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5 steps to retaining your top billers in the current climate

By: Tim Parker, sales & marketing manager, yu:talent

For all service sector businesses the old adage of 'your people are your greatest asset' has never been truer.  Without your people, your business is just an empty office.  The recruitment industry, however, takes this to another level.  Individual high performers often become the focus of both attention and worry for the agency owner/manager as I can attest to personally.  They contribute greatly to the business and are rewarded accordingly  (or at least they should be).  As they say though, with great power comes great responsibility - but this responsibility is shared.  Your top biller is responsible for conducting themselves in an appropriate manner, one which is hopefully  inspirational too.  You are responsible for how you handle them and the power they wield.  However, the worry of losing them can sometimes cause us to weaken to unreasonable demands, and it is a worry compounded by the current market.  The amount of good recruitment talent actively looking on the market continues to contract as 2014 progresses, so enticing offers put in front of your star billers are likely to increase.

So how do you hang on to them?
Although big salary offers are tempting, it is rare that anyone will leave just for salary alone.  It might appear to be the salient cause when they wave an offer letter in front of you, but if they make the leap the causes are likely to lie much deeper.  Pre-emptively attacking these issues is where your attention should focus.

1) Review Bonus and Incentive Packages
While your top billers are likely to be money hungry, they will be more incentivised by what they can generate on top of their basic than the basic itself.  Otherwise, frankly they would not be top billers.  Review how competitive your bonus package is when compared to other packages in the market place.  Also review how easy it is for all your consultants to achieve bonus, or to understand the scheme itself.   They should be able to see direct reward immediately for work done - this will keep them motivated.  If consultants are contributing financially and seeing no reward, or a bad month kills their bonus possibility for the next two - they will quickly lose motivation.  You should also be able to explain the scheme in a few sentences without you or them glazing over.  This is also particularly important when it comes to recruiting new consultants too.
Furthermore, consider this; it is easy to mistake payment of bonuses and reward incentives for  'costs'.  Doing so will make it harder for you to swallow making changes that are more favourable to those who receive them.  The reality is though that while these are of course cash outgoings, they are only outgoings against income which otherwise would not have been generated.  Bonus packages are only a true cost when badly structured or ill thought out.

2) Understand their aspirations - and map a path for them
Some top billers want simply to remain as that.  They enjoy the kudos and the financial reward but may have little else on their agenda.  Others may have aspirations to develop and grow their careers in a different direction.  Whether done through a formal or informal mechanism make sure you are talking to all of your consultants about their aspirations and understand the path they wish to follow.  If you don't pave the way for that, someone else will.  This can be tough if you can see a top biller evolving in a direction that will lead to less direct revenue at first - such as management.  But longer term, you will reap the benefits.  After all, who do you want leading, inspiring and coaching one of your teams - someone who has excelled in their roles or someone who has been average?  If you don't pave the way and try to keep them tied to a pure billing role, you will lose them, their revenue and the untapped resource of their expertise altogether.

3) Review your working practices
Are you up to speed with the modern world or lagging behind?  Do you trust or micro-manage? Work life balance is a well worn phrase but only because it matters so much to so many - even a killer biller.  The fact is that you can perform well while having a personal life too.  If candidates need to be called out of ours is it absolutely necessary to tie your people to their desks to do that until 7 or 8 in the evening?  If you build a culture of trust with good rewards, you don't need to worry about someone leaving at a reasonable hour to go to the gym.  They can call those candidate afterwards from the comfort of their own home.  The rewards on offer will be their incentive to do so.  If another business offers an environment better suited to your star performer's lifestyle, don't be surprised if they slip away.

4) Review the technology and tools your team are using
Technology moves so quickly that what was fit for purpose even just 2 or 3 years ago may now be lagging behind the curve.  Review all the tech tools you have in place from your back office to your CRM.  Are they suited to the current market and present day?  Do they speed up the work of your consultants or slow them down?  The right tools should act like a second pair of hands improving their work rate, and improved work rate means more revenue for you, more bonus for them.  So taking a hit on changing tools could prove to be a small investment with a big return.  You may be surprised at how little making the required change can cost you though.

5) Talk to your people
If your consultants aren't speaking to you voluntary on the above, canvass their opinions.  In fact, if they are talking to you, don't assume they are telling you everything.  Create an environment that encourages feedback and ideas.  Not only will you get a great measure as to how people feel, they will also feel good about being consulted and listened to, especially when they can see their ideas being implemented.
An important point here though is to talk to everyone.  We may have been talking about retaining your top billers but don't talk to them alone.  Talk to your trainees, talk to those who may be doing ok but not excelling - they are the people who you need to grow into the top billers of tomorrow and their opinions are equally as important.  This is furthermore true of anyone else in the organisation who may not have a billing role. Everyone is important and great ideas can come from surprising places.

The offer letter in front of you
On a final note, if you do find yourself in a situation where one of your best consultants has given verbal notice and presented you with a counter offer letter outlining a juicy salary increase, keep the following in mind.  Whether you are inclined to immediately counter offer or see red and show them the door based on the sheer audacity, think before you act. 

Yes, losing them will be a loss and replacing them a cost indeed.  However, you need to evaluate what can really be done.  Make sure you talk through everything and get them to really open up as to why they are unhappy.  Can you truly resolve these things? Has too much water passed under the bridge? Are they seemingly happy with everything but the salary - in other words potentially testing you?  Really take all of this into consideration before matching with a counter offer. 

The options here will always be less than ideal, but bear in mind the wider impact of retaining them through a counter offer.  Yes you will keep them for now, but how long until they try it again? How has your relationship been with them over the last few months? Can you turn things around? How likely are they to brag to someone else in the team about what they did? Critically, how will that affect the morale of the rest of the team once word gets out?  Difficult questions to face but the answers may show that the minimum impact and cost actually lies in a different direction to counter offer. 

While there are no guarantees in life, prevention is still the best cure.  Implement the 5 steps above, keep reviewing them on a regular basis and act on the small seeds of discontent before they grow into a tangled forest you are hacking your way through for the rest of the year.

Tim Parker is the Sales and Marketing manager for, a new Recruitment CRM aimed at Boutique Recruitment Agencies.


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