that is clearly superior to any that an external recruiter might offer them.

"It's like your spouse is going to a bar every night. You have to assume she is getting offers. You may be a great husband, but maybe you should sweeten your own offer," he said.

He notes that re-recruiting can pull employees out of a rut, given that even well-treated top talent will eventually get bored or want a change of pace. Research shows that entering a rut can occur as frequently as every 18 months, he said, so you should be responding frequently with new opportunities.

Top performers and innovators want continuous excitement. But beyond that, re-recruiting responds to their desire to be doing the best work of their lives and to have a significant impact. In the re-recruiting process, those desires can be discussed – and responded to – rather than be left unnoticed by managers until the employee begins to resent his or her situation.

Approaching employees to tell them they are valued and the organization wants to re-recruit them is also a form of unexpected recognition. They will likely be delighted to have the firm offering to improve their terms of work without an external offer being the trigger. "Obviously, the same exact offer by the firm in response to an external offer would not be viewed as positively. In addition, because it happened once, most employees will assume that they will be periodically re-recruited in the future if they stay," Prof. Sullivan writes on his blog.

Although this sounds like the kind of program HR departments would preside over, he argues the opposite. Managers don't like it when HR creates a program. Instead, re-recruitment should simply be part of a manager's toolkit, used as needed, with HR contributing templates on how to go about such efforts and explaining the options available for employees.

Re-recruitment should not be directed at all employees, just top employees who might be lured away. At HP, he noted, the chance of leaving was essentially zero for someone over the age of 40 who had been recruited out of college by the firm. On the other hand, someone who leaves their employer every three years and is now approaching the three-year mark at your company should probably be on your re-recruitment list.

You need to think carefully about who in your firm is most likely to be seduced away. He said Google Inc. has an algorithm that it claims can predict when people will leave, even before the individual is aware of that likelihood.

Re-recruitment will involve a "stay interview," in which you ask the employee why he or she continues to work at the firm. Someone might say they stay because they like working with a specific colleague, Mary Sue, or because they can organize their schedule to have Fridays off. That will be particularly potent information if the boss was just thinking of transferring Mary Sue to another department or reining in the ability to take Fridays off.

Prof. Sullivan suggests you also develop a "more of/less of" list for each person. Ask them what they want more of and what they want less of in their job. "With broccoli, most people like the florets and it's hard to believe some people like the stems. But some do. You need to know who likes what," he said in the interview.

He also finds it useful to determine how many days in a month the employee goes to bed feeling he or she can't wait to go to work the next day. Obviously, you want that to be most nights.

Another tool can be to ask the employee to describe what their dream job would be like and then see whether that can be constructed in your shop. "People never leave their dream job," he noted.

Essentially, the re-recruiting process is designed to understand what motivates the individual and to redesign the job so it aligns more closely with their desires. At the same time, he urges you to tell employees they don't have the right to remain silent if they receive an offer from another firm. Instead, they owe you the courtesy of speaking up. Some will do so, a sign they prefer to stay – perhaps because you have already shown them the courtesy of re-recruiting them.

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter