Easy come, easy go: the pleasures and pitfalls of poaching service delivery teams

By June 8, 2021January 3rd, 2022Archive, Latest, Organization, Resourcing, Talent
Poaching service teams is a tempting way to accelerate hiring, but is it sustainable?

Sometimes connecting seemingly disparate dots drives you to some obscure insights. Case in point: I woke up one morning with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody running through my head over and over. Then over breakfast I had a conversation about a plan to poach a business services delivery team in one of those highly competitive offshore locations. And I put two and two together. Hiring teams out of other shared services, call centers or outsourced delivery centers has a particular sort of talent management risk: easy come, easy go.

Bear with me, readers, and imagine that Freddie Mercury was thinking about service delivery center recruitment when he penned:

Because I’m easy come, easy go,

Little high, little low,

Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to

Me, to me

Freddy Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Staffing up said centers is a daunting job, especially when establishing them from scratch. The de novo center doesn’t yet have a brand that’s a pull for qualified folk. The business case assumes that attracting staff in the hundreds will be a piece of cake. And it’s a buyers’ market in hot locales such as Bangalore, Krakow and Manila, even more so now as COVID is in the rear view mirror and staff mobility is about to reach all-time highs.

So, when a new center opens up, delivery center managers are forced to pull out all the stops to get a workforce up and productive in record time. Recruiting fairs, employee referral bonuses, social media barrages, even putting up hoardings are part of the playbook. But that’s a retail strategy.

Wholesale recruitment in the form of “poaching” teams from other delivery centers—both captive and provider—is now pretty much part of the playbook.  

Pick off a good manager and “talent magnet,” and two or more people are ready to join him or her immediately, potentially followed by a steady pipeline if word gets out that the new employer is an improvement on the last. After all, put something better on the table: more responsibility, more money, drinks on Fridays and donuts on Monday, cool digs—and groups of millennials and Gen Ys are easily persuaded to move to a new gig.

Successful poaching gives credence to the old maxim is that people leave their managers, not their companies.

And when it comes to near- and off-shore delivery centers, where the calculus is weighted to employee numbers, not expertise, corporate loyalty has long gone by the wayside.

The advantages of poaching teams are pretty obvious:

  1. It’s relatively fast and definitely efficient. Rather than hiring one at a time, nabbing a strong director, manager or team leader cum talent magnet who has led a tight, loyal team who will follow him or her to the ends of the earth cuts elapsed time and streamlines recruitment processes. What’s not to like about lifting out an accounts payable team intact?
  1. Staff are known to be capable. If the operation targets a team from a top-flight provider or captive operation, it’s easy to underwrite the capabilities of a team. Poach from the likes of an Accenture, a call center, or a GBS operation that’s in the top quartile of performance and the quality of the talent is likely very strong.
  1. Storming and norming time is reduced. Once onboarded, the team doesn’t have to take precious quarters to get to know each other; they are cohesive; they are functionally aware and process-adept.
  1. It’s a small industry, so it’s easy to identify talent magnets and strategy and center volume shifts. With the advent of LinkedIn, events, and local industry groups, the vehicles to create a marketplace for previously unknown talent are in place.  Locally and globally, it’s become easier to identify not only where talent pools are, but also the ebb and flow of volumes as companies divest, change strategy, and evolve their models.

But there’s also a downside to the expediency of bringing in a ready-made team:

  • Manager leaves, people think twice.  Back to Freddie Mercury’s easy come, easy go. The downside of poaching is people also leave with their managers. Unless the new employer’s culture is positively seductive, the first loyalty is usually to the manager who recruited his or her team. And non-poach agreements (barely) prevent the manager from persuading staff to make another move down the street en masse. When dear manager picks up sticks, fear, uncertainty and doubt come into play. In short, retention risk takes on more nuance.
  • Challenging to create a new culture Teams naturally seek to preserve their own ways of working in a new environment. Attract several large teams, each bringing cultural norms from their previous employer, and you’ll find that the new center leaders aren’t creating a culture, they are negotiating a culture.
  • May impact the power structure Because staff followed the leader, he or she may have disproportionate organizational power if the team is not quickly assimilated. Delivery leaders can find themselves tip toeing around a manager if there’s a fear that he or she holds all the talent cards.

How can the delivery center leader be strategic about recruiting when attracting intact teams is part of the play?

  • Be strategic, balancing team attraction with capable staff found via retail recruitment. For example, rather than poaching the entire accounts payable team, go after the superstar and set him/her up as a strategic hire to train a new team.
  • Devise talent management plans that assimilate poached team members into other parts of the operation over time. Don’t plan to keep teams intact for very long; over time deploy poached members to up the game across the operation, giving them career paths that present new challenges and turn them into leaders in their own right.
  • Adapt your onboarding processes to mitigate retention challenges from day 1. Poached teams will immediately engage in group think, comparing what they think about the new org and contrasting their experiences with their previous company.  Ensure that your onboarding process countermands this tendency, amongst others, focusing on working with new team members
  • Assign “native” buddies and mentors. Break up cultural cartels quickly; assign poached team members to buddies and mentors that constructively impact their loyalties.

When poaching, remember the old saying “what goes around, comes around.”

It’s a small industry. Everyone knows everyone else’s business; continually rob other services delivery operations of their teams and the word gets out fast. And then there’s that lack of millennial/Gen Y loyalty…easy come, easy go.

Was Freddie Mercury right?