Take a lesson from the best in College Football

With college football season upon us, I find my thoughts drifting to another type of recruiting and retention. Recruiting for college football is much different than recruiting employees…or is it?  When you consider the way great college football programs recruit, you might find that the secret to their success on the field could be the same to your team’s success in the office.

College football programs that consistently produce winning teams understand that the longer players stay together, the better they play. Great coaches have this formula in mind when they’re planning and building a team where players often hit their peak around year three. The great teams that know how “reload” understand that their players start to peak after they’ve been together for two to three years, which gives the more senior players time to mentor the younger players. This creates a continuous cycle of peak performance as shown by the unmitigated success of programs like the University of Alabama, Clemson, University of Oklahoma, and Ohio State. All great programs succeed because they understand this cycle and how to plan for it.

You’re not building a football team though, so why should you recruit like one?

To answer that question, you need to come to terms with your recruiting and retention lifecycle. Colleges know they’re only going to have a player for about four years, so they plan around that timeframe. Your recruitment cycle is much more unpredictable. And your retention rate? You may be recruiting employees you hope to keep for 5 to 10 years, but reality is likely much different. 

In many high-demand jobs, even getting four years with an employee is a pipe dream. At the top tech companies employees tend to stay less than two years.  And these places—Facebook, Google, Oracle, Apple, and Amazon—are consistently ranked as some of the best places to work in the U.S. Even nearly 70% of top sales executives always have one foot out the door at all times.

While it is natural to assume your recruiting efforts would lead to more retention than an always evolving college football program, in reality your situation is likely more volatile. Are there ways to buck these trends? Of course, that’s why we created a shared-accountability model, adding a post-hire consulting approach for our clients and placed candidates in their 1st year of employment.

Adjusting your expectations and planning for the future is also important. That’s the first lesson you can take from these football programs: Always be recruiting. As SB Nation’s Richard Johnson explained once, elite teams never stop searching for new talent.

 “[By February 2016], Ohio State had seven pledges for 2017, nearly a third of its class. Texas under Mack Brown was notorious for stuffing classes early in the recruiting cycle. LSU offered Alabama commit Dylan Moses when he was an eighth grader, and USC under Lane Kiffin got a commitment from a QB who at the time was in the seventh grade” Johnson points out.

It is also imperative to have a strong recruiting pipeline that never stops. Work with colleges to recruit the best and brightest, attend recruiting events even when you don’t have active positions available. If you’re part of a large or growing company, consider hiring in classes to build cohesion and comradery between teammates so they can learn, develop and succeed together. Sales and engineering teams can especially thrive with this approach.

The idea is to reload, not rebuild your team. In football, rebuilding years are painful as the Texas Longhorns can attest to. Don’t let yourself get into that cycle, this means planning for a predictable level of turnover but developing your teams in a way that prevents turnover when possible. Keep these statistics in mind:

  • Employees who are "engaged and thriving" are 59 percent less likely to look for a job.

  • More than 70 percent of high-retention-risk employees say they'll have to leave their organization to advance their career.

  • Forty-four percent of employees say they would consider taking a job with a different company for a raise of 20 percent or less.

What are you doing to keep your current teams strong while building a program that recruits the top players in your industry? Athletes don’t want to play for a team that won’t develop them into better players and employees don’t want to work at a dead-end job. Keep your recruiter on the hook to help ensure that new recruits are happy. Yes, you can actually do that.

With a measured, consistent approach, you can keep your recruiting game going strong. Determine your realistic recruiting and retention cycle to strike the right balance of recruiting, developing and retaining your top talent.