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May 26, 2015

Second of two parts

As I told you here yesterday (see Few Recruiting Tools Work Better Than a “‘Buddy Hire” Program), the buddy hire approach is where you offer to hire your target star candidate and a close colleague or friend of theirs as a package deal.

This is an amazingly effective recruiting strategy simply because most of us do have a close colleague or friend who we’ve always wanted to work with.

But, buddy hire programs work best if they are designed to avoid the naturally occurring problems associated with hiring any friend.

Key issues to consider when doing “buddy” hiring

Here are some of the key program actions and components to consider that can minimize conflicts and problems include:

  • Start by making sure that working with great co-workers is a deal maker – Don’t assume that “working with great coworkers” is a powerful convincing tool. Make sure by surveying a sample of your top candidates to see if they rank it as a top compelling reason to accept an offer (it often ranks No. 3, behind “having a real impact” and “doing the best work of your life”). Next try floating it as a possible option with a handful of exceptional candidates  in order to see if it is in fact “a deal maker.”
  • Only offer it for high-priority jobs – For the primary hire, this opportunity should be restricted to mission-critical and high-priority jobs and teams. That is where the hiring of an exceptional talent will have the highest impact.
  • Only offer it only to exceptional talent – Hiring two individuals at the same time can obviously increase your salary costs, so use this option only for exceptional candidates who would simply say “no” without this available option. Don’t be surprised when you find out that it is frequently a positive deal maker that can shift a “maybe” candidate answer to an enthusiastic yes!
  • Don’t lower your hiring standards for the buddy hire – Because you are hiring exceptional talent for the primary hire, you don’t have to worry about their qualifications. However, you should never lower your hiring standards for the buddy hire. You won’t often face that issue because top talent simply don’t select buddy hires who aren’t also well qualified.
  • Don’t worry about any drop in performance from the buddy hire – The contribution from the primary hire is likely to be extremely powerful; in fact, so impactful that it will clearly override any potential drop in performance that would occur in the rare case where the buddy hire turns out to be an only average performer.
  • Don’t be overly concerned about nepotism or favoritism – Although most don’t select a spouse, some do select a son, daughter, or close friend. You can help to minimize any friendship or favoritism concerns by not allowing the buddy hire to be a direct report to the primary hire. It is of course a good idea to educate both new hires about the need to avoid even the appearance of favoritism. But once again, the high level of professionalism of the primary hire almost guarantees that they will be proactive in avoiding any favoritism controversy.
  • Limit the duration of the working arrangement – Not all primary hires expect to work directly on the same team and project with their buddy. But in the cases where they initially work on the same team, because of changing business conditions, don’t guarantee that they both will stay in the same assignment for more than six to 12 months.
  • Don’t be overly concerned that the buddy hire won’t work out – Obviously, you must make sure that both new hires realize that their continued employment is contingent upon their performance. Fortunately, in most cases the primary hire will mentor and coach the buddy hire in order to ensure that they have no performance issues. And in my experience, even if the buddy decides to eventually move on, in many cases the primary hire will stay because they at least experienced the opportunity to work alongside them for a reasonable time.
  • When relocation is required, providing a spouse with a job may be essential – Especially when relocation to a high cost of living area is involved, the exceptional candidate who is part of a dual-income couple simply may not be able to afford to accept a job unless their spouse/partner is also guaranteed a position. This “hire the spouse also” variation is a fairly common and successful option because it removes the stress of worrying about whether their spouse/partner can quickly find a job in the new location.
  • Consider letting them influence the job – A buddy hire provides a compelling reason to accept the job, but the job opportunity can be made even more compelling if the primary hire is allowed to provide input into their new job. Allowing them to at least partially design their own job will make the job opportunity even more compelling. In addition, allowing exceptional talent to focus on the aspects of the work that they like and do best is almost guaranteed to improve their results. Another alternative to consider is to let the primary hire select the project (or team) that they will initially work on.
  • Consider letting them hire their own boss – In the Silicon Valley, we have learned that innovators and exceptional talent are often weak managers. In addition, serving in a management role may distract them from the technical work that they do really well. As a result, the best way to ensure the effective management of these often hard-to-manage innovators and exceptional talent may be to allow them to select their own boss. They may choose their buddy as their manager but you can also allow them to select their own boss from among your current employees. Although this idea may sound outrageous on the surface, when the primary hire selects their own boss, they can’t complain about the quality of their manager. The odds are that they will select someone who knows precisely how to get the maximum performance out of them.
  • They don’t have to be simultaneous hires – In most cases, the primary hire simply won’t accept the job until their buddy also gets their job offer. But in cases where the buddy can’t start immediately, offer them a delayed starting date. I do not however recommend allowing the buddy to start first and the primary hire to join the firm at a later date.
  • Program metrics are essential – Because the program is highly likely to cause some internal controversy, use metrics to demonstrate to cynics that the program results in measurably better quality hires and a positive ROI. Use metrics and feedback from the new hires and their managers for continuous program improvement.

Final thoughts

I first encountered a buddy hiring program over 15 years ago, when it was used on me to get me to accept an offer at Agilent Technologies, and I am still an avid supporter of this approach.

I wouldn’t be concerned about the program’s effectiveness, because buddy hire programs have proven to be successful for decades both in the military and in the corporate world. Now is the ideal time to implement them because of the shortage of talent and the difficulty in getting exceptional talent to say “yes.”

And yes, you should expect some resistance and concern, especially from HR. But fortunately I have found that every concern and issue can be overcome with a little creative thinking.

I have also found that once hiring managers find out about this option, they are enthusiastic about using it. And incidentally, if you want to go up to the next level in hiring people who have can effectively work together, consider “team lift outs,” where you hire an entire intact team at once, and acqui-hiring, where you buy a small firm primarily for its already cohesive talent.