Leicester City, a small soccer club from a forgotten part of England, has won the biggest and most competitive professional soccer league in the world. Last year Leicester barely stayed in the Premier League (the bottom three teams are sent to a lower division each year) and spends far less on players than the typical winners. With Leicester winning the Premier League at 5,000 to 1 odds there are an increasing number of pundits talking about how spending money on top talent isn't the only path to success. They have argued that maybe we just need to pay closer attention to how Leicester achieved this remarkable feat and replicate these behaviors in our own sports clubs. Unfortunately, for Leicester and the commentators that want to suggest that there might be a different way to build a winning club, the win is probably just a case of unbelievable luck (a great discussion of this on the More or Less podcast). In soccer, the same as baseball, we need to be careful not be to be fooled by the success of one small team. Spending, which is a proxy for attracting the best talent, correlates with wins. In other words, the path to greatness in soccer or baseball (or any other sport) is about attracting the most talented players.
It is likely that this formula, attracting talent, is important in every sector. Whether you are Google, the corner store, or a school district, having the most talented staff will improve your chances for success. The idea that we can simply hire anyone and "train them up" does not work. In other words, it makes sense to invest in recruiting and retaining the best people.
So, how do we measure whether we are recruiting and retaining top talent? Many schools measure their retention rate (proportion of teachers that stay for one year, two years, etc...). Schools should also be asking staff, "I am planning to leave this school in the next 12 months" as key leading indicator (see previous post on measuring happiness for other ideas).
This brings me to employee referrals. Traditionally schools recruit and hire teachers by posting openings on job boards or attending recruiting fairs. It turns out that these are not very effective methods to attract the most talented employees. In fact, outside of education there is a big push to hire more staff from internal referrals. Referrals are cheaper to recruit (no need to travel to a job fair, pay to post a job), typically it takes less time and resources, they are usually better quality, and they reduce turnover among other employees. If you are getting referrals it means that staff are happy and engaged and want people they respect to join the team. Below are some ideas of how to measure how effective you are at getting referrals.
- Percent of employees hired annually who were referred by current employees.
- Percent of applicants who were referred by a current employee.
- Percent of staff that are a 9 or 10 on the following question (scale 1-10), "How likely are you to refer a friend or acquaintance to work for our school?" (This question could be deployed several times per year to judge sentiment).
- Percent of staff that respond positively to the following statement, "I have referred a friend or colleague for a job in our school in the last year."
- Percent of staff that respond positively to the following statement, "I trust that the people I refer for jobs will be treated fairly during the hiring process."
- Percent of staff that respond positively to the following statement, "I have been invited to refer a friend or colleague for a job in our school."
- Percent of staff that respond positively to the following statement, "The process for referring someone for a job in our school is clear."
Research at Google showed that they received the highest quality referrals when they were specific about what they were looking for. For example, instead of sending out a message that send, "Do you know anyone you would like to refer to Google?" They sent out messages to staff that were more specific with the skills they were looking for, "Do you know anyone with x, y, z skills that would be good for Google to hire?" It isn't just about quantity of referrals, but quality as well. By engaging employees through referrals you make recruiting a part of everyone's job.
Staff should be rewarded for successful hires that they referred. However, research has shown that the size of the reward is not a huge factor in increasing referrals. What matters is whether the employee is engaged and believes in the organization.
Our strategy for success must be predicated on finding the most talented staff we can. Yes, Leicester beat the odds and achieved greatness with lower quality players, but this is both unlikely and difficult to replicate. Instead, as school leaders we need to invest in hiring the best and one way to do that is to increase our dependence on referrals. By monitor leading and lagging indicators of whether you have an effective referral system you increase the likelihood of increasing referrals, but these same measures might be useful canaries in the coal mine of broader issues.